The Joy of Lulav

Rabbi Yaakov Trachtman

“And you shall take on the first day the fruit of goodly trees (Etrog), branches of palm-trees (Lulav), and boughs of chained trees (Hadas), and willows of the brook (Arava), and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days (Lev. 23:40).”


The Torah describes the Mitzvah of Lulav as an act of rejoicing. How is picking up a bundle of foliage considered joyful?


In order to understand this, we must first seek an understanding for the action itself. What is the idea of “picking up”? We only pick things up when we have an interest in them.  In general we are only interested in practical utility. For example, I will take an Esrog to eat, or a Lulav from which to make a broom. The Mitzvah is telling us to do something very strange, to pick something up with no purpose in mind. Which group of people will enjoy just picking things up without any utility in mind? The one group which stands out, is young children. We often see young children pick things up and put them down without any apparent reason. What reason do they have to act that way? Children are involved in discovering the world; their natural curiosity has not been affected by social expectations. They enjoy the ‘mere’ experience of discovery. Among adults such pleasure is also possible, as can be seen in the theoretical scientist. The natural world provides ample opportunity to gain new insight into the endless wisdom of the Creator. If we shift our view from a self-centered, pragmatic way of viewing things, to a universal theoretical way of viewing things…we can enjoy the good of the creation itself.


The Mitzvah of Lulav is leading us to this viewpoint. It tells to take this branch, but don’t use it. Take this fruit, but don’t eat it. Just enjoy them for what they are: expressions of the natural order.


In the Torah SheBaal Peh (Oral Law) Lulav has an added dimension. The Rabbis mention the Pasuk, “Then shall the trees of the wood sing for joy, before the LORD, for He is come to judge the earth”[1] as a reference to Lulav. The Mitzvah of Lulav is a Mitzvah of praise. The trees give praise through reflecting God’s greatness and wisdom as their Creator.  This is true even now, however in the future people will recognize the wisdom: studying the trees will move people to praise. That will only happen in a complete sense, in the future when God’s kingship is accepted by all of mankind. However, after we accept God’s kingship on Rosh Hashanah, on Sukkos we can recognize the ‘consequence’ of His kingship, which is that all of nature manifest his greatness.


This idea is especially important at the harvest time. The farmer can easily fall into the trap of thinking that the crop is a result of his own power. If it is his own power, then its purpose will only be to serve himself. Lulav shifts that focus. The crops are given to him to eat, but only as long as he recognizes that his utility is not their highest purpose. Their ultimate ‘purpose’ is to exist as an expression of God’s will. Therefore his eating must be for the purpose of studying the creation.


This explains why Lulav is a Mitzvah of joy. The whole idea of the Mitzvah is that approaching God is the greatest joy possible for man. Ultimately, this is through studying the creation as a whole, but on a micro level it is through studying the wisdom of the Mitzvah system.


This also explains why the Pasuk of Lulav is the source for the Simchas Beis HaShoeva. That celebration is one where the Talmidei Chachamim publicly demonstrate their love for, and joy in doing Mitzvos, even those which are acts of servitude. The rest of the nation comes to witness that joy which gives them a desire for it. People find it hard to believe that wisdom is enjoyable. Seeing living examples makes it something real and worth aspiring to.


Such a celebration is only possible in the Mikdash; the place where God’s existence and wisdom is manifest to all people, even those who don’t see it in the creation. Only in that situation of “being before God” can the Mitzvah of Lulav be expressed for the full seven days.

[1] Divrei HaYamim 1 16:33