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The Mitzva to Take the Arba Minim (2)

  • Rav David Brofsky



            Last week, we introduced the mitzva of “u-lekachtem,” taking the four minim on Sukkot. We noted that mi-de’oraita, the arba minim are taken for all seven days in the Beit Ha-Mikdash, fulfilling the verse, “And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days” (Vayikra 23:40). Outside of the Beit Ha-Mikdash, they are taken only on the first day, as it says, “And you shall take for yourselves on the first day” (ibid.). We discussed whether these two mitzvot differ only quantitatively, or qualitatively as well. We also reviewed the basic physical requirements of the four minim and the halakhot of lakhem, hadar, and chaser.


            Although the Torah commands that one take all four minim and the Rishonim assume that taking the four minim constitutes one mitzva, as opposed to four separate mitzvot, the halakha grapples with the relationship between these four minim. We discussed whether – and why – one should bind the species together, and whether they must even be taken together or may be taken separately, one after the other.


            This week, we will discuss the proper time to recite the blessing over the four minim and whether the fulfillment of the mitzva entails waving or simply holding onto the arba minim.


The Proper Manner of Reciting the Blessing over the Arba Minim


            In numerous contexts, the Talmud discusses the blessings recited before performing mitzvot. The gemara and Rishonim grapple with questions such as the proper text or formula for a blessing and interruptions between the blessing and the performance of a mitzva.


One of the central issues relevant to the laws of these berakhot relates to the proper time and manner of reciting a birkat ha-mitzva. The gemara (Pesachim 7a) teaches that “one should recite the blessing before performing a mitzva” (kol ha-berakhot mevarekh aleihen over le-asiytan). Although the gemara implies that the blessing must be recited before the mitzva, and some Rishonim, such as a the Rambam (Hilkhot Berakhot 11:5-7), rule that one may not recite the blessing after one has already fulfilled the mitzva, the Or Zaru’a (1:25) writes that if one forgets to recite the blessing before the mitzva, one may recite it after performing the mitzva.


What is the reason that the blessing must precede the mitzva? This question may relate to a broader and more fundamental question: Why did the Rabbis insist that one recite a blessing upon performing a mitzva at all? Seemingly, one might suggest that the blessings recited before doing a mitzva are similar to birkot ha-shevach, blessings of praise recited after experiencing an occurrence worthy of giving praise. Alternatively, we might suggest that reciting the berakha prepares us for the performance of the mitzva, similar to the practice of those who say “hineni mukhan…” before doing a mitzva. One may even attempt to equate the birkot ha-mitzva with birkot ha-nehenin, blessings that permit one to eat (see Rambam, Hilkhot Berakhot 1:3). R. Soloveitchik suggested, based upon this Rambam, that just as one must ask “permission” to eat by reciting a blessing, one must ask “permission” to perform a mitzva.


The debate regarding one who forgot to say the blessing before the mitzva may reflect different approaches to and alternate understandings of birkot ha-mitzva. The Or Zaru’a must view the birkot ha-mitzva as a type of birkot ha-shevach, which thus can be recited after the mitzva. The other Rishonim, however, including the Rambam, must view the birkot ha-mitzvot as preparation for the mitzva, or possibly as a type of permission taken before doing a mitzva. The well-known debate recorded by the Talmud Yerushalmi (Berakhot 9:3) regarding whether one should recite the blessing before fulfilling the mitzva or during its performance may also be relevant to our question.


The gemara presents one exception to the rule of “over le-asiatan”: tevila. The Rishonim (Rif, Pesachim 3b-4a; Rambam, Hilkhot Berakhot 11:7; Tosafot, Pesachim 7a, s.v. al; Rosh, Pesachim 1:10; et al.) debate whether this gemara refers to the immersion of a convert, who cannot recite a blessing before his immersion because he is not yet Jewish, or to other immersions, including tevilat nidda and even the netilat yadayim performed before eating bread.


            The Rishonim discuss the proper time for reciting the blessing upon taking the arba minim. On the one hand, one should recite a blessing over a mitzva while holding the mitzvaobject; for this reason, one says the blessing over tefillin after putting them on his arm, but before tightening the knot (Menachot 35b). On the other hand, the gemara teaches that “as soon as one has lifted them [the arba minim], he has fulfilled his obligation” (Sukka 42a). Thus, saying the blessing after picking up the Arba Minim may be too late!


            Tosafot (Tosafot, Sukka 29a, s.v. over) offers three solutions. First, they suggest that one take the lulav, but leave the etrog on the table, and then recite the blessing before taking the etrog. They then propose that one hold the lulav upright and the etrog upside down, recite the berakha, and then flip the etrog; since the arba minim must be taken “ke-derekh gedilatan,” in the manner in which they grew (Sukka 45b), one has not fulfilled the mitzva until he turns the etrog over. Finally, Tosafot advise taking all four minim, but having in mind not to fulfill the mitzva until after reciting the blessing. 


Interestingly, some Rishonim do not seem troubled by this question. The Rambam (Hilkhot Lulav 7:6), for example, writes that one recites the blessing and then picks up the bundle of the Arba Minim off the table. Alternatively, Tosafot (ibid.; see also Rosh, Sukka 3:33 and Ran, Sukka 20b, s.v. mi-deparkhinan) suggests that although one has already fulfilled the mitzva as soon as he lifts the minim, since one has not “completely finished the mitzva,” as the shaking of the lulav (nanu’a) is part of the mitzva, one may still recite the blessing. (We will return to the significance of the na’anu’im shortly.) The Gra (Bi’ur Ha-Gra 651) writes that it is simply impossible to recite the blessing before this mitzva, and the blessing is therefore recited immediately after taking the arba minim. Each of these answers deserves extensive analysis, and raises fascinating issues relating to the laws of berakhot and the arba minim, as well as the role of kavana in the performance of a mitzva.


            R. Yoel Sirkis (1561-1640) asks a fascinating question in his commentary to the Tur (Bayit Chadash 521). He observes that the suggestion of taking the arba minim in an abnormal manner, such as turning over the etrog before the blessing, seems to contradict what we learned last week – one may take the four minim separately. If so, then once one has taking even one of the minim properly, he has partially fulfilled the mitzva, and the blessing is no longer considered to have been recited “over le-asiatan,” before performing the mitzva! He suggests that even though one may take all four minim separately, the mitzva is retroactively only fulfilled after taking all four minim. There is no inherent value in taking each species alone. This question may further depend upon the debate we saw last week concerning whether individual blessings may be recited upon the individual species.


            Practically, the Shulchan Arukh (521:5) rules that one should recite the blessing before taking the etrog or while holding the etrog upside down. Although the Gra (521:5) writes that it may be preferable to take all four species in a normal manner and to have in mind not to fulfill the mitzva until after the blessing (Sefer Arba’at Ha-Minim Ha-Shalem pg. 352 relates that this was the practice of the Chazon Ish), it is customary to recite the blessing when holding all four minim while the etrog is upside down.


The Waving of the Lulav (Na’anu’im) and the Recitation of Hallel


            As we mentioned above, some Rishonim maintain that reciting the blessing before waving the lulav (nanu’a) is still considered to be “over le-asiatan.” Indeed, the Talmud elsewhere indicates that waving the lulav is considered to be part of the mitzva. For example, a child is obligated in the mitzva of lulav from the age that he “knows how to wave” (Sukka 42a). Furthermore, the gemara teaches that a lulav must be at least four tefachim long in order for there to be a tefach above the other species “to wave” (Sukka 29b and 32b). What is the significance of waving the lulav?


            Some Rishonim use the term “sheyyare mitzva” (Rabbeinu Tam, Sefer Ha-Yashar, Chiddushim 406; Rashba, Responsa 7:297; Ritva, Sukka 42a) to describe the na’anu’im, which may imply that waving is a significant part of the mitzva (see Menachot 93b and Zevachim 52a). Tosafot (Sukka 39a, s.v. over) describe the waving as “makhshirei mitzva,” possibly minimize the significance of the na’anu’im. (This phrase may be a scribal error, as other Rishonim, including the Tosafot Ha-Rosh [Sukka 39a s.v. mevarekh], use the similar phrase “sheyyare ha-mitzva.")


            Interestingly, the Rambam (Hilkhot Lulav 7:9) describes two levels of the mitzva of taking the arba minim:


Once one lifts these four species… he has fulfilled his obligation, so long as he lifts them in the manner in which they grow [i.e. upright]… The proper performance of the mitzva is to lift a bundle of the three species in one's right hand and the etrog in the left, and then thrust them forward, bring them back, lift them upwards, and lower them, and wave the lulav three times in every direction.


While minimally, one should “lift” the four species, the “proper performance” entails shaking the lulav three times in each direction.


            What is the role of these na’anu’im? The Talmud (Sukka 37b) describes how one waves the lulav during the recitation of Hallel (Tehillim 118):


And where is [the lulav] waved? At the commencement and the conclusion of the psalm, “O give thanks unto the Lord” and at “Save now, we beseech thee, o Lord.” These are the words of Bet Hillel. Shammai say: Also at “O Lord we beseech thee, send now prosperity. R. Akiva stated: I watched R. Gamliel and R. Yehoshua, and while all the people were waving their lulavs [at other verses], they waved them only at, “Save now, we beseech thee, o Lord.”


The Rishonim question why the gemara describes the waving of the arba minim only in the context of Hallel. Should one wave the lulav after reciting the berakha as well?


            Some Rishonim insist that the mishna never intended to exclude to waving of the arba minim after saying the blessing over the lulav, which are, in fact, the main na’anu’im. For example, the Rosh (Sukka 3:26) notes that the gemara obligates a “child who knows how to wave” the lulav, even though he does not know how to recite Hallel. Furthermore, the gemara (Berakhot 30a) discusses one who must wake up early and pray and who is given a lulav to wave; this gemara does not imply that Hallel is recited at the time. The Rosh also cites the Ra’avya, who supports his assertion and who brings passages from the Yerushalmi and Bavli that imply that the na’anu’im “ward off the Satan” or express our wish that the “winds be restrained." He describes the waving of the lulav during Hallel as “na’nu’a be-alma” (mere shaking), and no more.


            The Me’iri (Sukka 37b) also agrees that the main na’anu’im occur when the berakha is recited, but he describes the shaking during Hallel as “arousing one to joy” (hite’orerut le-simcha). Some cite Rashi (Sukka 39b, s.v. kedei), who implies that even during Hallel, one shakes the lulav in order to “restrain harmful winds and harmful dews” – in other words, to pray for the proper weather. According to these opinions, waving the lulav does not seem to be an inherent part of Hallel.


Other Rishonim indicate that the na’anu’im need not be performed while saying the blessing (see, for example, Tosafot, Pesachim 7b, s.v. be-idana). Furthermore, Tosafot (Sukka 37b, s.v. be-hodo) explain that according to Beit Hillel, one waves the lulav during Hallel as a fulfillment of the verse, “Then shall the trees of the wood sing for joy, before the Lord,” which precedes, “O give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good” (Divrei Ha-Yamim I 16:33-34). Shaking the lulav is an expression of praise for God, which should be performed specifically while reciting Hallel. Indeed, the Rosh (Sukka 3:26) cites a beautiful midrash, which explains that the one “rejoices with one’s lulav like a person who was declared innocent by the judge, and is happy, as it says “then shall the trees of the wood sing for joy”- when they leave God innocent after the world is judged- and how should they express their joy? With Hodu and Hoshi’a na.” On Sukkot we express our happiness after being judged on Yom Kippur- most specifically through the taking, and shaking, of the lulav. Finally, the Ramban (Sefer Ha-Mitzvot, shoresh 9), contrary to the position of the Rambam, suggests that the Hallel recited on the Festivals is of Biblical origin; he cites a Talmudic passage (Pesachim 117a) as proof: “Is it possible that the Jewish People slaughtered their Passover sacrifices and took their lulav bundles without singing a hymn to God?”


            Similarly, after describing how the “preferred” mitzva is to pick up the arba minim and shake them, the Rambam (Hilkhot Lulav 7:10) writes:


What does the above entail? One passes the lulav forward and shakes the top of the lulav three times, brings it back and shakes the top of the lulav three times. One follows this same pattern when lifting it up and down. At what point [in prayer] does one pass the lulav back and forth? During the reading of the Hallel.


The Rambam implies that the preferred performance of the mitzva entails shaking the lulav while reciting Hallel.


These different understandings of the na’anu’im may impact upon when one should perform the mitzva. The Acharonim debate whether one should take the lulav and recite the blessing in one’s sukka, before coming to synagogue, or during the service, before reciting Hallel. The Shulchan Arukh (652:1) writes that the “ikkar mitzva” of lulav is during the recitation of Hallel, which would lead to conclude that one should recite the blessing before Hallel. The Magen Avraham (652:3), however, cites the Shelah, who writes that one should take the arba minim in one’s sukka before going to synagogue. The Acharonim (see, for example, the Mishna Berura 621:34) attribute this practice to the Arizal. The Sefer Piskei Teshuvot (652:3, nt. 12) cites sources that attest that great scholars, such as the Chakam Tzvi, R. Chaim of Volozhin, and the Chatam Sofer, took the arba minim in their sukkot before prayers.


            Tosafot (Sukka 39a, s.v. over), mentioned above, suggest another justification for reciting the berakha after picking up the arba minim. They cite the following gemara (Sukka 41b):


This was the custom of the men of Jerusalem: When a man left his house he carried his lulav in his hand; when he went to the synagogue, his lulav was in his hand; when he read the Shema and his prayers, his lulav was still in his hand. But when he read in the Law or recited the priestly benediction, he would lay it on the ground. If he went to visit the sick or to comfort mourners, he would go with his lulav in his hand, but when he entered the House of Study, he would send his lulav by the hand of his son, his slave, or his messenger. What does this teach us? It serves to inform you how zealous they were in the performance of religious duties.


Tosafot suggest that since continuous holding of the lulav is considered a “mitzva min ha-muvchar,” a blessing recited after picking up the arba minim is viewed as “over le-asiyatan.”


Seemingly, one can interpret this passage in two ways. The gemara may be implying that merely holding on to the arba minim, long after the initial “taking” and “waving," is considered to be part of the mitzva. Alternatively, the gemara may simply be referring to the behavior of pious Jews who demonstrated their love for the mitzvot, and not necessarily to a fulfillment of a mitzva.


            We might test our understandings of na’anu’im and holding the lulav through the following question: We have seen that the Rishonim disagree as to whether saying the blessing immediately after taking the arba minim, but before the na’anu’im, is considered to be “over le-asiyatan.” But what if one forgot to recite the blessing over the arba minim and remembers only before or during Hallel? The Chayei Adam (148:11) and the Mishna Berura (651:26) rule that one may still say the berakha, as the “shaking is still part of the mitzva.” The Bikkurei Ya’akov (651:20) concludes that one may even say the berakha after shaking the lulav during Hallel, but before circling the bima with the arba minim during Hoshanot. The Arukh Ha-Shulchan (651:14) goes even further, writing that as long as one is still holding the arba minim, he may recite the blessing. The Sha’ar Ha-Tziyun (651:32) rejects this position.


            Next week we will discuss the taking of Aravot each day in the Beit Ha-Mikdash, and on Hoshana Rabba, in the Diaspora.