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The Requirement of Waving the Lulav

  • Harav Baruch Gigi

Translated by David Silverberg


The Gemara (Pesachim 7b) cites a baraita which establishes that when one takes hold of the lulav to fulfill the mitzva, one recites the blessing of "al netilat lulav." The Gemara then notes that this baraita appears to contradict the opinion (cited earlier in the Gemara) that interprets this construction in a blessing - "al…" - as referring to a previously performed action. Why would one recite this text, which refers to a previous act, after lifting the lulav, before performing the na'anuim (required waving of the lulav), if he has yet to complete a mitzva act? The Gemara answers that, in fact, one fulfills the essential mitzva of lulav by simply lifting it, even before proceeding with the na'anuim. Therefore, it is indeed appropriate to recite "al netilat lulav," referring to the previously performed act of lifting the lulav.

This entire discussion appears to contradict a basic precept concerning the recitation of blessings over the performance of a mitzva. The fundamental halakhic principle dictates that whenever we recite a blessing over performing a mitzva, we do so "over la-asiyata" - prior to its performance. Why, then, does the Gemara call for the recitation of this blessing after fulfilling the basic obligation of lulav?

The Rishonim find several different ways to resolve this problem, and deal as well with the practical issue of when one should recite the blessing over the mitzva of lulav. Since, as stated, one fulfills the mitzva simply by lifting the lulav, the blessing cannot be recited after lifting it. On the other hand, the period prior to lifting the lulav seemingly classifies as "over de-over," too far removed from the mitzva performance to allow for the recitation of the blessing.

The Rosh (Sukka 3:33) writes that one should preferably adopt one of the following practices. First, one can recite the blessing after taking the lulav but before taking the etrog. Since one does not fulfill the mitzva without taking all four species, by taking only the lulav one begins performing the mitzva but has yet to complete the mitzva act. Alternatively, the Rosh suggests, one can take all four species together but keep the etrog upside-down. Since the halakha requires holding the arba minim upright, one does not satisfy his obligation if the etrog is upside-down, and can thus still recite the blessing.

However, the Rosh concludes that even if one did not follow either of these two measures, he can nevertheless recite the blessing after picking up the arba minim. He offers two explanations for this ruling.

1) Although one has fulfilled his minimal obligation simply by lifting the lulav, the mitzva cannot be said to have been satisfied completely before the na'anuim are performed. Thus, we consider a recitation to have occurred "over la-asiyata" even if it took place after the lifting of the lulav, so long as the lulav has not been waved.

2) One fulfills a "mitzva min ha-muvchar" - a particularly high standard of mitzva performance - by carrying the lulav with him throughout the day on Sukkot; indeed, the Gemara notes that such was the practice of the "anshei Yerushalayim" (Jerusalemites). Therefore, one can recite the blessing even after lifting the lulav, since he has yet to observe this high standard.[1]

The Ran (20b in the Rif's glosses) writes that it emerges from the Gemara's discussion that one recites the blessing after lifting the lulav. We need not search for creative solutions; rather, we may simply recite the blessing after taking hold of the lulav, since the na'anuim remain to be performed.

In order to explain this debate between the Rosh and the Ran, we must first address the Rambam's formulation:

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. (Hilkhot Lulav 7:9)

What emerges from this passage are two forms of the fulfillment of this mitzva: the standard mitzva of netilat lulav, which one satisfies by simply lifting the lulav; and secondly, what the Rambam terms, "mitzva ke-hilkhata," or "the proper performance of the mitzva." The Rambam thus understood that the rabbinic enactment of na'anuim constitutes part of the actual netila - taking hold of the lulav - and not an independent requirement, separate and apart from the Biblically mandated act of netila.[2]

If the Ran accepted the Rambam's position in this regard, viewing the na'anuim as part of the essential netila, then we understand why we have no need to find solutions to the problem concerning the blessing. So long as part of the netila obligation remains unfulfilled - insofar as the na'anuim have yet to be performed - the blessing may still be recited.

The Rosh, by contrast, considers the na'anuim an independent requirement, and thus one completely satisfies his essential obligation by simply lifting the lulav. He therefore recommends reciting the blessing before the proper performance of the netila itself. Only if one did not do so can we rely on the imminent na'anuim to permit the recitation of the blessing.[3]

This analysis of the debate between the Rosh and Ran is reinforced by a careful reading of their comments. The Rosh wrote, "…since the mitzva of the waving has not been completed," implying that the waving constitutes an independent mitzva. Furthermore, it appears from the practice of the people of Jerusalem, which the Rosh draws upon, that the na'anuim stand separate and apart from the actual netila, as the Rosh himself notes in his closing remarks in the aforementioned passage. By contrast, the Ran writes, "…although one fulfills the obligation once he lifted it, we still have remnants of the mitzva [that have yet to be fulfilled]." According to the Ran, the na'anuim are to be seen as "remnants" of the actual netila, rather than an independent obligation.

With this in mind, we can explain several details concerning this sugya.


The mishna (Sukka 37b) lists the points in Hallel where one must wave the lulav, but makes no mention of waving at the time of the original netila and the blessing. The Rishonim have different views as to why this is so.

a) The Ran and Ritva write that one certainly must perform na'anuim when taking the lulav, as this constitutes the main fulfillment of the mitzva; the mishna discussed only the na'anuim conducted during Hallel.

b) Tosefot and the Rosh, by contrast, demonstrate from elsewhere that indeed the lulav is waved when it is initially taken, but they appear to afford little halakhic importance to this waving.

c) Rabbenu Simcha, cited in the Hagahot Maimaniyot (on the aforementioned halakha in the Rambam), went so far as to refute the proofs cited by Tosefot and the Rosh, and he writes that we have no Talmudic basis for an obligation of na'anuim when reciting the blessing. In his view, this is merely a custom that had developed, but not an obligation from the Talmud.

d) The Rambam (Hilkhot Lulav 7:9-10) writes clearly that the primary obligation of na'anuim applies at the time of the blessing's recitation; there then exists a secondary requirement to wave the lulav during Hallel.

It appears to me that the issue at hand relates to our first question. If we view the waving as an extension of the original mitzva of netilat lulav, then clearly one must wave the lulav when first taking it and reciting the blessing. If, however, we consider the netila and the na'anuim two separate, independent requirements, then the na'anuim would not necessarily be required at the time of the blessing.

The Ra'avya (cited by the Hagahot Maimoniyot, ibid.) a distinction in terms of procedure between the na'anuim performed when reciting the blessing and those during Hallel. In his view, only at the time of the initial netila must one "thrust forward, bring back, lift and lower," as described by the Rambam. During Hallel, any waving suffices. This position clearly follows the Rambam's view that the primary waving occurs when the blessing is recited. According to this approach, there are two distinct requirements of na'anuim: one at the time of the blessing, which constitutes part of the essential mitzva of lulav, a "remnant of the mitzva" that helps avoid calamity (see Sukka 37b-38a), and the na'anuim of Hallel, which are of a different quality, perhaps associated with the obligation of simcha (joy).[4] As this second waving is not included as part of the formal requirement of lulav, it need not be done in all directions as must the original na'anuim.

The Rambam may very well agree with the Ra'avya on the fundamental point, while disputing its practical application, since the Rambam clearly requires na'anuim in Hallel.[5]


A dispute exists among the Rishonim as to how to wave the lulav downward during the na'anuim. According to one view, the lulav must remain upright as it is waved downward, while the other position holds that the general requirement of "ke-derekh gedilatan," that the four species be held in the manner in which they grow, does not apply to the na'anuim. Thus, one can turn the lulav upside-down as he waves.

Among the arguments cited by the Bet Yosef (O.C. 651) for the first position is the claim that "since one does not fulfill the obligation when he takes the lulav when it is not upright, he must perform all the na'anuim, too, in the manner in which it grew." The Rema, in his Darkhei Moshe, observes the practice of his rabbis to turn the lulav upside-down, "for once the netila was performed [with the lulav] in the upright position, we no longer have any concern that the na'anuim be performed [with the lulav] in the upright position." This debate, too, appears to revolve around the issue of whether we consider the waving part of the actual netila, in which case the lulav must remain upright during the na'anuim, just as it must during the initial netila.


At first glance, we may draw proof that the na'anuim are part of the actual mitzva of netila from a mishna (Sukka 42a): "A child who [has reached an age where he] knows who to wave [the lulav] is obligated in [the mitzva of] lulav." The dependence of the child's obligation on the his ability to wave indicates that the mishna viewed waving as integral to the mitzva.

One could counter, however, that the ability to wave is merely the yardstick by which Halakha determines when the obligation of chinukh (to train a minor in mitzva performance) applies, and this halakha thus does not reflect the status of waving vis-a-vis the mitzva of lulav. However, it seems far more likely that the choice of this specific method of determination reflects the Rambam's position, viewing the na'anuim as a component of the netila obligation. Those following the other approach would have to argue that once Chazal instituted the na'anuim requirement, they established that chinukh for this mitzva should begin only once the child is capable of fulfilling this requirement.


Based on what we have seen, we can resolve the Rambam's position regarding the blessing of "al netilat lulav." In Hilkhot Berakhot (11:15), the Rambam writes:

When one has taken the lulav, he recites the blessing, "al netilat lulav," for once he lifted it he has fulfilled his obligation. If, however, he recites the blessing before he takes [the lulav], he recites "litol lulav," just as one recites, "leishev ba-sukka" [before eating in the sukka]. From here you see that one who recites a blessing after the action recites it [in the form of] "al" - on the action [as opposed to "le-"].

The Rambam explicitly allows for the recitation of the blessing before taking the lulav, and does not consider this recitation too far removed from the netila, as did some Rishonim, as discussed earlier. Seemingly, then, he should require that the blessing optimally be recited before taking the lulav, just as with all mitzvot the recitation of the blessing must take place before the performance. Furthermore, the Rambam himself ruled (ibid., 7) that no blessing over a mitzva may be recited after the completion of the mitzva (with the exception of the blessing recited over immersion for purposes of conversion). How, then, does he allow for the recitation of the blessing after taking hold of the lulav? And if he holds that the blessing refers to the na'anuim, which have yet to take place, then the text of the blessing should follow the future-tense format: "le-na'anea," or "litol."

Undoubtedly, the Rambam here follows his general approach that views the na'anuim as an integral part of the netila obligation. The mitzva of lulav is therefore classified as a mitzva with an extended performance, rather than a single action. The Rambam therefore prefers reciting the blessing after taking the lulav, as otherwise the recitation would occur too long prior to the final fulfillment of the mitzva. Given the status of the na'anuim as part of the netila, a recitation at this point would still satisfy the general requirement of "over la-asiyatan." Nevertheless, the text recited is "al netilat lulav," which refers to a previously performed action, since the blessing includes the netila, which one has already completed.

It would follow from here that if one decides to fulfill only the basic obligation of lulav, and not the complete requirement - meaning, he chooses not to perform the na'anuim - he should recite the blessing "litol lulav" before lifting the lulav. If he did not recite the blessing before lifting, it would seem that he should not recite it afterward, since he has no intention of performing the na'anuim. This issue requires further study and clarification.[6]


An interesting question related to this discussion arises in the works of the Acharonim. The Rema (651:11) rules that be-di'avad (ex post facto), one fulfills the requirement of na'anuim with any form of waving, even if he does not follow the prescribed format. The Magen Avraham comments, "Even if one did not wave at all, he fulfills his obligation." The Bikkurei Yaakov cites the Peri Megadim who rules, based on Tosafot (Sukka 3a), that one who does not execute a mitzva in the manner prescribed by Chazal is considered as not having fulfilled his obligation at all - even if he executed the action required by Torah law. Accordingly, then, we would expect one who takes the lulav without performing the na'anuim to be considered as not having fulfilled the mitzva of lulav at all. How, then, did the Magen Avraham rule that even one who does not wave fulfills the obligation of lulav?

The Bikkurei Yaakov answers that in this instance the individual certainly fulfills the obligation of netilat lulav, since the na'anuim comprise an independent requirement, and their absence thus has no effect on the essential mitzva of lulav.

Clearly, this argument hinges on our discussion. The Rambam, as we have seen, does not accept the premise of the Bikkurei Yaakov, and maintains that the waving indeed constitutes part of the essential netila. Nevertheless, even the Rambam, as we saw, writes that one fulfills the essential mitzva of lulav by simply taking the lulav, even if he fails to perform the na'anuim. We can explain his view in one of two ways.

a) He may deny the entire principle of the Peri Megadim. According to the Rambam, perhaps, one is considered as having fulfilled a Torah obligation even if he does not satisfy the rabbinic requirement associated with that mitzva.[7]

b) The Rambam may accept the basic principle of the Peri Megadim but believe that mitzvot differ from one another in this regard, and it all depends on the nature of the rabbinic enactment in question. In some instances, Chazal uprootethe Torah obligation and established a new requirement, whereas in others they added a requirement alongside the mitzva ordained by the Torah.

From the comments of the Rambam himself, however, the first possibility clearly becomes untenable. In his discussion of the case in the gemara (Sukka 3a) of one who eats in a sukka off a table situated outside the sukka, which Chazal prohibited, the Rambam says that such a person "has not eaten in a sukka at all" (Hilkhot Sukka 6:8). This implyies that the individual has not fulfilled any mitzva - even though he has met the standards required by Torah law. We must therefore accept the second possibility raised. In the case of the na'anuim, the Sages did not uproot the Torah obligation but merely added a requirement of their own. In the situation of the table outside the sukka, they decreed that one should not eat in this manner and thus uprooted the Biblical obligation in this respect.

In conclusion, let us recall Chazal's comment:

On Rosh Ha-shana both Israel and the gentiles stand trial, and they do not know who emerges innocent and who emerges guilty. Therefore, the Almighty gave Israel this mitzva, that they shall rejoice in their lulavim like a man who leaves the judge with an innocent verdict and rejoices. This is what is meant when it says, "Then the trees of the forest shall exult."

The Rosh explains: "Meaning, they shall exult with the trees of the forest [lulavim] when they leave God with an innocent verdict."

May it be His will that this indeed be our verdict this year.


[1] A question arises concerning the Rosh's original recommendations as to why one would recite "al netilat lulav" (a formula which, as we have seen, refers to a previously executed action) even if he recites the blessing with the etrog upside-down and the like. Presumably, the text of the blessing was formulated with the standard method of taking the lulav in mind, and generally the blessing is recited after the lulav is lifted properly.

[2] We may draw further evidence that this is his position from Hilkhot Berakhot 11:8.

[3] See Shulchan Arukh O.C. 651:5, Magen Avraham 11 and Levushei Serad.

[4] See the midrashic passage cited at the end of this shiur.

[5] This is indeed how the Bet Yosef understood the Rambam, as he described the Ra'avya's view as an isolated position accepted by no other authority. I would have suggested, however, that there is room to read this position into the Rambam, as well. In the context of the original na'anuim, at the time of the blessing, the Rambam writes, "One thrusts forth, brings back, lifts and lowers and waves three times in every direction." When describing the na'anuim of Hallel, however, he writes, "When does one thrust forth and bring back during the recitation of Hallel… " Here the Rambam mentions only thrusting the lulav forward and bringing it back, omitting the rest of the waving procedure. Clearly, however, this reading of the Rambam is not necessarily compelling.

[6] See Magen Avraham 651:11 and Yad Efrayim.

[7] The Rambam would thus interpret the clause in Sukka 3a, "Lo kiyamta mitzvat sukka mi-yamekha" ("You have not ever fulfilled the mitzva of sukka"), as referring to the mitzva min ha-muvchar - the highest level of performance, rather than to the essential requirement.