“On the first day you are to take branches from luxuriant trees—from palms, willows and other leafy trees—and rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days.” — Leviticus 23:40
Throughout this week, my family and I will join Jews around the world in celebrating Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles. Please enjoy these devotions, which were prepared for you in advance, about this joyous holiday that immediately follows the High Holy Days.
One of the highlights of the Sukkot synagogue service is known affectionately by Jewish children all over the world as “the lulav parade.” At this point in the service, worshippers wave the “four species” mentioned in the Bible and rejoice before God, circling the synagogue reciting special prayers and singing festive songs.
When my children were small, they loved to participate in this festive ritual. I would give them a lemon and a large stalk of celery, which resembled the four species carried by the adults, so that they could feel like grownups taking part in the sacred festivities and wave the “four species” as they celebrated God.
In actuality, the four species refer to palm fronds (lulav), flanked by myrtle (haddasim) on one side and willow branches (aravot) on the other, and a lemon look-alike called a citron (etrog). Together, they play a central role in the celebration of Sukkot.
One of the explanations for the symbolism of the four species is that each represents a different part of the human body. The palm branch is long and thin. It represents a person’s spine, which is the source of our ability to move our limbs, perform physical tasks, and get around in the world.
The leaves of the myrtle resemble our eyes and symbolize our ability to see, internalize, and understand things. The leaves of the willow are shaped like the human mouth and represent our ability to speak, sing, and communicate with others. The citron looks like a human heart. This organ symbolizes our passions and emotions, which are the driving forces behind all we do.
Taken together, the species represent the talents and treasures that God has given to each of us. However, while God gives us the tools to do something wonderful with our lives, we are the ones who determine what we will do with them.
On Sukkot, when we wave the four species and rejoice before God, it’s as though we are holding and celebrating all our God-given abilities. Then we make a blessing on the species and edicate them to God. In this way, we acknowledge that God is the true source of our talents and resources and rededicate them to His purposes — with joy, gratitude, and celebration.
What talents and treasures have you been given? How can you use them to serve God’s purposes?