Like Abraham and Sarah, a bagel and schmear, or apples and pie, the lulav and etrog are a perfect pair. The lulav and etrog are most commonly interpreted as parts of the four species of Sukkot — four for the four types of Jews and for the number of steps to a blessing. But what else do they symbolize that makes these Sukkot items so special?
1. Adam and Eve
There is a masculine-feminine motif behind the two, according to My Jewish Learning, because the lulav is a masculine shape, and the etrog takes the form of a feminine shape. There is a beautiful unity to it as Sukkot brings us together in a wonderful unity.
2. Brains and heart
According to Breaking Matzo, they represent the pairing of study and good deeds. “The etrog, which has a good taste and a good smell, is like those who know the Torah and do good deeds. While the lulav which has a good taste, but no smell, is like a person with knowledge, but who does no good deeds. The myrtle, which has a good smell and no taste, is like a simple person who has no knowledge and learning, but is innately kind and caring. Lowest on the rung of human values is the willow, which has neither taste nor fragrance, and symbolizes those people with no interest in gaining knowledge and no innate sense of responsibility towards others and no feeling of the need to help others,” the blog explains.
3. One body
Jewish mystics believe the lulav, with its three species, represents the human body’s eyes, mouth and spine, while the etrog represents the heart, according to Nina Amir of Creation Coach. She writes that “the palm is like our spine, the willow leaf has the shape of our mouth, and the myrtle leaves have the shape of our eyes.” During the blessing, we pray with our whole body in more ways than one.
4. One community
Rabbi Stephen Stern of Arden Heights Boulevard Jewish Center/Congregation Etz Chaim in New York added a larger picture interpretation of the lulav and etrog after the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, 2001. He wrote that the etrog stands for the heart of society united in response to tragedy, while the palm branch is represents courage. “The myrtle leaves are the tears shed for the victims and the willow is our mouth to speak in praise of the heroes,” he wrote.