Home Jewish Holidays The Four Species and the Four Types of Prayer

The Four Species and the Four Types of Prayer

by Meir Elkabas

Reb Noson provides us with a thought-provoking perspective. He explains that the lulav, myrtle branches, aravot, and etrog resemble a quill and three fingers gripping a pen. When we typically hold a pen, it’s with the first three fingers. Based on the Tikkuney Zohar, this imagery likens the four species to a quill and three fingers.

The purpose behind holding these four species during Sukkot is to spread the teachings of the tzaddikim (righteous individuals) throughout the world. When we wave these species in all six directions—up, down, and the four cardinal points—we symbolize our intention to disseminate the holy wisdom of Torah. We are, in essence, like writers using a pen with three fingers to engrave and convey these sacred teachings to the world.

This act of spreading knowledge aims to elevate us in prayer, as Rebbe Nachman emphasized. He teaches that a Jew should aspire to the highest level of prayer, where Torah lessons are transformed into heartfelt supplications. This unique form of prayer brings exceptional delight to Hashem, unlike anything else in the world. It’s the pinnacle of devotion because it harnesses the energy of Torah to express our deepest thoughts and desires, resulting in a level of prayer that far surpasses any level of Torah study.

Through sharing the teachings of the tzaddikim and holding the four species, we undergo a personal transformation. It enables us to open ourselves up to a profound connection with Hashem. This is one of the ways the four species symbolize our spiritual journey.

Another perspective is that the four species in our hands represent the four accessible formats of prayer for every Jew. First, we have the formal prayers found in the Seder: Shacharit, Mincha, and Arvit—morning, afternoon, and evening prayers, respectively. Then, we can engage in personal prayer using the Book of Psalms. Additionally, various tzaddikim have composed written prayers that touch the heart deeply, such as Reb Noson’s prayers based on Rebbe Nachman’s teachings in Likutey Moharan.

The highest and most ideal form of prayer is known as Hitbodidut—your personal, spontaneous communication with Hashem. The Rambam explains that this was the original way of prayer, before the establishment of the formal Amida prayer. Speaking to Hashem in your own words, from the depths of your heart, remains the pinnacle of prayer. It’s an act of creation, innovation, and the most genuine form of davening.

Incorporating these insights into the significance of the four species enriches our understanding of Sukkot and our spiritual connection with Hashem.

The four species represent the four accessible formats of prayer for every Jew

Now, let’s delve into the four types of prayers symbolized by the four species used during Sukkot.

First, there are the myrtle branches, and it’s essential that they come in triples. This is reminiscent of the three patriarchs, Avraham, Yitzhak, and Yaakov, who each established a specific prayer time. Avraham prayed in the morning, setting the precedent for our morning prayers. Yitzhak prayed during the afternoon, giving rise to our afternoon prayers. And Yaakov prayed at night, establishing our evening prayers. The myrtle’s lack of taste mirrors the challenge many face when it comes to davening formally without feeling a deep connection; it’s like a prayer without taste.

Next is the willow branch, the Aravah, which thrives near water. This corresponds to the Book of Psalms, which contains the seven voices of King David, calling out over the water. Sukkot, being a time of judgment, particularly for water, explains why on Hoshana Rabbah, the seventh day of the festival, we intensify our prayers for abundant rain. Water is crucial for crops, and thus, life itself. Psalms are closely linked to the willow branch, as we even recite the entire book on Hoshana Rabbah, further emphasizing this connection.

Written prayers, much like the lulav resembling a dagger, can feel like a powerful tool for communicating with Hashem. This is especially true with Reb Noson’s prayers, as they guide and assist in expressing one’s thoughts and emotions. However, the ultimate goal is to reach the level of the etrog, which is shaped like a heart. Prayers from the heart are the most potent. While you can send forth prayers forcefully like a dagger, the true aim is to soften your heart, pouring out your sincerest emotions before Hashem. This deep, personal form of prayer is akin to Hitbodidut.

In summary, we use the four species during Sukkot to activate these four categories of prayer, preparing ourselves for Simchat Torah. This preparation ensures that we approach Torah study and prayer throughout the year with dedication, allowing us to absorb the Torah’s teachings and turn them into meaningful actions in our lives.


Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom!

Meir Elkabas

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