Why are branches and citrus fruit associated with Sukkot?

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, On the fifteenth day of this seventh month and for seven days is the Feast of Booths to the LORD.” Leviticus 23:33-34

We’re in the midst of Sukkot, or the Feast of Booths. This is the seventh and final moedim of the Torah which Moses writes for the people of Israel to observe. It’s the most festive week of the year — God actually commands His people to rejoice before Him for seven days! It’s not a suggestion or a recommendation, but a commandment for the Israelites to shake off sadness and to rejoice.

The festival of Sukkot, which means “booth,” has so much content that could be written about, I would like to focus on the lulav and the etrog.

“And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days.” Leviticus 23:40

The lulav and the etrog are the materials the LORD commands His people to use in rejoicing before Him during Sukkot. Traditionally the lulav, though it literally refers to the branch of a palm tree, is the name given to the cluster of the three branches mentioned in the verse above. The other two branches are said to be that of a myrtle and a willow tree. The etrog refers to a type of citrous fruit. Most associate it to be a rather large, lemon-like fruit common to the land of Israel.

Now that we’ve gone over what the traditional species are, what sort of celebration is supposed to be done with the lulav and the etrog? This is the question that rabbis have talked about for centuries. The two schools of thought lie with Leviticus 23:40 and Nehemiah 8:15.

The verse in Leviticus, which we’ve already read above, says the lulav and the etrog are to be used to “rejoice before the LORD.” Many take this to mean that they should be waved in celebration before the LORD . Similar to how flags or pom-poms are waved in celebration at sporting events, parades, and national events, the people of Israel have used branches to celebrate throughout their history. Remember, Yeshua’s great entrance into Jerusalem was celebrated with palm branches (John 12:13). Now, let’s look at Nehemiah.

“Go out to the hills, and bring olive branches and wild olive branches, myrtle branches, palm branches and branches of other leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written.” Neh emiah 8:15

The Feast of Booths is commanded to be celebrated for several reasons, but one of the main reasons is to remember how the LORD brought Israel out of the wilderness, where they lived in temporary dwellings, and into the promised land (Leviticus 23:43). Therefore, temporary dwellings, or sukkahs, are built each year and the people of Israel live in them for the seven days of the festival as is commanded in Leviticus 23:42. So, the second school of thought believes the lulav and the etrog are the materials to be used in making and decorating the sukkahs for the festival.

The majority comes to the decision to combine the two interpretations. We wave the cluster of branches and the citrous fruit in all directions (North, South, East, West, Up, and Down) before the LORD, as well as use them in the building of sukkahs.

This article originally appeared on FIRM and is reposted with permission.

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Dustin Herron is a men's ministry coordinator at Gateway Church in Southlake, TX, and has a Master’s in Christian Leadership from Moody Bible Institute. He attended a Messianic congregation in southeastern Kentucky while growing up, and through this experience, the LORD cultivated a passion for Israel and for God’s Word in Dustin. He greatly enjoys spending time with his wife, Andrea, and reading in his hammock whenever cooler Texas weather permits.