Why Do We Shake the Lulav?

Why do we shake the lulav in different directions? What is the significance of it?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

We shake the four species in six directions altogether – the four directions, up and down. The most common custom is to first wave towards the east, then to continue with the directions in a clockwise manner, then to wave upwards and then downwards. An alternate custom, based on the Kabbalistic teachings of Arizal, is south, north, east, up, down, west. This is the practice of many Hassidic and Sephardic Jews. In general, these six directions represent all of physical space.

The Talmud (Sukkah 37b) gives two reasons why we wave the four species in these directions: to praise the God of the heavens and the entire earth (its four directions), and as a prayer that God withhold "bad winds" (from the four directions) and "bad dew" (from above to below). Meaning, we ask that the natural forces of the world function in harmony with man rather than destructively. Since Sukkot falls at the start of the rainy season (in Israel), the four species are brought as a way of entreating God that the winter be wet and bountiful. The shaking of them – asking for beneficial winds and dew, adds further to this prayer.

It’s interesting to note that the only other instance in which there is a mitzvah to wave is while holding parts of the Temple sacrifices, and the Talmud gives the identical reasons for those wavings as well. We thus find a fascinating correlation between the sacrifices and the Four Species. Perhaps the notion is as follows.

Very often, Temple offerings serve the purpose of harmonizing the spiritual realm with the physical. They enable God’s beneficence to flow unobstructed from the upper spheres to the lower. On Sukkot as well, we take the Four Species to supplicate God for rain – that God’s goodness descend from the Heavens to grant us physical blessings as well. Thus, both mitzvot include a special mitzvah of waving them. We recognize that the same God of the Heavens is the God of the earth and all reality. This enables Him to shower the physical world with the blessings of the spiritual.

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