I Will Climb into the Palm Tree and Take Hold of its Branches

by tillerofthesoil

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The tree of knowledge, good and evil (Genesis 2:9)—what was the tree of which the human and his woman ate? … Rabbi Abba of Akko said: It was אֶתְרוֹג (etrog), the citron, as is written, And the woman saw that the tree was good for eating [and that it was lust to the eyes and the tree was lovely to look at, and she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave to her man with her, and he ate] (ibid. 3:6). Go out and see: what tree is it whose wood is eaten just like its fruit? You find none but etrog, a citron” (Bereshit Rabbah 15:7, cf. ).

“Rabbi Yishma’el says: [The mitsvah of the four species requires] three הֲדַסִּים (hadassim), myrtle branches, two עֲרָבוֹת (aravot), willow branches, one לוּלָב (lulav), palm branch, and one אֶתְרוֹג (etrog), citron” (M Sukkah 3:4).

Make me know the path of life. Joys overflow in Your presence, delights in Your right hand forever (Psalms 16:11).

Israel said before the blessed Holy One: ‘Master of the Universe! Make me know the path of life [חַיִּים (ḥayyim), life, is numerically equivalent to לוּלָב (lulav), palm branch]!’ He said to them, ‘Here are the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: שֹׂבַע שְׂמָחוֹת (sova’a semaot), joys overflow, in Your presence—rather read: שֶׁבַע שְׂמָחוֹת (sheva semaot), seven joys, of the festival, and what are they? The four species, plus סֻכָּה (sukkah), hut, the Ḥagigah (festal) offering, and rejoicing. What is delights in Your right hand נֶצַח (netsaḥ), forever? Rabbi Avin said, ‘This is the palm branch, like one who is מְנַצֵחַ (menatseaḥ), triumphant, holds a wand. What is this like? Two who entered before the judge, but we do not know who won, unless we see one of them holding a wand in his hand and then we know that he won. Similarly, Israel and the nations of the world go in and contend with the blessed Holy One on Rosh Hashanah, and we do not know who won, but when Israel depart from His presence with their לֻלַּבּין (lullabbin), palm branches, and אֶתְרוֹגִין (etrogin), citrons, in their hands, we know that Israel came out triumphant [cf. BT Sukkah 55b]” (Vayiqra Rabbah 30:2, cf. Midrash Tehilim 17:5).

Now, all the holy forms are appointed over all the peoples, but ‘Israel is holy’ (BT Ḥullin 7b), they pluck [a beautiful] נוֹף (nof), branch (Psalms 48:3) [from] the Tree. And his heart, what [is the] heart? The stately fruit of the גוּף (guf), body. So Israel plucks fruit of a stately tree (Leviticus 23:40)—a date palm surrounded by his branches all around with his palm branch in the middle. So Israel plucks a branch of this Tree, which is His Heart. And corresponding to the branch is the spinal cord in man, the root of the guf, trunk. What is this לוּלָב (lulav), palm branch? It denotes: ל״ו ל״ב (Thirty-six, thirty-two)—to לֵב (lev), the Heart, thirty-six are added. And what is this Heart? In Him are ‘Thirty-two wondrous paths of Wisdom’ (Sefer Yetsirah §1). In each path there is also a form keeping guard, as is written, To guard the way to the tree of life (Genesis 3:24)” (Bahir §98, cf. Zohar 3:104a; TZ 21, 47b).

Rabbi Berekhiah sat and expounded: What is the לוּלָב (lulav), palm branch, that we discussed? We said: ל״ו (thirty-six) given over to ל״ב (thirty-two). But how? He replied: There are three princes: תָּלִי (Tali) [alt., תְלִי (Theli), like a serpentine spine which twists the heavens, i.e., Draco, Axis Mundi], Wheel, and Heart. Each one is twelve, and the three therefore reckon thirty-six, by which the world is sustained [see BT Sanhedrin 97b; Sukkah 45b], as is written: The Righteous One is foundation of the world (Proverbs 10:25)” (Bahir §101).

A parable: A king wished to plant nine male trees in his garden, all of them palms. What did he do? He said: Since they are all of the same kind it is impossible for them to endure. What did he do? He planted אֶתְרוֹג (etrog), a citron, among them, and it was one of those nine which arose in thought to be male. And why is the citron, female? Because it is written, The fruit of a stately tree, fronds of palm trees, [and a branch of a leafy tree and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before YHWH your God seven days] (Leviticus 23:40). What is the fruit of a stately tree? The Targum renders this, fruit of the citron tree, palm branches, [myrtles and willows]” (Bahir §172).

What is [Holy, holy,holy (Isaiah 6:3)? This is אֶתְרוֹג (etrog), the citron, stateliness of all. Why is it called stately (Leviticus 23:40)? ‘Do not read הָדָר (hadar), stately, but הַדָּר ­(ha-dar), Dweller [—dwelling on its tree from year to year]’ (BT Sukkah 35a). This is etrog, the citron—separate from the לוּלָב (lulav), palm branch, bunch. Yet no mitsvah of lulav, palm branch, exists without it. For it is also bound with All [the Righteous One; Yesod, see Zohar 1:221a]. With each one; unified with them all.

What does the לוּלָב (lulav), palm branch, correspond to? The spinal cord. Therefore it is written, [Fronds of palm trees,] and a branch of a leafy tree and willows of the brook (Leviticus 23:40). The branches must cover the majority [of the bunch]. If its branches do not cover its majority, it is invalid. Why? What is this like? A man has arms, and with them he protects his head. He has two arms, and his head makes three: a branch of a leafy tree. A branch is to the left, and the leaves are to the right. It then comes out that the tree is in the middle. And why is it called a tree? Because it is the root of the Tree.

What are willows of the brook (Leviticus 23:40)? There are two [willow branches in the לוּלָב (lulav), palm branch], and these correspond to the two thighs in man. Why are they called עַרְבֵי נָחַל (arvei naḥal), willows of the brook? Because the greater of the two is inclined toward the מַעֲרֵב (ma’arev), west, and draws its power from there. The one to the north is smaller than it by a journey of five hundred years. It is on the northwest side, through which it functions. It is named after it, since they are both עֲרָבִים (aravim), mixed.

Another interpretation: עַרְבֵי נָחַל (Arvei naḥal), willows of the brook—sometimes their functions מְעָרְבִים (me’arvim), are mixed, this with that. And why are they called willows of the brook? Say because of the place in which they are steady, which is called נָחַל (naḥal), brook [or: river]. Therefore it is written All the rivers go to the sea, and the sea is not full (Ecclesiastes 1:7). What is this sea? We say that it is אֶתְרוֹג (etrog), the citron.

How do we know that each of the seven qualities [sefirot] is called נָחַל (naḥal), river? Because it is written, And from Mattanah to Nahaliel and from Nahaliel to Bamoth (Numbers 21:19) [cf. M Avot 6:2]. Do not read נַחֲלִיאֵל (naḥaliel), Nahaliel, but נַחֲלֵי אֵל (naḥlei El), rivers of God. And all six then go on one way to the Sea. What is this way? It is the one that decides between them. Therefore it is written: Before Him went the pestilence, and burning fever went forth at His feet (Habakkuk 3:5). All of them go to that channel, and from that channel to the Sea. This is And from מַּתָּנָה (mattanah), Mattanah, to Nahaliel—a place which is נִתַן (nitan), given, namely from the brain to Nahaliel and from Nahaliel to Bamoth.

What is Bamoth? As the Targum renders it: רָמָתָא (ramata), Heights. This is the סְגוּלָּה (segullah), which follows the זַרְקָא (zarqa). And from Bamoth to the valley that is in the steppes of Moab, by the top of Pisgah looking out over the wasteland (Numbers 21:19). And from Bamoth, Heights, to the valley that is in the steppes of Moab—that which is מְזוּמָן (mezuman), ready. And what is that which was in the steppes of Moab? Do not read מוֹאָב (mo’av), Moab, but מִאָב (mi-av), from father. This is the Father of whom is written, Because Abraham has listened to My voice and has kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, [and My teachings] (Genesis 26:5).

What is הַשָּׂדֶה (ha-sadeh), the steppes [or: the field]? It is the one that is at the top of Pisgah, and which is also looking out over the wasteland. יְשִׁימֹן (Yeshimon), the wasteland, is translated as שְׁמַיָּא (shemayya), heavens. Regarding that channel, it is written, A garden spring, a garden of fresh water and streams from Lebanon (Song of Songs 4:15). What is Lebanon? We say this is Ḥokhmah. What are עַרְבֵי נָחַל (arvei naḥal), willows of the brook? We say this is that which gives נַחֲלָה (naḥalah), a heritage, to Israel. And that is two אוֹפַנִי הַמֶרְכָּבָה (ofani ha-merkavah), wheels of the Chariot.

We learned that there are ten גַלגַלִים (galgalim), spheres [or: wheels], and ten utterances. Each sphere has its utterance. Not that it is surrounded by it, but rather it surrounds it. This world is like a mustard seed in a ring. Why? Because of the breath that blows upon it, by which it is sustained. If this breath were to be interrupted the world would wither in an instant [in the mystery of You enliven them all (Nehemiah 9:6)]” (Bahir §§175–179).

Why was she called תָמָר (tamar), Date Palm, and not any other name? Because she was female. Can we then say that she was female [i.e., was this something extraordinary]? But it is because she included both male and female. For every date palm includes both male and female. How is this? The לוּלָב (lulav), palm branch, is male. The fruit is male on the outside and female on the inside. And how so? The pit of a date is cleft like a woman. Corresponding to it is the power of the moon above” (Bahir §198).

“A אַמָּה (ammah), cubit [lit., arm], is the measure of the body in four directions and up and down, making six cubits. And each arm has three joints, making eighteen joints in the six cubits, being the secret of the eighteen wavings with the lulav in six directions, three in each direction. Of them it is said: קוֹמָתֵךְ (Qomatekh), Your stature, is like a palm tree (Song of Songs 7:8). And this is the שִׁיעוּר קוֹמָה (shi’ur qomah), measure of the stature, the מִקְוֵה יִשְׂרָאֵל (Miqveh Yisra’el), Gathering of Israel (Jeremiah 14:8) in Shekhinah” (Zohar 3:228a, Ra’aya Meheimna Pineḥas).

“She [Malkhut] is raised with the four species up to Thought [Ḥokhmah], as is written: I thought: I will climb, the palm, [I will grasp its stalks] (Song of Songs 7:9). אֶעֱלֶה (E’eleh), I will climb—a mnemonic: אֶתְרוֹג (etrog), citron, עֲרָבָה (aravah), willow, לוּלָב (lulav), palm branch, and הֲדָס (hadas), myrtle” (Zohar 3:283b, Ra’aya Meheimna Ki Tetse, cf. Tiqqunei ha-Zohar 29b).

אַל תְּבוֹאֵנִי רֶגֶל גַּאֲוָה (Al tevo’eni regel ga’avah), Let no haughty foot overtake me, nor the hand of the wicked repel me (Psalms 36:12)אֶתְרֹג (etrog), citron” (Rabbi Ḥayyim Vital, Sefer ha-Liqqutim).