What are the differences between the Aravah (willow) that may be used in the Arba Minim (the Four Species taken on Succot) and the Tzaftzafah (populous alba) that may not be used in the Arba Minim?
1. The Aravah’s stem is red, whilst the Tzaftzafah’s is white.
2. The Aravah’s leaves are long and thin, whereas those of the Tzaftzafah are short and rounded.
3. The Aravah’s leaves have smooth edges, while the Tzaftzafah’s edges are serrated. (Gemara Succah 34a)
What is the significance of these three distinguishing features?
We are taught1 that the Arba Minim represent four types of Jew2, with the Aravah (which has no taste or smell) alluding to a Jew who is devoid of anything spiritual – he has learnt no Torah and performed no Ma’asim Tovim (good deeds). Yet we know that every Jew has three characteristics without which it is questionable whether he really is a Jew: Bayshanim (a sense of shame), Rachmanim (merciful), Gomlei Chasadim (kindness)3.
Rav Tzvi Hirsch Ferber explains that these three qualities are hinted at in the three signs of a kosher Aravah:
1. An Aravah must have a red stem, which refers to the trait of a sense of shame, for when a Jew is rebuked his face goes red because he is embarrassed by his shortcomings.
2. The quality of mercy is hinted at by the smooth, gentle edge of the leaf; not serrated which would mean sharp and causing pain.
3. An Aravah must have long, thin leaves as opposed to the Tzaftzafah’s short, round leaves. The latter catches all the water that falls on it, and it trickles down to its own stem. However, if rain falls on long thin leaves, it trickles off and falls onto other leaves, alluding to the attribute of kindness.
1. Based on Gemara Menachot 27a
2. The Etrog which has both a pleasant taste and a beautiful smell alludes to the Jew who studies Torah and performs good deeds. The Lulav (date palm) produces tasty fruit but has no smell, symbolising the Jew who studies Torah but does not perform good deeds. The Hadass (myrtle) has an enjoyable smell but no taste, representing the Jew who has good deeds but does not study Torah.
3. Gemara Yevamot 79a and Rashi to Shmuel II 21:2