parsha of the week

Shaking lulav, giving thanks


Is the manner in which we shake the four species random, or is there reason behind how we are supposed to wave them? One of Rabbi Zvi Dov Kanatopsky’s holiday sermons, in the book “Rejoice in Your Festivals,” cites an interesting explanation from the siddur of Rav Kook.

The order of the directions in which we shake the lulav is east, south, west, north, then heavenward, then downward. And the primary time we shake the lulav is in accompaniment to the recitation of the verse, “Hodu laHashem ki tov ki l’Olam chasdo” (Give thanks to G-d for He is good, for His kindness endures forever).

The word hodu (give thanks) is connected to east because hodu means thanks and praise, and the verse says (it’s the third verse in Hallel!), “From the Rising sun [in the east] to its setting, Hashem’s name is praised.”

The word tov (good) is connected to the west on account of a tradition recorded in the Talmud (B Bath 25a) that “the divine presence is in the west.” If we accept that G-d is the ultimate good, then the idea of G-d being both good and the west is all connected.

The word l’olam (forever) references the heavens, as the pasuk says (Tehilim 119), “Forever, Hashem, your word stands firm in the heavens.”

The word chasdo (His kindness) references downwards, because the verse says Tehillim 33, “The lovingkindness of Hashem fills the earth” (earth is downward).

As we don’t shake the lulav when we say G-d’s name, the remaining directions are south and north, both accompanied by the word ki (for).

The same Talmudic passage ascribes a quality to each of these directions: “One who wants to attain knowledge is to turn south.” North is considered to be the source of wealth.

If we turn back to the entire verse, we see that the two “ki” words” are arguably unnecessary. Give thanks to G-d Who is good, His kindness is forever. (Note the absence of the doubly-referenced “for”s).

Rabbi Kanotopsky explained that the word ki is neutral (it establishes nothing, it is merely a conjunction), it only has meaning if you extract the meaning from the words or words that follow it. Knowledge and wealth, the directions of south and north, are similarly neutral and say nothing in and of themselves. They are neither good nor bad. They have to lead to something else.

Regarding knowledge, consider this quote from an article written in 2014: “What’s most impressive, though, is that NASA launched a rocket into space, guided three astronauts to the moon, landed two of them on its surface, returned them to their original craft and brought them home again with less computational power than you’ve got in your iPhone. A lot less. IBM’s mainframes, at their fastest, couldn’t rival a store-bought USB stick today for computational prowess. The command module in the spacecraft? Your car is infinitely more complex. 

“The Apollo guidance computer? It operated at just over 1Mhz. The iPhone’s M7 processor, which runs alongside the A7, is exclusively dedicated to monitoring data from the phone’s accelerometer, gyroscope, compass and other sensors and is clocked at 150MHz. The Apollo computer took a spacecraft to the moon and back and it’s 150 times less powerful than a processor that knows whether you’re walking or driving.”

Knowledge can do that. And knowledge can also be extremely destructive. Knowledge, therefore, must be surrounded by two principles. First, “Hodu LaHashem” (belief in G-d). G-d must be praised and His law observed. Then we say tov, pointing westward, to remind us that in the context of recognizing the glory of G-d, man can put his knowledge and wisdom to good use.

Next we turn Northward, saying ki for the second time. Northward which reminds us of wealth, but wealth itself is neutral — tt can be used for acts of kindness and charity, but also to corrupt and destroy the lives of others.

Part of the point of Sukkos, in leaving the home, is to indicate that my wealth is not mine. And so when we turn Northward, in the direction of wealth, while reciting the neutral word ki, we must immediately follow it with the l’olam chasdo (His kindness is forever).

Any achievement of wealth is a gift from the Almighty, and as such we are the recipients of His chesed, and we will hopefully use our wealth for good, to shine forth upon others using the gifts and talents granted to us by G-d.

When we carry our lulav and esrog, and especially when we shake them, we should be blessed to remind ourselves that our G-d Who surrounds us, Who gifts us with the blessings of brainpower and the ability to be successful, also tasks us to use our blessings for goodness.

Every time we hear or say the words “Hodu laHashem ki tov ki l’Olam chasdo” we should remember that as we pray for wealth and knowledge we are also praying to be blessed to use both of them properly, both as modeling and imitating G-d’s ways, and also in helping others.