The Gemara Sukkah (37b) writes

ואמר רבה לולב בימין ואתרוג בשמאל מ"ט הני תלתא מצות והאי חדא מצוה א"ל ר' ירמיה לר' זריקא מאי טעם לא מברכינן אלא על נטילת לולב הואיל וגבוה מכולן ולגבהיה לאתרוג ולבריך א"ל הואיל ובמינו גבוה מכול - And Rabba said: One takes the lulav bound with the other two species in the right hand and the etrog in the left. The Gemara explains: What is the reason for that arrangement? These species constitute three mitzvot, and this etrog is only one mitzva. One accords deference to the greater number of mitzvot by taking the three species in the right hand. Rabbi Yirmeya said to Rabbi Zerika: What is the reason that we recite the blessing only with the formula: About taking the lulav, with no mention of the other species? Rabbi Zerika said to him: Since it is highest of them all and the most conspicuous, the other species are subsumed under it. Rabbi Yirmeya asks: And if that is the only reason, let him lift the etrog higher than the lulav and recite the blessing mentioning it. Rabbi Zerika said to him that he meant: Since the tree of its species is the tallest of them all, it is the most prominent, and therefore it is appropriate for the formula of the blessing to emphasize the lulav.

Though previous questions noted height as the reason for our focus on the lulav in the bracha "Al Netilas Lulav," my question is why Chazal say height is the tie-breaker at all (rather than another form of importance like beauty or fragrance)?

  • 4
    Probably because visually it appears as the most stand-out element and you are more inclined to make a bracha on the thing you can see the most of.
    – Dov
    Commented Sep 24, 2020 at 16:26
  • 1
    Does this answer your question? Why is the wording of the beracha upon shaking the arba minim only on lulav?
    – Dov
    Commented Sep 24, 2020 at 16:32
  • Shlah: הואיל ובמינו גבוה מכולן כבר הודענו שהלולב כנגד חוט השדרה נמצא גבוה משאר.. כי הוא עליון לכל גויי הארץ ונחלתו בלא מצרים סור רחובות הנהר מקור הברכות ..
    – The GRAPKE
    Commented Sep 24, 2020 at 23:35
  • Height is much more objectively rankable than fragrance or beauty
    – Double AA
    Commented Sep 13, 2021 at 12:30

3 Answers 3


My Rebbe explained to me that the size requirement for the arba minim (and other things) is a requirement of chashivus. (That is why the lulav of an ir hanidachas is passul: since it must be burned it has no chashivus.) I believe this answers your question. If the lulav must be the largest type, it must also be the most chashuv.

As for fragrance, it is natural but not required. An esrog that is kosher but has no smell is perfectly kosher.


Looking beyond Tractate Sukkah, the Midrash says that the four species represent four types of people. The lulav represents those who have scholarly knowledge but do not perform good deeds. The etrog represents those who both have scholarly knowledge and perform good deeds. [Leviticus Rabbah 30:12]

So if only one must be chosen for the blessing, shouldn't it be the etrog? Two thoughts:

1-The etrog represents a goal that is unattainable in full for most of us. Also, it is the most expensive of the four species, and because of its shape it must be held separately from the other three (one hands holds the etrog and the other holds the other three), and physically it does not easily mingle with the others.

2-The blessing points only to the beginning. And that beginning is to study. The Sources tell us: "Honoring father and mother, practicing deeds of loving-kindness, attending school morning and evening, being hospitable to guests, visiting the sick, dowering the bride, attending the dead to the grave, being devoted in prayer, and making peace between people. And the study of Torah is equivalent to them all (וְתַלְמוּד תּוֹרָה כְּנֶגֶד כֻּלָּם -- V'Talmud Torah k'neged kullam)." [Peah 1:1; Shabbat 127a]

Doing the right thing requires knowledge and planning. These must come first, and if they are good, good things usually follow. Scholars ensure continuity by keeping knowledge alive, thereby motivating future generations to be more observant. Absent scholarship, future generations may not be sure of what is expected of them:

Rabbi Akiva said: ... Study is greater, for it leads to practice. The Sages concluded: ... Study is greater, for it leads to action. [Kidd. 40b]

  • Interesting ideas but they don't explain the gemara.
    – N.T.
    Commented Oct 27, 2020 at 6:58

I've had the same question for years. Perhaps one could say that on the "kabbalistic" side of things, this would indicate that the way something is in this world physically, its counterpart in the upper realms is similar. Meaning if something is tall physically in this world, there is a mirror "tallness" in the upper worlds. This is similar as to why “Rebbie (Rabbi Yehuda the Nasi) honored the wealthy; Rabbi Akiva honored the wealthy.” Eruvin 86a

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .