“Daddy, can I have your lulav and esrog?”
His teenage daughter has asked the question correctly. She said the word “have,” indicating that she knows the halachah of “lachem” — that on the first two days of Sukkos, the lulav and esrog have to belong to the person making the berachah, otherwise it is a non-fulfillment of the mitzvah and a berachah l’vatalah. But which one should she (or he) take first, halachically? Should the lulav (et al) be taken first, or the esrog?
An unofficial survey revealed that when women perform the mitzvah, they usually take the esrog first and then the lulav. Yet when most men do it, they take the lulav first and then the esrog. It is unclear, however, as to whether this is done by them as a halachic practice or just as a habit.
What is the halachah? The correct answer is that it is a machlokes, a debate in halachah. Indeed, this author would like to suggest that, originally, after the publication of the sefer Magen Avraham, most of the Ashkenazic world followed the view that the esrog goes first. Only later did the Ashkenazic world change. But let’s start at the beginning.
The Rema’s View
The Rema in 651:12 writes that one takes the lulav first. The Mishnah Berurah (citing the Vilna Gaon) explains that since the wording of the berachah is on the lulav, it must be the closest thing to the berachah. The Shaarei Teshuvah cites the view of the Machazik Berachah who also states that one takes the lulav first and indicates that this view is the preferred method.
The Magen Avraham’s View
The Magen Avraham (651:8 citing a Mateh Moshe who cites a Shelah) writes that one should first take the esrog and then the lulav. When putting it away, he writes to put the lulav away first and then the esrog. He compares it to tefillin, where we first put on the shel yad, then the shel rosh, and then we take off the shel rosh and then the shel yad. It would seem that the comparison is based on the fact that the shel yad appears in the pasuk first and then the shel rosh. By the same token, the esrog appears in the verse first, followed by the other minim.
“On the first day you shall take the product of hadar trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before Hashem” (Vayikra 23:40).
Attacking the Magen Avraham
Rav Yechezkel Landau of Prague, in his Dagul Mervavah, however, claims that this must be an error. He attempts to disprove the assertion from the Gemara in Menachos 36a, where the Gemara asks: How do we derive that when he removes the tefillin, the shel rosh comes first? It seems that the fact that a special verse is required — “And they shall be as frontlets (totafos),” being plural at all times — shows that the go-to halachah would be to take off the first one first. The Dagul Mervavah also questions the first assertion that the esrog is taken first in the first place. He asks how the Magen Avraham could have missed the explicit Rambam, Tosfos, Rosh, and Tur, who all state that the lulav is taken first. The Chayei Adam (from Vilna and after the Shulchan Shlomo) in siman 148 also attacks the Magen Avraham like the Dagul Mervavah.
The original Shulchan Shlomo (of Vilna) (Mirkes) cites the halachah in accordance with the Magen Avraham. Rav Yaakov Lorberbaum (author of the Nesivos) in his Derech HaChaim (101:5) also rules like the Magen Avraham. The Yad Ephraim and Machatzis HaShekel seem to rule like him as well.
The Sdei Chemed cites the Chida as indicating like the view of the Dagul Mervavah, but it seems that elsewhere the Chida writes explicitly like the view of the Magen Avraham (in his sefer Tov Ayin).
Defending the Magen Avraham
In defense of the Magen Avraham, the sefer Zichron Sofrim (a contemporary work often based on various writings of the Chasam Sofer) writes that the Mateh Moshe connects and correlates the four minim to the four parshiyos in the tefillin — that there is a spiritual connection between the two mitzvos. Therefore, one is learned out from the other. (This fits nicely with Gemara in Sukkah 38a where the lulav is the arrow in the eye of the Satan, derived the same verse that refers to the tefillin shel rosh.) The Eishel Avraham and the Chasam Sofer both defend the view of the Magen Avraham as well.
Mishnah Berurah and Rav Shulchan Aruch
It is interesting to note that both the Mishnah Berurah and the Rav Shulchan Aruch leave out the view of the Magen Avraham. It could be that there were two other factors that swayed their decisions. Firstly, the lulav has three of four minim bound together, which may give it greater weight. Secondly, since the right hand has greater weight than the left hand, this would also apply to mitzvos of the right hand. Since the lulav is taken in the right hand, it would have precedence. It could very well be that the Mishnah Berurah utilized these two factors to set aside the order-of-the-pasuk issue (see Nezirus Shimshom and Sdei Chemed cited in the Kuntrus Acharon of the Mateh Ephraim).
Four Methods to Understanding the Debate
Perhaps one could say that Rav Landau is of the opinion that one cannot derive the law of the four minim from tefillin because in tefillin, there are two separate mitzvos, while the four minim are all one mitzvah, so the order in the pesukim wouldn’t count. The Magen Avraham would hold either that there is a spiritual connection—therefore one could derive one from the other — or that one may derive the internal order of the elements of one mitzvah from the external order of two mitzvos.
An alternative approach lies in how one understands the mitzvah of the four minim. Is it the taking of the four minim or the holding of the four minim? The Binyan Shlomo (siman 48) cites the view of Rav Yisrael Salanter (the founder of the Mussar movement) that the mitzvah lies in the former: the initial taking of the four minim. The Chazon Ish and the Netziv are of the opinion that the mitzvah lies in the latter, the holding of the four minim. The Magen Avraham would be of the opinion that the order in the verses has great weight, since that is where the mitzvah lies. On the other hand, the Dagul Mervavah would hold that the order is only when there is a mitzvah being fulfilled, but since the mitzvah is only in the holding of the four minim, we would sooner give weight to the wording of the berachah.
A third approach is like we suggested before. The lulav has three minim bound together. What has precedence? The order of the pasuk or the fact that there are more weighty mitzvos? The Magen Avraham would give more weight to the order, while the Dagul Mervavah would give more weight to the mitzvos.
A fourth approach is that the issue is strictly a matter of kavod ha’berachah (like the Vilna Gaon writes), honor to the blessing. Since the blessing was established on the lulav, that is the one that should be taken first, according to the Dagul Mervavah. The Magen Avraham would hold that the order of the pasuk has precedence.
Rav Elyashiv followed the view of the Mishnah Berurah strictly, and took the lulav first (Ish Al HaEidah, page 21). This was also what the Steipler did, as well as Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach.
If we assume that most people are unaware of the halachic aspects of the issue, and if we assume that our initial statistics are correct that women more often than not take the esrog first, why would this be? Perhaps the answer to this is similar to what some chassidim explain is the order that Moshe Rabbeinu himself followed, taking the esrog first. The esrog alludes to the heart. Moshe Rabbeinu wished to capture the heart of the people first. By the same token, women are usually more attentive to the emotional aspects of things. Perhaps, subconsciously, this is the reason they may reach for the esrog first.
Rabbi Hoffman can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com.