During the holiday of Succot we “shake” four species, as prescribed in the Torah and explained by the Sages – one palm, two willows, three myrtle and one citron. There are untold meanings – from the simple to the mystical – regarding the types of species, their number, various correspondences to other sets of four in Jewish tradition, how we hold them, to which directions we shake them etc… The underlying theme of shaking the four species is that by bringing them together we create unity.
A beautiful correspondence to this idea of creating unity through the four species, and by extension, the underlying concept of Succot itself, is found in the quest for the unified filed theory in modern science. Albert Einstein revealed that the four basic forces in the physical universe – electromagnetic, gravity, the strong nuclear force and the weak nuclear force – are all unified in essence. He spent the rest of his life trying to establish the proper formula that would reflect this truth. Though he did not succeed, all science since then accepts that there is such a unity in the universe and it has been the ongoing quest of science to find the equation that would explain and ultimately harness this unity.
Of course, Judaism has long posited the unified field theory through its belief in One God, reflected in the cardinal statement of Torah belief: Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. This declaration implies much more than just our belief in One God – it extends to the belief that all that God has created is also in essence one and unified in His oneness.
Not only is there a sense of creating unity when bringing the four species together, as taught in numerous commentaries, but each individual species has its own sense of unity as well. The branches of the palm, which eventually open in a manner reminiscent of a fan, are all bound together at an earlier phase, and it is in this stage that they are taken for Succot. The willows grow very crowded together by places of water and in fact form a bush effect, rather than appearing as individual trees. For the myrtle to be kosher for shaking it must have three leaves all emanating from the same node on the branch. These three species all share an internal sense of unity in the aspect of space.
The citron on the other hand exhibits a sense of unity in the aspect of time. The citron is different than most fruit trees in that it does not give fruit yearly, but its fruit is on the tree for a number of years at a time until it ripens. In this way it unifies a number of yearly cycles.
Along with revealing the essential unity of the four forces in the universe, Albert Einstein also established that along with the three spatial dimensions of space, time also can be understood to be a dimension, and that in fact time and space create an inseparable unity. By taking the four species on Succot we are in a very tangible way reflecting this unity of time and space.
This sense of unity pervades all of the holiday, due to the fact that we create a space called the succah, in which we then spend a week’s time. By shaking the four species outward to the six directions of space and then bringing them back to our hearts, we unify and sanctify space within time.
Succot is the culminating stage in the process of introspection and return to God, beginning during the month of Elul and intensifying through the Days of Awe – Rosh Hashanah, the Ten Days of Repentance and Yom Kippur. Through shaking the four species on Succot we attempt to bring together all the lofty prayers and goals of the High Holidays and actualize them in reality, as represented by shaking outward to the six directions. In this way we take the past, manifest in present time and space, in order to shape the future.