Yesterday, we noted the debate among the Tanna’im surrounding the question of whether “lulav tzarikh egged” – meaning, if the lulav, hadasim and aravot must be bound together by some material in order for the mitzva of arba minim (four species) to be fulfilled. According to the majority view (as the Gemara explains), binding these three species is required only as an aesthetic enhancement of the mitzva, but the actual obligation is fulfilled even if they are not bound together. Rabbi Yehuda, however, maintained that the mitzva of arba minim is not fulfilled unless the lulav, hadasim and aravot are bound together.
The Gemara (Sukka 11b) explains that Rabbi Yehuda inferred his position from a textual link between the arba minim and the night of the Exodus. Just as the Torah commands, “u-lkatchtem” – to “take” the four species on Sukkot (Vayikra 23:40), Benei Yisrael were commanded “u-lkachtem agudat eizov” – to “take” a bundle of hyssop branches with which to place the sacrificial blood on their doorposts in preparation for the plague of the firstborn (Shemot 12:22). Rabbi Yehuda understood from this parallel that just as Benei Yisrael at the time of the Exodus were to take a wrapped bundle (“agudat”) of branches, we are likewise commanded to take a wrapped bundle of the three species on Sukkot.
Several Rishonim, including Tosafot (Sukka 13a, s.v. mitzvat), raised the question of how to reconcile the Gemara’s explanation of Rabbi Yehuda’s view with a passage in the Sifrei (Parashat Chukat) linking the hyssop branches in Egypt and the hyssop used in the preparaton of the purifying para aduma waters. The Torah in Sefer Bamidbar (19:6) requires “taking” hyssop and casting it into the ashes of the red heifer with which these waters were prepared, and the Sifrei establishes that just as three hyssop branches were required on the night of the Exodus, three hyssop branches are required for preparing the purifying waters. The Sifrei links the “taking” of the hyssop in Egypt and the “taking” of the hyssop for the purifying waters, just as Rabbi Yehuda links the “taking” of the hyssop in Egypt and the “taking” of the four species. And yet, the Mishna in Masekhet Para (11:9) states explicitly that the purifying waters are valid even if the three hyssop branches were not bound together. Although the model for this bundle of hyssop is the bundle used by Benei Yisrael on the night of the Exodus, the binding together of the branches is not indispensable to the validity of the purifying waters. Yet, according to Rabbi Yehuda, the bundle of hyssop at the time of the Exodus serves as the model for the “bundle” of the arba minim – and in this instance, the binding is considered indispensable for the fulfillment of the mitzva. The question thus arises as to why the precedent of the hyssop in Egypt does not result in the disqualification of purifying waters prepared by non-bound branches, but this precedent does yield a disqualification of the three species if they are not bound together. Tosafot leave this question unanswered.
Among the approaches taken to answer this question is one which the Ritva cites from the Ra’a. The Ra’a creatively suggests that in discussing the “bundle” of the lulav, hadasim and aravot, Rabbi Yehuda speaks not of a material used for binding, but rather of holding the three species together in one’s hand. Rabbi Yehuda agrees with the other Tanna’im that the lulav, hadasim and aravot do not have to be wrapped together for the mitzva to be fulfilled. He does, however, insist that they be held together at the same time. Whereas the other Tanna’im maintain that one fulfills the mitzva by taking each of the species in succession, Rabbi Yehuda insists that the lulav, hadasim and aravot be taken together. As such, Rabbi Yehuda’s view is consistent with the halakha that binding the hyssop branches for the purifying waters is not indispensable to the waters’ validity, because he concedes that binding the lulav, hadasim and aravot is likewise not indispensable to the mitzva. Taking the species separately invalidates the mitzva, but taking them together without a tie does not, according to the Ra’a’s understanding of Rabbi Yehuda’s opinion.