LESSON ONE - THE LULAV
We'll start with the Lulav, the tallest of them all - which is why it has the special privilege of being selected for the Brocho, Al Netilas "Lulav".
The Torah calls it a Kapos Temorim, because it grows on the beautiful date palm tree. A date palm tree is quite an interesting one. It comes in two varieties. One is the male tree, which provides the flowers which are used to pollinate the female palm tree that bears the actual fruit - the dates (which is referred to in the Torah by the word d'vash).
A Lulav grows in the very center of the tree. It may also grow around the very bottom to the tree. As many months pass by, its leaves slowly begin to open up and spread apart. Later, they begin to harden. The word kapos can also be read as kofus - which means to bind together. Our Chazal explain that once its leaves have spread apart and hardened into place, then it can no longer be used for a Lulav, since in its present state it can no longer be bound together. Yet, one is still permitted to use a Lulav whose leaves are spread apart as long as they have the possibility of being tied together. Actually, tying its leaves together is only a mitzva min ha'muvca - the best possible way to fulfill the mitzvah, which is something we should always strive to do. The most beautiful Lulav is one whose leaves stand perfectly together, and you'll usually find it in the center of the date tree. The word kapos is spelled without the "vov" to teach is that we are to use only one Lulav.
Even though the word hador - beautiful, actually describes the Esrog, called the pri eitz hador, which is certainly the most beautiful of the four Minim, yet the other three Minim are required to be hodor, "beautiful" as well. That's because the Torah compares them one to another. Certainly the more beautiful the Minim you can get, the greater the mitzvah. However, our Chachomim have given us certain guidelines to follow. If the Minim do not meet certain minimum standards of hodor-beauty, then they are considered posul invalid and cannot be used. Each one of the four Minim has certain standards unique to its type, which we will discuss as we learn about each one of them.
Shedra - Spine
Let's now take a closer look at the Lulav. The center spine of the Lulav, from which all the leaves grow out, is called the shedra of the Lulav.
Ok'um - Crooked
One should always check to see that the Lulav is straight. If it's as crooked as a hunchback or a sickle (magol) then it is posul. However, if you've ever seen a Lulav growing on a tree, then you've surely noticed that many a time it grows stooping slightly in the direction of the spine, known as the shedra. Therefore, if a Lulav is bent in the direction of the shedra it is Kosher. However, if it's bent to the sides or in the opposite direction then it is posul.
kofuf- Bent Over
A Lulav whose top part of the spine - shedra - is bent over in any direction becomes posul. This is called k'egmon, which some say looks like a fish hook and others describe like a certain weed whose top is bent downward. The p'sul is highly unusual.
k'nepel - Hooked Downward
However, many times one can see that the spine's top leaf is hooked inward. This is generally referred to as a "knepel". The Rosh loved to take such a Lulav, since it would keep the leaf from coming apart. However, the Ran and the Rit'vah consider such a Lulav posul, (because they consider this as the p'sul of k'egmon). The minhag (custom) is to use such a Lulav, yet there are those who are machmir (more stringent). So you've got your choice. Many Riziner, Vishnitzer and Kapitchnitzer Chassidim are mehada to use such a Lulav. However, if the leaves themselves are greatly folded down, then many poskim pasel (invalidate) it.
Shiur - Its Size
By the way, we always measure the Lulav by the size of its shedra (spine) only. The minimum size of a Lulav is 4 tefochim (fists). Measure only the shedra - the spine itself. Be very careful not to include the top leaf. The shedra starts right where the top leaf begins to grow. This leaf is the most important one of the entire Lulav, and we'll discuss its laws a little later. Remember! The top leaf is not included in the 4 tefochim.
L'na'neah - To Shake
This top tefach of the shedra, by the way, is in order to be able to properly shake the Lulav, and therefore you must be very careful not to tie it up. So remember, never put your top ring up too high, for then the Lulav will not be able to shake properly. Also, make sure that the Arovos and Hadasim stay clear of this area. (See Shulchan Aruch HoRav 5651 , who uses the loshon v'tzorich l'hizohe m'oh-one must be extreamly carefull about it).
Did you ever examine the leaves of a Lulav? They are quite interesting. If you take a close look you will notice that each leaf is actually a double, a twin called tiyomas. It comes apart into two. If most of the Lulav's leaves grow only single then it is posul (invalid), but this is quite rare to find.
Yovaish - Dry Chosair - Missing Nechlak - Split
If most of the leaves of the Lulav are torn open more than halfway, the Lulav is posul (invalid). The same thing, of course, applies to a case when most of its leaves are simply missing. If most of the Lulav's leaves are dry, or the center spine (shedra) is dry, then the Lulav is posul as well. Exactly when are the leaves considered dry, you may ask? According to most poskim, it's when its leaves have turned white and lost their moisture (and can no longer be brought back to life).
Many rishonim (Ran etc. ) refer to the top leaf as the ti'yomes and we are machmir (more stringent)to follow this opinion. Therefore, this is the main part of the Lulav to examine. This is the part that the eye sees best, and therefore is the most sensitive part of the Lulav. After all, this is the head of the Lulav. The head, as I'm sure you know, is extremely delicate. Here, every small flaw counts. You can find the top leaf by followig the shedra (spine) to its end. By the way, you may sometimes even find two center leaves. (Rashi, in fact, calls these two center leaves ti'yomas.)
It is important to note that the Sefardim whose minhag (custom) it is to follow the Mechaber (Bais Yosef) don't accept this chumra based on the Rama. The Mechaber does not make a difference between the center leaf and any other leaves. According to his opinion, most of the leaves must be split or cut in order for the Lulav to become .
Niktam Ro'sh'o - The Top Is Cut Off
Some say that if this top leaf is cut off, even in the slightest, the Lulav is not good. This is called niktam ro'sh'o. However, others say that only if most of the leaf is cut off then it becomes posul. The Mishna Berurah says it's better to follow the stricter opinion.
Note: Many a time you can find a Lulav that has a very thin hair-like point coming out of the very top leaf. If this is broken off, then it's not considered uatr oyeb and is still kosher. A Rov should be consulted if in doubt.
Nechlak Ha'tiyomas - A Split Top Leaf
The most common problem with a Lulav is that many times the center leaf is split. Unfortunately, this happens all too often because people are very careless when they examine the Lulav. One little squeeze or one little touch can ruin a good Lulav.
If the center top leaf is split all the way down until the shedra, then the Lulav is posul. According to many poskim, this p'sul is not because of Hodar (not beautiful), but rather becuase the Torah requires a complete Lulav. If its top leaf is completely split then it is not considered tam v'shalom - complete. (Note: Knowing the reason for the p'sul is quite important as will be explained in Chapter Six.)
Some say that even if the majority of this leaf is split, the Lulav is posul because of rubo k'kulo (most is like the whole). Yet the Halacha follows the first opinion. (See Shulchan Aruch HoRav. The Mishna Berurah is not mach'ria-does not give a final opinion.)
However, those who wish to be mekayem the mitzvah min ha'muvcha - to do the commandment as best as possible, should try to find a Lulav whose top leaf is completely closed. That is because there is an opinion that says that the top leaf should not be split at all.
The Taz however says that as long as the split is less than one Tefach (fist) it is considered whole, and therefore a Lulav that has a small split on top is still considered a mitzvah min ha'muvcha.
Yet, there are many that try and find a perfectly closed Lulav. Good Luck! It's not so easy to come by!
Nisdak K'hemnek - A "V" Shaped Split
However, if the top leaf is split apart even slightly, and it can clearly be seen to look like a "V", it is called nisdak k'hemnek and is posul. ( A hemnek was a scribe's tool, similar to a compass.) Some say that the reason it is posul is because the Torah requires u'lechachtem - to take a complete object, and not one that is incomplete. This is called a l'kicha tamah. There are some who say that this is also a problem in hodar (beauty). It is important to note that the poskim don't clearly define the exact distance of this opening known as hemnak. It seems to be referring to a "V" shape, and not just a small parting of the leaves.
The Rav (based on the Rambam) says that hemnek refers to the shedra (spine) itself being split just below the center leaf, making the Lulav appear as two Lulavim. (Rashi in Succah 32. has a different explanation of hemnek.)
A Dried-Out Top Leaf
The Mishna Berurah (in the name of the Ry'ved and Pri Megodim) says that if the top leaf is dried out, then the Lulav is posul.
The Chazan Ish (145:11), however, explains the Ry'ved rather differently and concludes that a dried-out top leaf would still be kosher (according to the Ry'ved).
The Gro ( in the name of the Rashba and Ritvah) says that even if the very tip of the leaf is dried up, the Lulav is posul. However, most poskim (Bicurei Yaakov (14), Chazon Ish, and others) are far more lenient and do permit such a Lulav.
One should point out that it is quite common for a great many Lulavim to have their tips slightly brown or white and appear to be dried out. Howeve, the Chazon Ish does not consider this as being dried out to become posul. (He considers this condition as natural.) The change in color and appearance itself does not constitute a p'sul of yo'vaish (dried). Only when the tip of the leaf is extremely dry and has reached the stage where it crumbles (when rubbed by the finger) is it considered dried out and posul. (Some say that the Lulav is now considered to be niktam ro'sh'o -having a split top.)
However, if the dryness extends a little further down the leaf, then it is best to show it to a Rov for his opinion.
The Chazon Ish clearly states that if the tip of the leaf is burned or blackened by the strong rays of the sun the Lulav is kosher.
Many Lulavim have a brown material on them known as Kora. It is best to leave it alone and not to scrape it off. Even if it comes off and leaves a tiny space within the top leaf, the Lulav remains kosher.
Two Top Leaves
Once in a while you'll find a Lulav with two top leaves. The Mishna Berurah says that in such a case if one of the two leaves is chopped off, the Lulav may still be kosher. However, if one of them gets split, then it is no good. The Chazon Ish says that even if one of the two center leaves is split, it is still kosher. We leave it to your Rov for a final opinon.
Lulov K'nary - A Canary Palm
It's most interesting to note that a number of years ago they began to import a Lulav that came from a different species of palm tree, called a Canary (because it originates from the Canary Island). This tree looks very much like a date tree, yet the fruits it bears are not of the edible variety. Hagaon Reb Moshe Feinstein z"tl writes a teshuva that one shouldn't use it because it is not the species of Lulav mentioned in the Torah but a totally different min (kind). There are other poskim (like Horav Elyashuv z"tl) that do permit its use. So we'll leave it to your Rov to make the final decision. If you'd like to get a look at a Canary palm tree, I suggest you visit the New York Botanical gardens.
Since the Lulavim look almost identical, only an expert can tell the differnce. A Canary Lulav is a bit more flexible and less rigid than a regular Lulav. The leaves themselves look nearly the same. Most of the time the color of a Canary Lulav will be a pastel green and look lighter than a regular Lulav, but this is not always so. Therefore, don't rely on this type of identification.