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Feast of Tabernacles is one of God's appointed times. What is the significance of Lev 23:40, in particular the branches and leafy trees?

On the first day you are to gather the fruit of majestic trees, the branches of palm trees, and the boughs of leafy trees and of willows of the brook. And you are to rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days.

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The answer to this is given in the previous verse -

Lev 23:39 - On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, after you have gathered the produce of the land, you are to celebrate a feast to the LORD for seven days. There shall be complete rest on the first day and also on the eighth day.

Further information is provided by Ex 23:15-16 -

You are to keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread [Passover] as I commanded you: At the appointed time in the month of Abib you are to eat unleavened bread for seven days, because that was the month you came out of Egypt. No one may appear before Me empty-handed.

You are also to keep the Feast of Harvest [Pentecost] with the firstfruits of the produce from what you sow in the field.

And keep the Feast of Ingathering [Tabernacles] at the end of the year, when you gather your produce from the field.

Thus, the feast of tabernacles (Sukkot in the 7th month) and the feast of Passover/firstfruits in the first month were the "book-end" the entire growing season.

Passover was a celebration of release from Egyptian slavery; and Tabernacles was a harvest festival to celebrate the fruit of the promised land. Again, the shelters were to remind the people that they lived in tents for 40 years during their desert wanderings. See Lev 23:43 -

so that your descendants may know that I made the Israelites dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.’ ”

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  • Hi Dottard, Im not asking what the significance is, of the feast itself, but of verse 40 relating to the symbolism of the trees and branches. sorry my question was probably not clear.
    – 0000
    Sep 20 at 11:05
  • @0000 - my answer would remain the same because the Bible does not explain anything further and I refuse to go beyond what is written. 1 Cor 4:6.
    – Dottard
    Sep 20 at 20:35
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Leviticus 23:33-43 refers to the OT Feast of Shelters, called Sukkot in Hebrew, and also known as the Feast of Tabernacles or the Feast of Ingathering.

Lev 23:

40 On the first day you are to gather the fruit of majestic trees, the branches of palm trees, and the boughs of leafy trees and of willows of the brook. And you are to rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days.

What is the significance of Lev 23:40, in particular, the branches and leafy trees?

One significance has to do with the concept of Lulab. Ellicott explains:

The palm, the myrtle, and the willow, when tied together into one bundle, constitute the Lulab. Whilst the psalms are chanted by the Levites during the sacrifices, the pilgrims, who held the Lulabs or palms, shook them thrice, viz., at the singing of Psalm 118:1, then again at Leviticus 23:25, and at Leviticus 23:29.

Lulab was an important element in the celebration. It signified rejoicing.

When the chant was finished, the priests in procession went round the altar once, exclaiming, “Hosanna, O Lord, give us help, O Lord! give prosperity !” (Psalm 118:25). Whereupon the solemn benediction was pronounced by the priests, and the people dispersed amidst the repeated exclamations, “How beautiful art thou, O altar !” It is this part of the ritual which explains the welcome that the multitude gave Christ when they went to meet Him with palm-branches and shouts of hosanna (Matthew 21:8-9; Matthew 21:15; John 12:12-13).

Ultimately, it became part of Jesus' triumphal entry in John 12:

12The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,

“Hosanna!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the king of Israel!”

What is the symbolism related to Lev 23:40?

It symbolizes celebration, rejoicing, and ultimately triumph.

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What do the four gathered plants ( Hadar הָדָר֙ 🍋, Tmarim תְּמָרִ֔ים 🌴, Avot עָבֹ֖ת 🌳, Arvei עַרְבֵי 🌿) of the full moon "Festival of The-Booths" חַ֧ג הַסֻּכּ֛וֹת Chag Ha-Sukkot symbolize in [Leviticus 23:40] ?

"And you shall take for yourselves on the first day, the fruit of the hadar tree, date palm fronds, a branch of a braided tree, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before YHVH your-God for a seven day period." ( וּלְקַחְתֶּ֨ם לָכֶ֜ם בַּיּ֣וֹם הָֽרִאשׁ֗וֹן פְּרִ֨י עֵ֤ץ הָדָר֙ כַּפֹּ֣ת תְּמָרִ֔ים וַֽעֲנַ֥ף עֵֽץ־עָבֹ֖ת וְעַרְבֵי־נָ֑חַל וּשְׂמַחְתֶּ֗ם לִפְנֵ֛י יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֖ם שִׁבְעַ֥ת יָמִֽים )
  • Hadar הָדָר֙ 🍋, Tmarim תְּמָרִ֔ים 🌴, Avot עָבֹ֖ת 🌳, Arvei עַרְבֵי 🌿 equal = 4-Types of Israelites בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל B'nei Yisrael gathered "shall-Sit" יֵשְׁב֖וּ Yeshvu with God inside סֻּכּ֛וֹת Sukkot "Booths" (temporary shelters representing temporary bodies with different souls) during חַ֧ג הַסֻּכּ֛וֹת Chag Sukkot "Festival of Booths".

#1 - The Hadar הָדָר֙ 🍋represent a fragrant soul that "remains" fruitful with Torah by performing large commandments & holds onto God's Word.

  • Traditionally "the fruit of goodly trees (v. 40) refers to the etrog (citron)" as stated by Bin Ezra. [https://www.sefaria.org/Leviticus.23.40?with=Ibn%20Ezra&lang=bi&aliyot=0].

  • Rashi adds : "It is called הדר because it is the tree whose fruit remains (הַדָּר) on the tree from one year to another (several years) — and this is the “Ethrog”. [https://www.sefaria.org/Leviticus.23.40?with=Rashi&lang=bi&aliyot=0]

#2 - The Temarim תְּמָרִ֔ים 🌴 represent non-fragrant souls (date fruit) "bound" כַּפֹּ֣ת mostly to Torah study - bearing [little] fruit.

#3 - The Avot עָבֹ֖ת 🌳represent souls "full" of stress, overcome with worry - seeking protection.

  • Ramban states "boughs of thick trees, meaning a tree the branches of which cover its larger portion. This may be likened to a person who with his arms protects his head." [https://www.sefaria.org/Leviticus.23.40?with=Ramban&lang=bi&aliyot=0]

#4 The Arvei עַרְבֵי 🌿 represent unnoticed souls with fruitless & odorless lives.

Summarizing the 4-types of Israelites as harvested plants : The etrog has both "taste and odor," the date (palm) only taste, the myrtle only odor, the willow none. [https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/four-species]

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First, this passage has to be read correctly as describing three kinds of trees, not four. E.g. the passage should be read as:

And on the first day you shall take 
for yourselves the first fruit of hadar trees:

 1. branches of palm trees 
 2. and branches of a leafy tree 
 3. and of a brook’s poplar trees, 

and you shall rejoice before Yahweh 
your God for seven days."

E.g. Here is the Hermeneia commentary[1]:

The product of hadar trees: There is no positive horticultural identification of a tree, or a type of tree, called hadar. Words probably related etymologically to hadar connote beauty and majesty. Hebrew ʿets hadar, “hadar trees,” is a general category that is followed by the specification of three beautiful trees: (1) kappot temarim, “palm branches,” (2) ʿanaf ʿets ʿavot, “branches of leafy trees,” and (3) ʿarvei naḥal, “willows of the brook.” This greenery symbolizes the abundance of water and oases and the beauty of the Land of Israel. Traditionally, the “fruit of the tree” has been taken to be the citron (ʾetrog). It is a much later addition to the Sukkot celebration.

Note that during the middle ages, jewish tradition decided that the "fruit of the tree" was an 'etrog (or citrus tree) but such trees were not native to Israel even though they were abundant in Babylon. The word 'etrog is not even of Hebrew origin, it is a loan word from Persia, which most likely entered the Hebrew lexicon during the exile. By roughly the first century AD, the citrus tree was associated with tabernacles[2]. Then about a thousand years later, medievel jewish tradition reinterpreted the citron as being part of the original trees (since commentators such as Rashi had no way of knowing which flora was native to Israel during the iron age).

If we try to uncover what the three hadar (beautiful, majestic) trees symbolized during the time of Moses, we should look to mention of these in scripture and other ANE texts rather than medieval Spanish commentaries.

Palm tree

The Palm tree (tamar in Hebrew) is a date palm and has mulitple layers of symbolism.

As the desired and hated bride:

  • Tamar, the daughter-in-law (and wife) of Judah. Onan desired her but practiced birth control, and she tricked her father in law into sleeping with him by posing as a prostitute. Judah was about to kill her by fire when she revealed that he was the father.

  • Tamar, the beautiful sister of Absalom. Her brother Amnon fell in love with her, tricked her, raped her, and then hated her, whereupon Absalom killed him and many of the other sons of David.

So the idea here is that, like the righteous, who are also compared to date palms (Psalm 92.12), they are both desired (by the wise) but hated (by the wicked). This then is the fate of Israel when it dwells in the booths, living as strangers in the land, being both desired and hated as Israel is the bride of God. Specifically they are desired by the groom (Song of Solomon 7.7-8), a symbol of God but they are hated by the gentiles.

Symbolism in the tabernacle

The tabernacle is the dwelling place of God, so the symbolism here is that it is the flesh, or the body, as God dwells within us (we are the temple of God). This is lived out in Tabernacles where for seven days we are to live in booths made with date palm branches, and thus the date palm is a common motif in Solomon's and Ezekiel's temples (Eze 40.22, Eze 40.26, 1 King 6.32, 1 king 6.35). Again, symbolism an aspect of our nature, that we are the bride.

Leafy trees

The Hebrew reads ets avot, ets just meaning tree, but avot has the connotation of a dense canopy rather than just leaves. Thus the avotim is also translated as "thick clouds" in the OT (See Eze 31.10). In other places, it is translated as "thick foliage" (Eze 31.14). For this reason, the connotation is primarily one of covering and providing shade, creating an inner place (often a secret place), for the heart. In the prophets, people commit idolatry in these secret places (Eze 6.13), but God can also dwell in the inward parts. Thus the leafy trees, in our description of the tabernacle as a type for the body or temple of God, is the inward life.

Poplar trees beside the brook

Continuing this analogy of the tabernacle as the body of the believer, we have first the palm trees that designate the bride, the thick canopy that designates the inner life happening within, and within that thick canopy is a brook! A stream of water alongside grow willows or poplar trees. The picture of the poplar tree growing next to a brook is symbolic of the new man, the inner man, dwelling within the leafy canopy.

Isaiah 44.3-4:

For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, And floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, And my blessing upon thine offspring: And they shall spring up as among the grass, As willows by the water courses.

But, at the same time - as a warning -- the beast that does not know God can also dwell in the same place, and the beast will "drink up" the stream, devouring it:

Job 40.21-23:

He lieth under the shady trees, In the covert of the reed, and fens. The shady trees cover him with their shadow; The willows of the brook compass him about. Behold, he drinketh up a river, and hasteth not: He trusteth that he can draw up Jordan into his mouth. [KJV]

So this again is a warning that we can have Christ in the Temple, or the antiChrist. However the stream and poplar trees are there.


[1] Levine, B. A. (1989). Leviticus (p. 163). Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.

[2] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07929978.2014.950067?journalCode=tips20

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