The Thirsty Willow

Sukkot, Tabernacles, is the final feast of Ingathering (Leviticus 23:34-36, 40-43). It is a prophetic picture of eternal joy: z’man simchateinu/time of our rejoicing. It is a time to remember the 40 years in the wilderness, sharing with family and friends in the present, while looking ahead to the Renewed Jerusalem.

Sukkot is one of two mitzvot, commandments, that we can fully immerse our bodies in, the other being baptism. These two immersive moments allow us to physically feel our life in Him, even for just a moment. Yet, along with the command to observe Sukkot, we are given a rather unusual command.

The command is to take what are called the four species – the fruit of the goodly tree, the palm branch, a branch of a willow, and a branch of myrtle, and rejoice before the Lord.

Brought together they form a beautiful bouquet, like that carried by a betrothed woman approaching her bridegroom, as we appear before the Lord.

The Lulav (palm branch) and Etrog (citron) are waved before the Lord a total of 18 times, in all six directions, which in Hebrew is equal to חי, meaning life – rejoicing with the fullness of our life before Him.

Each element also represents believers at different points of maturity, growth and faith.

1. Estrog (citron): represents one with head and heart knowledge – smell and taste.

2. Lulav (palm branch): represents one with head knowledge but limited heart knowledge – no smell, but taste.

3. Hadassim (myrtle): represents one with heart knowledge and limited head knowledge – smell but not taste.

4. Aravot (willow): represents one with limited head and heart knowledge – no smell or taste.

All of these, brought together, represent another beautiful picture of the Lord bringing His people together. Still, there is another beautiful picture developing.

On the last day of Sukkot, called Hosanna Rabbah, the day of the Great Salvation, not only was the water libation ceremony unfolding at the Temple Altar, but worshippers were circling the Altar itself.

Hosanna Rabbah is also known as “the day of the Aravah.” Traditionally, it is understood that on Hosanna Rabbah one did not circle the Altar with all four species, just the aravah – the willow.

On that day you circled the Altar of God with just the willow, as you prayed for rain, why? There are opinions regarding this that depended on whether the willow was waved, or beat against the ground while circling the Altar.

First, it is the most thirsty of the four species, as it is a river willow. Second, it represents our limited ability to serve the Lord, see above. Third, we understand from Midrashic texts that the four species relate to different organs of the body: the palm is the spine; the myrtles the eyes; the citron the heart; and the willow, the mouth: and the mouth is connected to prayer.

Beating the willow branches on the ground symbolized both our prostration, and also our need for rain to smite and penetrate the ground; and in this smiting of the willow our affliction and our need would be evident.

It was in the midst of this event that Messiah Yeshua/Jesus stood up and said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink’” (Jn. 7:37).

He cries out to those who are “thirsty” for God, to come to Him (God the Son), and in Him believing, receive the river of living water – the refreshing, cleansing and empowering Holy Spirit.

Here, Yeshua stands up in the midst of Israel, and beckons all who will believe, and all in need, to come and drink of Him.

In the wilderness, Israel received water from the Rock for nearly 40 years. The apostle Paul tells us, “for they were drinking from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the Rock was Messiah” (I Cor. 10:4). Here, once again, Yeshua stood in the midst of the children of Israel and promised to provide living water in the drought if only we will go to Him, the Rock. Further, in Exodus 17, the Lord promised to “stand upon the Rock at Horeb” and give water.

Yeshua, the Rock again stands and promises living water during the Feast of Sukkot on the day of the Great Salvation – Hoshiana Rabba – as He is the Great Salvation.

On the last day of Sukkot, even in our time of rejoicing, we strip the external glory, the beauty of the bouquet, and stand thirsty before Him, revealing our need, and our longing for the marriage feast of the Lamb, where we will never be separated again.

Be well. Shalom.