Adapted from The Jew and the Carrot Blog, by Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster
As a teacher of Judaism, I am often at a loss to explain one of the most beautiful and yet most pagan Jewish rituals: the celebration of Sukkot with the four species (arba minim) of the lulav and etrog.
For me, the beauty of the lulav and etrog is often bittersweet, since my time with the two is so fleeting. Unlike other Jewish ritual objects (like candlesticks or a shofar), the four species are living objects. I have to enjoy them before they wilt away.
But that doesn’t mean you need to throw them out when Sukkot is over. I was inspired by my colleague Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner (founder of the Foundation For Family Education, Inc, a source of interactive Judaic programming, as well as ), who shared the following list of ways to “recycle” the four species. With his list in mind, I can continue to bring the happiness of sukkot, and the diverse symbolism of the four species, into all corners of my Jewish life for the rest of the year.
Rabbi Lerner wrote:
“I save the etrog and use the peel and/or zest to make a vodka or tequila liqueur used on Hanukkah as a historical connection between Sukkot and Hanukkah, either in recipes or as a beverage. With a “kosher l’pesah” potato vodka, I use etrog zest and peel to make a liqueur for the Seder. When the children were young, we saved their etrogim in a vase with their name and the year written on it in Hebrew.
Some people like to insert cloves and cinnamon bark into the etrog and use it as a solid “besammim” (spices) for Havdalah. Others use the etrog as it dries to keep drawers of clothing smelling fresh.
I use the lulav itself to brush hametz during bedikat hametz (checking for hametz before Passover) and then burn both together.
Another use is a decoration for the sukkah in following years, writing in Hebrew the name of the user(s) and the year of use.
I use the myrtle leaves included with other spices for besamim for Havdalah. The stems I cut into lengths and then cut a pen point as on a feather quill for writing small Jewish ritual texts such as mezuzot or tefillen. (I should add that I teach how it is done in theory, but I am not a sofer.)
I root the willows because they are not the “weeping willow” with drooping serrated leaves but a special species known as the “River Willow” or “arvei nahal” with a reddish-brown twig and long, smooth and narrow leaves. After they sprout roots in vases with water, I transplant them into containers with soil. Thereafter I distribute them as a Jewish “Johnny willow tree” to as many who would plant them. They can be raised into trees or large bushes as I once did in a congregation from which I had students cut fresh aravot for the lulav each day and then ultimately to tie hoshanot, for Hoshana Rabbah.
I use the box from the etrog for a tzedakah box, although as one person told me “you can always use another box.” They are wonderful for storing Jewish collectibles, and if fragile, they also have today a foam rubber lining.
I used the flax in which the etrog once used to be wrapped to twist into wicks as is described in the Mishnah, and I show how well they work in Hanukkah workshops using my collection of clay oil lamps from the Bronze through Byzantine Israel. Now, because flax is rarely used, I have turned to use the foam rubber in the etrog box from which to cut and create decorations for our Sukkah.
The plastic bag for the lulav becomes a wonderful quiver for my arrows for use in my Lag BaOmer programs of archery and arrowheads, and even a Bible lesson on David’s use of artillery.”