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Excerpted and adapted from a shiur by Rav Ari Stauber
September 24, 2020
When shopping for the Four Species, many people seek the perfect lulav, esrog, and hadasim but are not aware of the required and the preferred characteristics of the aravah:
- The leaves must be long and narrow.
- The stem should be red. Although our aravos usually contain green stems, the Bais Yosef and Rama explain that they eventually turn red if left on the tree long enough, so they are the correct species. Nevertheless, R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach sought aravos that had begun to turn red.
- The edges of the leaves may not be serrated.
- The Torah describes the species as arvei nachal (willows of the river). Rashi and Tosafos say that only a tree situated near water is valid, but the Rosh says that the tree must be of the sort that grows near water, regardless of whether this particular specimen did. The Shulchan Aruch follows the Rosh, and this is the common minhag, though some Acharonim (Bikurei Yaakov, Chayei Adam) are strict.
- If most of the leaves fell off, the aravah is invalid. Some say that one should preferably not use aravos if some of the leaves—possibly even a single leaf (Bikurei Yaakov)—within the top three tefachim have fallen off, though others disagree (see Mishnah Berurah).
- A dried-out aravah is invalid (Shulchan Aruch), while a withered one is kosher, though it is best to use fresh ones (Rama). Some hold that brown aravos are also kosher, though it is best not to use them.
- Most poskim hold that an aravah can be missing its lavluv (a small leaf at the top), provided it fell off when the aravah was still on the tree. Nevertheless, many poskim recommend purchasing an aravah with a lavluv if possible.