The Gemara [Sukkah, 37b], says that we should wave the Four Species back and forth, and up and down. Today the custom is to wave them in the four cardinal directions, plus up and down — six directions in total.

"Rabbi Yochanan says, We wave them back and forth to [honor] Him who owns the four directions, and we wave up and down to [honor] Him who owns the Heavens and the earth. In the West [i.e. in Israel, which is west of Babylon] they learned: ‘We wave back and forth to counter harmful winds (from the four directions) and up and down to counter harmful dews.’"

These two opinions reveal a positive and a negative reason for the wavings. The first is to show the Unity of G‑d, which pervades all directions and dimensions. To declare His Unity in all creation and, as the Chinuch writes, to remember G‑d is all of life. The second is to negate negativity, to nullify negative forces. The latter could mean to purify the atmosphere of physical pollutants, or to purify the psychic and spiritual environment from negative influences.

The Midrash (see Tosefos ad loc, and Aruch haShulchan) says the waving has to do with G‑d’s judgment of Creation: we wave the lulav to show that the earth is dancing, alive with singing His praise: "Then the trees of the forest will sing for joy."

Our personal energy-field or nefesh extends six feet around our body. If we are susceptible, and if we have spent time around negative and pessimistic people, their energy-field can intermingle with our own and have a detrimental effect on us.

When we wave the lulav and esrog in the six sectors of our energy field, we cleanse our immediate environment and create a protective wall around us. This relates, again to the teaching in the Midrash, which says that holding up the lulav is like holding up a sword, demonstrating our victory, and having cut negativity away from our lives.

Purifying and elevating the six ‘directions’ of the psycho-physical and spiritual world creates great joy, and we may be moved to dance. Dancing, lifting the feet is a natural expression of elevating the world, defying gravity. The nights of Sukkos are full of dancing, a tradition going back to the Simchat Beit haSho'eivah ceremony in the Holy Temple. The culmination of this process of purification and elevation is Simchat Torah, when we victoriously lift all of ourselves, and all of Creation, up to Heaven.

Back and Forth

In each waving of the lulav, there are two movements: outward into the specific direction, and then inward, back toward one’s body. The Maggid of Kozhnitz (in his book "Avodat Yisrael") explains that the outward movement is about pushing something away, and the inward movement is about unity, drawing in.

As such, the two basic intentions are actually four. Within the intention of showing G‑d’s Unity in all directions, the outward movement pushes aside the kelipah that prevents us from being aware of this Unity. The inward movement draws recognition of His Unity into our lives.

Within the intention of purifying the atmosphere and its influences, the outward movement can be seen as pushing aside negativity, and the inward movement as pulling positive influences toward us.

[Excerpted from the author’s book, "The Four Species," ch. 2. Available from //]