THE MITZVA OF TAKING. NOT SHAKING!
First a few comments about the precise definition of the mitzva of Lulav.
A widespread misconception about the mitzva of Arba Minim is that we perform the mitzva by SHAKING the Lulav and Etrog. This is not true. The Torah states (Vayikra 23:40) “On the first day of sukkot, you shall TAKE the fruit of the beautiful tree and a palm branch .... and rejoice before the Lord your God”. The mitzva is simply to take the Lulav (and not to shake it). By the very act of PICKING UP the Lulav and Etrog, I have already performed the mitzva.
(NB - Taking it to shul in a container does not constitute the mitzva, since it must be performed ‘bederech kavod’; in a dignified way (O.CH 651:6) and having the Arba Minim in a box is not a dignified taking).
BRACHA FOLLOWED DIRECTLY BY THE MITZVA
This definition of the mitzva provides a serious halachik difficulty as regards the recitation of the bracha on the Lulav.
There is a general principle of Brachot: A bracha must directly precede the action that it is being recited for, in the most immediate manner (Sukka 39a). This is the rule of “oveir le’assiatan”- that the bracha must be recited at the moment of performance of the mitzva or act concerned. An example would be a bracha for food. We hold the food in our hand and make the bracha and then immediately take our first taste of the food. The action should follow on smoothly from the bracha.
How does this work with Arba Minim? If I say the bracha without holding the Arba Minim, I will not be able to follow the brach with immediate performance of the mitzva. It frequently takes a while to get organised with the Lulav and Etrog. By the time we put down our machzor from the bracha and pick up the Lulav and Etrog from their respective boxes, we have already seperated the bracha from the mitzva by a significant pause!
Even if we can cut down the time, the ROSH brings the example of tefillin. When putting on tefillin, we make a bracha when they are already on our arm but before firmly tightening them. We do not make the bracha while they are still in the bag. A bracha must be recited at the moment one is primed for action!
How do we apply this principle regarding our Lulav and Etrog?
How do we have the Lulav and Etrog in our hands, ready to do the mitzva without fulfilling the mitzva? A number of solutions are presented in the Rishonim (medieval halachists).
1. Inverted: The ROSH gives the most famous suggestion. One cannot perform the mitzva of Arba Minim unless each species are held upright. He suggests that we take our Lulav and and then pick up the Etrog upside down. In this way, I am ready to perform the mitzva but I have not yet fulfilled it. I make the bracha and turn the Etrog around to an upright position and I have now performed the mitzva!
In this situation one must PICK UP the Etrog in an already inverted position. It doesn’t help to invert the Etrog after I have already handled it normally because I will already have been holding the entire Arba Minim upright before the bracha!
2. Intent: A further option suggested by the ROSH is to expressedly have intention NOT to fulfill the mitzva until after the bracha. The Aruch Hashulchan rejects this as regular practice because those who are looking on , not knowing the intention of the person concerned, will follow the actions of the person and miss saying the bracha before the act of the mitzva. In addition, people don’t remember all the details of Arba Minim from year to year. They will remember what they DID but not necessarily the accompanyimg THOUGHT!
3. Hold the Lulav ONLY for the bracha: The THIRD OPTION suggested is to pick up the Lulav leaving the Etrog in it’s box, make the bracha and then immediately take the Etrog into one’s hand.
The SHULCHAN ARUCH (651:5) takes options 1 and 3 as recommended.
“ One should make the blessing of “al netilat Lulav” and “shehechiyanu” before
picking up the Etrog in order to recite the blessing in conjunction to the
performance of the mitzva.
Alternatively , one should invert the Etrog until one has made the blessing”
If one picks up the Lulav and Etrog in the normal way and forgot about all these restrictions, is a person still allowed to say the bracha? The answer is Yes.
The Mishna Berura(#36) states that despite the fact that one fulfills the mitzva without having shaken the Lulav, the shaking of the Arba Minim represents a higher dimension of the basic performance of the mitzva. It is on this added dimension that one is allowed to make a bracha if one picked up the Arba Minim without using the methods above. One should simply make the bracha before shaking the Lulav and Etrog.