Word of the Day / Aravot: That's Not a Earthquake Zone, It's a Willlow Branch

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The weeklong festival of Sukkot, which begins Wednesday night, has a lot of accoutrements. Not only is there the booth or hut called a sukkah, for which the holiday is named, but also the four species central to its observance: the etrog (citron), lulav (palm frond), hadassim (myrtle branches) and aravot (willow branches), which are shaken in a ritual fashion during the festival.

The four species are described in Leviticus 23:40, which commands: And ye shall take you on the first day the fruit of goodly trees, branches of palm-trees, and boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook [arvei nahal], and ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days.

A single willow branch is an aravah. But talk about the birding, hiking or surprisingly successful agriculture in the geographical area called the Arava, or Wadi Araba, and you would be referring to the 160-kilometer-long eastern valley between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba (also called the Gulf of Eilat), a section of the Jordan Valley that is mostly desert but also includes an acacia savanna.

In the Bible, though, the Arava mostly refers to an area of the Great Rift Valley - the section of the Jordan Valley between Lake Kinneret and the Dead Sea - also known as the sea of the Arava. Deuteronomy describes the land conquered by Moses as including the Arabah also, the Jordan being the border thereof, from Kinneret even unto the sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, under the slopes of Pisgah eastward (3:17).

Within the northern Arava, the Bible refers to arvot Jericho and Moab, using the plural adjectival form of the word.

Be warned: The southern Arava rift lies on the Dead Sea fault zone. So you can go ahead and get your aravot (and the other three species) all ready to shake. Just hope there are no shakeups in the earthquake-prone Arava.

To contact Shoshana Kordova with column suggestions or other word-related comments, email her at shoshanakordova@gmail.com. For previous Word of the Day columns, go to: www.haaretz.com/news/features/word-of-the-day.

Inspecting the aravot for Sukkot.Credit: Yahali Amit / Baubau

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