Spending Money on Lulavim and Etrogim

Mahara”t Sara Hurwitz

I learned an important lesson from a member of our community this past Sukkot.   Dr. Levy (pseudonym) who is blind, came to the lobby of our shul to buy a lulav and etrog.  There he was picking out his set, with a bunch of frightened Bnei Akiva teens trying to figure out how to help a blind man choose an etrog. He ran his hands over all the etrogim for a few minutes and then picked one up. Someone walked over to him and told him that it was the most beautiful etrog and asked him how he chose it. He said something I will never forget.  “People spend hours with a magnifying glass searching for the perfect etrog – looking for spots and specks. But they are missing the entire point. The goal is to be turning that magnifying glass into yourself. We spend so much time looking at a fruit, when we should really be looking into ourselves.”

People do spend a lot of time and money on their lulavim and etrog.  The gemara says that one should spend one-third more of their earnings on an etrog, and after that, God will reimburse you!  However, perhaps the lulav and etrog should be seen as an extension of ourselves.  There’s an often quoted midrash that says that each of the four species correlate to parts of our bodies—the lulav is likened to our spine, the hadass—the eyes, the aravah to the mouth, and the etrog is likened to our heart.   Rather than spend so much time finding the perfect species, we should figure out how to be better people.  We should stand up for others who cannot stand up for themselves. We should use our mouths to praise God and others, we should use our eyes to see the good in this world, and open hearts one third more than we usually do.

The ritual object—the lulav and etrog—is meant to help enhance our performance of the act.  We strive to pick beautiful lulavim and etrogim not for the sake of retaining bragging rites for having the best etrog around town. But as a means to help each of us serve God and others in a more complete way.

On a separate note, there have been some questions with respect to Yeshivat Mahara”t. To read a little more about the Yeshiva, check out http://www.thejewishweek.com/viewArticle/c36_a16923/News/New_York.html

4 Responses to Spending Money on Lulavim and Etrogim

  1. David says:

    Hi,

    I submitted a comment yesterday and am wondering how long it takes for comments to post? I would love to hear feedback from the author and other readers, while the post is still relatively new.

    Thanks,
    David

  2. Dov says:

    “The gemara says that one should spend one-third more of their earnings …”
    More than what?

    “The ritual object—the lulav and etrog—is meant to help enhance our performance of the act.”
    What act? The act of taking the lulav and etrog? How could they “help enhance” that?

    ” there have been some questions with respect to Yeshivat Mahara”t. To read a little more about the Yeshiva, check out…”
    Congratulations on the press coverage, but the reason I posted a question about the Yeshiva here on one of your previous posts was because I wanted to hear what you had to say about it – not some reporter from the Jewish Week. I thought this Blog was about fostering dialogue. It’s disappointing to be pointed to a link instead.

  3. David says:

    Mahara”t Hurwitz,

    Thank you for your post. I recently posted a comment, but for some reason it must have been lost in submission, so here I will try to reproduce it again:

    I do not understand the purpose of your post. You say, “Rather than spend so much time finding the perfect species, we should figure out how to be better people.” I don’t understand the purpose in offering this “either/or” advice. As a Morethodox Jew, I often am criticized for my movement’s moving away from halakhic observance, often in favor of our own set of ethics and values which we think trump halakha. Of course, I oppose this critique, and I have pointed many to Rabbi Lopatin’s post from earlier this year where he addresses this very issue.

    However, I feel that your post does exactly that: it encourages people to worry less about halakha and more about “being a better person.” Why must we choose between one or the other? (Why is the assumption that people buy fancy etrogim to “bragging rights?”) Are we to completely reject the notion of “Ze Eli v’Anveihu,” (roughly translated, “this is my God and I will adorn him”) in order to be “better [people]”? You quote the Gemara, and then immediately qualify it with “however,” and this merely strengthens the arsenal of anti-Morethodox rhetoric.

    Perhaps, instead, we can become “better [people]” by advancing the message–not rejecting the message–of the Gemara, and learn news ways, in modern times, to fulfill the Rabbinic interpretation of “Zeh Eli v’Anveihu.”

  4. Sara Hurwitz says:

    David,
    Thanks for your thoughtful post. I couldn’t agree more. in an expanded vcersion of these thoughts, I had discussed to ways to understand hidur mitzvah. One is based on the gemara in sukkot that if a lulav and etrog are yavesh (dried out) they are not usable. And yet, it is still preferable if you don’t have any other options. Which leads into the second approach of Zeh Eli v’Anveihu. We have to figure out how to adorn God using our own bodies as well as our ritual objects. The midrash ties this idea together nicely– that the lulav and etrog are actually a metaphors for each of us, and in a way,is an extension of us.
    Thanks for your point,
    Sara

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