A Beautiful Etrog or a New Dress?
BY RABBI YOSEF ZVI RIMON
Throughout the Torah there is a law of hiddur mitzvah, beautifying the mitzvah. Don’t just perform the mitzvah by rote. Make the effort to make your sukkah beautiful, your lulav beautiful, your shofar, candlesticks and Sefer Torah beautiful.
However, there is a special hiddur with regards to Sukkot. According to Rashi (Sukkah 29), a dry lulav is invalid for use on Sukkot because it is not beautiful. Tosafot (ibid.) disagree and gives another explanation: there is a special instruction to acquire a beautiful set of the arba’a minim, the four species. Beautification does not usually impair the performance of a mitzvah, but in this case it does. And indeed, unlike any other mitzvah, the widespread custom is to search out a particularly beautiful set of arba’a minim. Why?
Firstly, the Torah commands us to take a “pri eitz hadar, the fruit of goodly trees” (Vayikra 23:40). Chazal explain that this refers to an etrog. The Meiri thinks that the obligation to beautify the mitzvah is solely referring to the etrog. We cannot deduce an obligation to beautify other mitzvot because the word “hadar” is not an adjective but a noun. The Ramban, however, argues that the etrog is the most beautiful fruit, and so we must take the most beautiful and “pleasing to look at” of each of the species.
It is possible that the need for beauty is connected not only to the arba’a minim but to the entire festival of Sukkot. This is based on the idea that the more economic abundance we enjoy, the more we need to beautify our mitzvot. Chag HaAsif, the harvest holiday – another name for Sukkot – expresses economic abundance. The Torah even stresses the joy of the festival as a result of this abundance, from bringing your harvest into the house (Devarim 16:13–14). On the other hand, too much economic comfort can lead to us forgetting G-d. Chazal tell us that a person only rebels as a result of satiation (Sifrei, Eikev 43).
For this reason, the obligation of hiddur mitzvah is most pressing on Sukkot when, after the harvest, our economic wealth is most prominent. And just as we beautify other mitzvot, this too transforms our physical wealth into part of our Avodat Hashem, our spiritual wealth.
Can we pray for money?
Is it proper to pray for money if you have enough money to pay for your basic needs? Rabbi Nachman of Breslov says that praying for one’s personal and seemingly mundane needs is a great thing (Sichot HaRan 233). Why?
Even if we attain the thing we are praying for without prayer – such as money, food, success on a test, etc. – we should still pray for it. Without prayer, the attainment or achievement is disconnected from G-d. With prayer, however, it rises a level and becomes connected to something bigger than us. We link the physical with the spiritual and uplift our physical belongings to a much higher and more admirable plane.
Beautifying the mitzvot between each other
The Gemara learns the obligation to beautify the mitzvot from the verse “זֶה אֵ-לִי וְאַנְוֵהוּ, This is my G-d and I shall beautify Him” (Shemot 15:2). The Gemara then adds an important point: “Abba Shaul says, וְאַנְוֵהוּ – be like Him. Just as He is compassionate and merciful, so should you be compassionate and merciful.”
Hiddur mitzvah is not just about spending more money on a nicer pair of tefillin or a bigger chanukiah. It’s also about beautifying the mitzvot between us and our fellow human beings, for through them we become G-d-like. This means offering a good word whenever we can, always smiling at people, being respectful of other opinions, listening intently and sincerely to what others have to say, and so on.
A man once came to Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef and said: “Rabbi, this is the etrog I bought this year.” “How much did you pay for it?” asked the Rav. “$100.”
The Rav knew that the man couldn’t afford such a price and that he could have bought a very good etrog for $20. He asked him: “And did you buy your wife a new dress for Sukkot?” “No,” said the man. “Hiddur mitzvah is very admirable, but observing ‘V’samachta b’chagecha, And you shall rejoice on your festival,’ by buying your wife a new dress is much more important!”Beautifying the mitzvot means beautifying all aspects of our lives, inside our homes and outside, because it indicates our love for His mitzvot, which will then bring us closer to Him.
Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon is Head of Mizrachi’s Educational Advisory Board and Rabbinic Council. He serves as the Chief Rabbi of Gush Etzion, Rosh Yeshivah of the Jerusalem College of Technology and is the Founder and Chairman of Sulamot and La’Ofek.