I have a suggestion that will alleviate the high, even crushing cost of the arba minim without compromising one’s dignity. Families should purchase no more than one set, which will be shared by all members of the household. (For the first day it is perfectly acceptable to perform the mitzvah by receiving the arba minim as a gift that must be returned, and on the other days it is sufficient to borrow them. Only minors should not be given the set on the first day, since they are unable to return a gift.) Those who are willing to endure a relatively trifling inconvenience may share a single set with friends and neighbors.
The money that is collectively saved would not be spent on a vacation, but donated to tzedakah. This would demonstrate that the effort to save money is due not to stinginess or lack of appreciation for the mitzvah but because we recognize that there are more efficient and urgent ways for us to spend our mitzvah dollars.
There is absolutely no reason why a family with eight children needs to purchase tens sets of arba minim for hundreds of dollars. It is nothing more than an extravagance whose religious advantage is mostly cosmetic. With so many worthy causes that are desperate for money, this is a no-brainer that does not require the deliberation of a Sanhedrin.
If one is concerned about compromising the chinuch of his children by not purchasing a set for them, I maintain that being more careful about how one spends his money for the express purpose of giving more money to tzedakah would send a powerful chinuch lesson to one’s children that can hardly be rivaled. It would also provide a more conducive opportunity for the family to communicate about the mitzvah.
I realize I am asking people to think of things in a way slightly different from what they are used to and to reconsider their priorities. This is not exactly the strong point of this generation of Jews. But I hope the prospect of collectively raising millions of dollars for needy causes, setting a powerful chinuch example for one’s children, and sending a message to those who may exploit the religious needs of the masses for excessive profit will galvanize people to act boldly and prudently without compromising halacha in the slightest.
Our ancestors were more than happy for the opportunity to share a single etrog with their entire shtetl, and if they got their hands on some extra money they would hardly have used it to purchase a second one. It is interesting that of all the practices of our European ancestors that are adopted strictly for reasons of presumed “frumkeit,” this one that is so sensible for our time is not even being considered.
If we can help raise the salaries of teachers, alleviate the cost of education, help the ravaged communities of Israel, or spend millions of dollars on an etrog for everyone, I hope our priorities will be in the right place. Let’s not wait for the next generation to become more gutsy and proactive.