Should an average Jew spend a lot of money when buying an esrog?
As a young fellow in yeshiva, I was close with Rabbi David Harris, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim, and I remember telling him that I felt a little funny spending so much money on a lulav and esrog. I asked him, “Is it right?”
He replied, “It’s very interesting. In America we have money for everything – except mitzvos.”
I believe the point he was making is quite valid. If a person lives a very, very simple life – a life of austerity – then it would be inappropriate to spend a lot of money on a mitzvah. Appropriate to their lifestyle would be a very simple esrog.
But if a person lives in a nice house, drives a nice car, and wears nice clothing, it would be very inappropriate to have a very simple esrog because what he’d be saying is: “The things that are really important in life are my comforts, the way I dress, and the car I drive. Mitzvos, though, are unimportant.”
— Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier, founder of The Shmuz
There is general concept of hidur mitzvah, which would call for spending more to perform mitzvot in a nicer way. Hidur mitzvah is particularly applicable to the purchase of an esrog.
However when it becomes clear that merchants are raising prices unreasonably, it is not necessary to overpay. There’s an enormous difference between the prices charged for a set of arba minim in Israel and America, and it’s difficult to argue that this simply reflects the cost of shipping.
What complicates the discussion even more is that there are both subjective and objective elements in deciding what is a superior esrog.
My personal recommendation to someone with an average income is that he purchase a set that fulfills the objective halachic criteria but not overpay for claims of subjective beauty. In general, it’s preferable to support organizations that sell sets at a reasonable price and will use the profits to fund their work.
— Rabbi Yosef Blau, mashgiach ruchani at
YU’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary
An “average Jew,” I presume, refers to one’s financial state. This, as opposed to one’s spiritual state since – as children of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov – no Jew is “average.” Every Jew wants to serve the Almighty in the most beautiful way possible and spend as much on a mitzvah as possible. Chazal enjoin us to enhance our mitzvah observance as per the directive, “zeh Keli v’anvehu.”
So how does one balance one’s practical financial standing and one’s deeper spiritual yearning? Extend yourself a little beyond your comfort zone. If it’s easy to buy a $30 esrog but you’ll feel the pinch somewhat at a $40 esrog, while a $50 esrog would cause anxiety and may impact you elsewhere, opt for the $40 one.
That way, you’ll feel like you invested in the mitzvah, and thus cherish it more, while having maintained a balance to enable all other aspects of Jewish life and living without undue stress.
— Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, popular Lubavitch
lecturer, rabbi of London’s Mill Hill Synagogue
It’s a mitzvah to bless the lulav and etrog, and if one can afford to own the arba minim, one should purchase a set for Succoth.
The value of the mitzvah is not contingent on the amount spent, but on the heartfelt desire to fulfill one of Hashem’s commandments.
Yes, there is a concept of hidur mitzvah; if one has the choice between an excellent etrog and one of lesser beauty, one should buy the better one if it is comfortably affordable. But there is no requirement to spend an excessive amount on the arba minim.
People should not measure their religiosity by how much money they spend on fulfilling mitzvot, and no one should get caught up in the “rat race” of one-upmanship. The Talmud wisely teaches: “Ehad hamarbeh ve-ehad hamam’it, ubilvad sheykaven libo leShamayim – Whether one does more or one does less [is not the essential thing], as long as one directs the heart to Heaven.”
— Rabbi Marc D. Angel, director of
the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals