I have no idea how to pick out an esrog and lulav. How do I do that without getting something passul?
You should probably learn the halachos. There are a lot of excellent seforim out there with vivid pictures that, if you were an esrog, would cause you to throw up and pass out.
But here’s how most people do it (color-coded by species for easy reference):
-Inform the merchant of your preferences: Do you want a yellow esrog or a green one? Pittum still on or pre-broken off for your convenience? Fat or skinny? The kind that fits in an esrog box or the kind you have to lift with both hands?
-The merchant will point out a few esrogim to pick from.
-Ask if they have anything else in the back.
-Pick up each one and look for obvious signs of disqualification that you remember from that time you flipped through the book in shul while the chazzan was schlepping – big chunks taken out of one side, a big nail shoved through it, animals living in it, the entire thing cut in half lengthwise so you can see the layers, any esrog that looks like it’s trying to touch its toes, and anything that looks like a lemon.
-If there are no obvious disqualifications, look for tiny brown spots. Point those out to the merchant, who will be thrilled that you’re bringing them to his attention.
-The merchant will tell you it’s just dirt. Yes, esrogim grow up on trees, but he knows it’s dirt because he dropped them all earlier.
-Don’t scratch the dirt off with your nail. Try rubbing it off with your finger. If it doesn’t come off, try some lemon-scented cleanser.
-Observe the esrog’s symmetry. Note that it’s symmetrical from one angle only, but from another angle, it looks like it’s trying to see around the lulav.
-Ask if the guy has anything that’s symmetrical from all 360 angles, like in the pictures, and watch him point to the “way out of your price range” table.
-Resolve to just always hold your esrog so that it’s symmetrical to you.
-Hold the lulav like a rifle and peer down the barrel.
-If the spine leans too much to one side, ask the merchant about it.
-Make sure to also ask which side is the spine.
-Peer at the tip and see if it looks like it’s split. Touch the top. If the lulav is kosher, you will need stitches.
-Try to determine if the two middle leaves are together all the way down without pulling them apart and making the lulav passul. (“See? They were together.”)
-Shake the lulav to see if it makes that cool rustling noise, even though that arguably splits the leaves further.
-Pay attention to the height of the lulav and see if you’re going to decapitate your lulav in a doorway or stub it on your s’chach.
-Don’t forget to pick up one of those finger traps, if that’s your minhag.
-Take a packet already containing three vacuum-sealed, pre-cut, pre-checked hadassim.
-Pretend to look knowledgeably at the hadassim through the plastic like you’re going to catch something they didn’t – like they accidentally put in two branches or four.
-Secretly wonder why they don’t pre-seal esrogim and lulavim too.
-Make sure the branches have some red on them, and that most of the leaves are meshulash. Also make sure there aren’t more berries than leaves.
-Ask the guy if he has one with berries, so you can know what you’re looking for.
-It doesn’t really matter what you pick. It’ll be dead by the first day of Yom Tov anyway.
-Choose your aravos last, because as soon as you select them, they start getting brown. They wait until you select them, though.
-Make sure the seller has them sitting in a paint bucket filled halfway with water.
-Ask if you can take them home in a smaller bucket of water, like a goldfish, or if he wants them to start dying in the car on the way home.
-Don’t forget to haggle. If you don’t haggle, the guy won’t take you seriously as someone who knows halacha.
-Wonder whether you missed something, because to be honest, everything looked pretty kosher to you.
-Make sure to put the hadassim and aravos in the fridge as soon as you get home, like they did in the olden days.
I’m putting together my sukkah, and I need a piece that goes in the thing that connects it to the thing that goes in the smitchik. Like this. (Does vague hand motions.) Why can’t I find any workers to help me at Home Depot?
They’re hiding. They hide in general, but this month they know they’re going to get a ton of customers from a people not known for their building abilities (we haven’t built anything since Egypt, and those structures fell down every weekend) who are all looking to add creative features on their sukkahs based on things they saw in cartoons.
Also, a lot of people are trying to build sukkahs these days, from scratch, because a pre-made sukkah costs about the price you would expect to pay for a second home. They figure, “What’s the big deal? I’ll just buy some wood, some smitchiks, some things that go in the smitchiks, and we’re done!”
But then they stand up their pieces of wood and realize they forgot to figure out how they’re going to get the pieces to attach to each other, so what they basically have is a massive set of dominoes. They leave someone at home, grunting and holding the pieces upright, and run out to the store. That’s why they’re in a rush. But they don’t know the name for the piece they’re looking for, because this whole sukkah design came to them in a dream. They didn’t even know that there were different names for different types of wood, and that some types are way too heavy to carry or to leave your kids holding upright while you wander around Home Depot playing hide and seek with the employees.