4 minim Materialism segula

What if You Never Get to Use Your Own Esrog?

Many people spend a great deal of time and money each year in their search for the perfect esrog. Sure, we’re supposed to seek hiddurim in our four minim, but is it so obvious what those hiddurim actually are?

For years I’ve wondered if there’s any benefit in all the effort for those of us who can’t necessarily tell the difference between esrogim costing $100 and $300. (And after speaking with many people in the industry, I’m not completely convinced there actually are any differences.) Does just spending the money improve the quality of the mitzva?

But I was recently thinking about this mishna in the fourth perek of Succah:

מצות לולב כיצד כל העם מוליכין את לולביהן להר הבית והחזנין מקבלין מידם וסודרין אותן על גג האיצטווה והזקנים מניחין את שלהם בלשכה ומלמדין אותן לומר כל מי שהגיע לולבי בידו הרי הוא לו במתנה ולמוחרת היו משכימין ובאים והחזנין מזרקין לפניהם

How was the mitzva of lulav performed (in the mikdash when the first day of yom tov fell on Shabbos)? Everyone would take their lulavim to the Temple Mount (before Shabbos) which the officials would take from their hands and arrange along the bleachers…(the officials) would teach everyone to say ‘I present my lulav as a gift to whoever receives it.’ The next morning, they would all come early and the officials would (randomly) throw (lulavim) before them.

While, as the mishna later makes clear, this procedure didn’t continue for long, it was the way Chazal would have preferred we do this mitzva (at least when the first day of yom tov fell on Shabbos, when carrying our lulavim to the mikdash was impossible).

Which means that we were expected to go to the trouble of purchasing and preparing our four minim with the full knowledge that we wouldn’t ever get to use them! After all, they would end up wherever the officials threw them that first morning.

Now, if you knew that you’d never get to use it yourself, would you spend as much money and energy getting it? For myself, at least, I’m not sure how I would answer that question.

Materialism Unexpected

How Poor Is Poor Enough?

Who, according to halacha, is eligible for charity? The question is practical, since halacha seems to present a clear threshold and only individuals living beneath the threshold may receive charity.

What, exactly, is that threshold? Here’s what the Shulchan Aruch (Yore Deah 253:1) rules:

מי שיש לו מזון שתי סעודות, לא יטול מהתמחוי. מזון י”ד סעודות, לא יטול מהקופה. ואם יש לו ר’ זוז ואינו נושא ונותן בהם, או שיש לו חמשים זוז והוא נושא ונותן בהם, לא יטול צדקה

Someone with enough food for two meals may not take from the ‘tamchui,’ food for 14 meals may not take from the ‘kupa.’ If he has 200 zuz that he’s using for his business, or 50 zuz that is not being used for business, he may not take charity.”

I suspect that, these days, 200 zuz would be worth a few thousand dollars. So it would seem that anyone with more than a thousand dollars or so in liquid cash – or a few thousand in, say, retirement savings – should not be taking charity.

That, of course, leaves many other questions unanswered. Has the precise definition of charity changed? Where do social welfare programs and other government entitlements fit in? Are tuition scholarships considered charity?

But the very next section in Shulchan Aruch (253:2) turns everything upside down:

יש אומרים שלא נאמרו השיעורים הללו אלא בימיהם, אבל בזמן הזה יכול ליטול עד שיהיה לו קרן כדי שיתפרנס הוא ובני ביתו מהריוח. ודברים של טעם הם

“Some say that those thresholds applied only in those times, but these days, one may receive charity unless he has sufficient capital to provide his family’s needs from the profits alone. And these are reasonable words.”

Assuming mortgage/rent and private school tuition payments count as “family needs,” which of us can live off profits without dipping into core revenues and savings? Are we all עניים in the eyes of the Shulchan Aruch?