Dear Rabbi,

I don’t get it. Someone in the synagogue told me that he spent over a hundred dollars on his lulav and etrog set for the holiday of Sukkot.

Surely, we cannot condone the spending of so much money on a citrus fruit and some branches and leaves? Shouldn’t we give that money to charity instead?


I just had this same thought when one of my congregants told me about the new iPhone he had purchased. I thought: wouldn’t it be enough to have a simple phone without a touch screen, and even, G‑d forbid, without a high-quality video camera?

In our personal lives, we often choose to spend immense amounts of money on things that are not essential to daily life. Our grandparents and great-grandparents lived without iPhones and BlackBerries, and rumor has it many lived without a telephone altogether.

Our sages teach that we should do our utmost to fulfill G‑d’s commandments in a beautiful way, meaning that the actual item that we use to do the commandment should look nice.

In the words of Maimonides:

Everything given for the sake of G‑d, who is good, should be of the most attractive and highest quality.

If one builds a house of prayer, it should be more attractive than his own dwelling. If he feeds a hungry person, he should feed him from the best and most tasty foods of his table. If he clothes one who is naked, he should clothe him with his attractive garments.

If he consecrates something, he should consecrate the best of his possessions. As the verse states (Leviticus 3:16), “All of the superior quality should be given to G‑d.”1

Therefore, the etrog used on Sukkot should look as nice as possible (see The Complete “Four Kinds” Owner’s Manual).

Fulfilling a mitzvah isn’t about discharging an obligation; rather, it’s an opportunity to strive for excellence in your relationship with G‑d. Yes, it is possible to purchase an etrog (the most expensive item of the four kinds) for twenty dollars or less; however, many try to buy the best etrog, the most beautiful one they can get their hands on, so they can fulfill G‑d’s will in the nicest way they can.

What about charity? I decided that this month I will purchase fewer apps for my iPhone, and donate the money to charity instead.