Saturday, October 11, 2008

hachanos for mitzvos - how NOT to buy an esrog or build a sukkah

The Sefas Emes quotes a question from the Ta"z that I have been unable to find, but here it is anyway: the Midrash writes that when Hashem sees us building our sukkah and preparing lulav and esrog he promptly forgets all our past sins. Only with the start of the actual first day of Sukkos, when our preparations have ended, do our sins start to count against us. This is why the Torah calls this day "yom harishon", the first day [of Sukkos], as it is the first day "l'cheshbon avonos", for counting transgressions. How can it be, asks the Taz, that during these intervening days between Yom Kippur and Sukkos, when we are engaged in mere preparations for mitzvos, we are protected from sin, while during the actual days of Yom Tov when we are engaged in the mitzvos themselves we are prey to aveiros?

The yesod that we see from here is that hachanos, preparations, are even more valuable than mitzvos themselves. A mitzvah is like lulav or sukkah has its week or day of performance, but the preparation for the mitzvah has no shiur limiting it in time or duration. It is an endless bounty of schar available for the taking.

Last night I went to do my hachanos and buy a lulav and esrog. Standing in front of me was a man maybe in his upper-20's, with a beard, peyos, nice black yalmukah and white shirt, and he was assisting his father, a slightly older clean shaven man wearing a little cap, a man who did not seem to be a baki in hilchos lulav, which is maybe why he had his son along. The conditions were crowded, it was late, and everybody seemed to be in a rush. So this young man quickly looked over every esrog out on display, grabbed the one he wanted, and then thrust it toward the seller and yelled, "Now make me a lulav to go with it" (or something along those lines), whereupon his father added in a loud voice, "Please". The son was "nishtomem k'sha'ah chadah" and then in a slightly abashed voice added, "Yes, please".

Baruch Hashem we live in times where a clean-shaven working man from the previous generation who knows he needs a lulav but perhaps never learned or never had an opportunity to learn the halachos of lulav can have a son who grows up to be a yeshivishe-looking Jew who is yodei'a sefer. But shouldn't that growth in yediyas haTorah also mean a growth and greater sensitivity in the realm of derech eretz [which is kadma laTorah!]?

So why do we do often witness the opposite?

It is relatively easy to find an esrog which meets the criteria of mehudar at least according to some shitos Rishonim. And when you walk around in shul with an esrog that everyone admires because of your eye for hiddur and the fact that your wallet can tolerate it, or when your guests admire the beauty of your sukkah, by all means feel proud of your mitzvah observance.

But there is a much harder hiddur to fulfill, and that is the hiddur of derech eretz. Did you buy a lulav without pushing the guy next to you in line (assuming there is a line and not a chaotic mob scence)? Did you build your sukkah without screaming at your kids who are tossing parts and decorations all over and are underfoot while you are dangling from a ladder? Did you decide to pull out your power tools at 11:30PM to work on your sukkah enhancements irrespective of your neighbor's desire to get some sleep (thank you to which ever one of my neighbors was doing construction around that time last night)?

If you are makpid on these hiddurim, your neighbors may not know, your buddy in shul may not know, your sukkah guests may not know. In fact, let's not pretend otherwise - by being Mr. Nice Guy you may get pushed to the back of the line and get a less than perfect esrog yourself! And then you come home and your wife says, "This is what took 2 hours in the seforim store for?". And in shul everyone thinks you cheaped out on a chinuch set or something, or maybe you grew that wilted thing in your own backyard.

But it seems to me that if these hiddurim are the ones you are makpid on, if this is how you are medakdeik in the hachanos for your mitzvos, then you can rest assured that your "yom harishon" will indeed begin with a clean slate, with all aveiros forgotten. Indeed, your lulav and esrog is a chinuch set -- an sterling example that will educate your children and grandchildren as to how a Jew should live with derech eretz and middos tovos, an esrog with a hiddur so beautiful that it cannot be purchased for any money in the world.


  1. This Shabbos, when I was in the park with my girls and a friend of one of them, a group of some frum boys of around 6 or 7 with no parent in sight were playing ball near where we were. At one point the ball slammed into the friend. I told these boys to be careful and did not hear an apology. On our way home, a small group of nonJewish boys of about 11 or 12 were approaching with a ball. One of them dropped the ball that came toward the little girl in our group. Though it had not hit her, he apologized. So I observed that these nonJewish boys show better manners than the frum ones. For all the talk of the importance of chinuch and attention to our kids, unfortunately, people forget that aspect of chinuch. In part, though, I think it is the macher mentality that dictates, I have to aggressively push my way through; polite requests like "excuse me" or "please" are viewed as indications of weakness.

  2. This reminds of the "famous" story where someone asked Rav Yisroel Salanter what type of kavanas should one have when putting on a talis. He replied: Not to hit the guy behind you with your tzisis strings.

  3. Anonymous6:40 AM

    A beautiful blog. You hit the nail on the head on what's wrong with our so-called Frum society.

  4. Anonymous9:39 AM

    In Williamsburg and other such neighborhoods they made a Takono this year that no one may work on building their Sukkah after 10 P.M. so as not to disturb the neighbors.

  5. Anonymous3:11 PM


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  7. This is not kitrug but observation with an aim toward amelioration. Your comment's reasoning would be tantamount to saying that declaring the emperor's new clothes to be exquisite effectively covers his nakedness. We would never accomplish teshuva if we always insist that we have to say that we as a people are perfect as is, and that is no contradiction to recognizing our role as an or lagoyim. We don't have time to do averos because we are building, and I am cooking, not to mention working. There is also shopping for food. But being busy and rushed does not exempt one from paying attention to his words and behavior toward others.

  8. Anonymous9:25 PM

    It is highly ullikely that the ppl you refer to are reading this Blog in that case it would sem its just a bunch of ppl sitting around speaking Loshon Hara with No toeles

  9. Anonymous5:36 AM

    Anonymous- 9:25
    If you wold look at this piece as directed at people rather than at groups or societies, you would realize that everyone can take something from it to heart. We all have room to improve in the areas of forethought & prioritization.

  10. Anonymous7:29 AM

    2)with a beard, peyos, nice black yalmukah and white shirt
    3)yeshivishe-looking Jew
    Plainly there is a TARGET group or groups here and in all of the Blogsphere

  11. Anonymous3:12 PM

    How starange that the NEw Yorker Magazine thinks the Oppisite of ppl who wish so much that we just be like everyone else a quote which he sums it up.
    "The modern Orthodox community, with its arid pseudo-intellectualism and high-priced schools, is an unlikely wellspring of Jewish revival. Reform and Conservative Judaism look increasingly like relics of the nineteenth and twentieth centures, respectively. It’s an open secret in the Jewish community that the galaxy of Manhattan-based Jewish organizations with impressive-sounding names like the World Jewish Congress exist for the most part only on paper".

  12. A strong article, but regarding the commenters' emphasis on Williamsburg et al, I must note that if we think rudeness is somehow not an issue in the MO community, we are criminally foolish.

  13. I believe it is important to conduct ourselves with the proper behavior, but it is also equally important not to quickly judge people who behave in a way which would seem to not be in line with your particular definition of derech eretz. Sometimes, or perhaps most of the time, when someone bumps into someone else, steps on their toes, hits them with their tallis, and so on, the act is completely accidental and the "perpetrator" often doesn't realize that he did anything.

    Additionally, people who come from different societies can have vastly different standards of derech eretz. In Israel, for example, it is the common practice for people to push and budge, at least a little bit, to get on bus lines, due to the fact that the lines are never straight. It takes time to learn the derech eretz rules of another society.

    Finally, you can't really expect children, even young teens, to completely understand and appreciate common ettiquette. Especially kids as young as six or seven. Perhaps it can be blamed on the education system, but more likely, it's because some kids will behave like kids, and it just takes maturity for them to figure these things out.

  14. toviah, I don't think it is a matter of maturity. Children need to be made aware by their parents. In fact, they are usually emulating the behavior they have seen modelled by their parents. That goes both for good and not so good behavior. It is up to parent to be aware of the effect of behavior children witness. That is why I do point out to my children what I find that is positive and what I find negative. It is not to condemn the sinner but the sin, so to speak.
    BTW if intent were everything, there would be no din of exile to an ir miklat for a killer beshogeg. Inadvertantly hurting someone may excuse one from a charge of maliciousness but not from insensitivity. Obviously, people using chain saws or whatever at 11:15 PM are not attempting to wake their neighbors. They have failed to take their neighbors into consideration because all they are thinking about is this is what I want to do now. Likewise, the person in the store demanded the lulav and pushed his way to the front because he was focused only on his goal and was oblivious to his effect on others.

    As to the charge of critiques of denizens of Williamsburg and the like, that is just laughable. The examples came from Lawrence and Cedarhurst, where we are. It was one commentator who pointed out that there was a "decree" in Williamsburg meant to prevent the gezel sheyna that results from people banging away on a sukah after 10 pm.

  15. Anonymous2:30 PM

    OK,I think the ethics discussion is interesting.But I saw an expansion on this Klal which I think is also an amazing insight. Why is it called Simchas Beis Hashoevah the Mitzvah is to pour out on the Mizbach not to Draw the water? The Chiddushie Harim answers the above Klal "that hachanos, preparations, are even more valuable than mitzvos themselves". The Imrie Emes added that's why the Mitzvah of SHLUACH HAKAN is called by the Gemara a simple Mitzvah there is no preparation you Just come upon a nest on the way[כי יקרא--פרט למזומן].Then he answers another question with this Klal :The gemara in Sanhedrin says why are Jews compared to a Pomegranate "because even the empty ones are full of Mitzvos like a pomegranate" if so why are they called empty? The answer is now simple, the gemara says of Reb Meir in Chagigah about Acher he ate like a Pomegranate he rid himself of the Shell and ate the Innards.This is like the Empty one they eat the Innards that is do the Mitzvos but throw away the Shell that is thy do no Preperation.Hence they have Empty Mitzvos.(Shlal Rav on Succos)

  16. Anonymous2:34 PM

    Last night I went to do my hachanos and buy a lulav and esrog. Standing in front of me was a man maybe in his upper-20's, with a beard, peyos, nice black yalmukah and white shirt, and he was assisting his father, a slightly older clean shaven man wearing a little cap, a man who did not seem to be a baki in hilchos lulav, which is maybe why he had his son along.

  17. Anonymous1:42 PM

    I'm not saying that there aren't inconsiderate people in the world, because there most certainly are, and it is certainly encumbent upont the Jewish community to ensure that high standards of derech eretz are kept. I just wanted to point out that as important derech eretzis, the principle of dan lekaf zechus is also essential, and it's important for us to learn to tolerate slight acts of inconsideration once in a while. This is also an important trait to be imparted to children, which is why it's not the best idea to get all bent out of shape at every derech eretz flaw that we see in our society.

  18. third line should read "incumbent upon"

  19. toviah, the differences in culture generally relate to what is seen as acceptable in terms of distance between people -- the personal space that is viewed as invaded when crossed -- and how much touching from others is tolerated -- some cultures promote more contact between people who are not in a close relationship. It does not mean that pushing people out of your way and making brusque demand is considered polite in particular circles.

    Commenting on an observation of behavior that should be modified is something positive and should not be called "getting bent out of shape." The point of the original post in relaying that the father told his son, "please" was that he was still trying to engage in chinuch. Or would you say that he should have tolerated his son's aggressive and discourteous approach as an equally valid lifestyle choice?

    Likewise, I want my children to know that even if they accidentally hit someone with a ball or whatever, they should apologize and take greater care in future to avoid it. I did my own post on that now after my own child was directly involved.

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  22. Of course if one's own children act inappropriately, the parent should correct them. My point was that a parent should not constantly point out the faults in others to serve as an example for their children. Forgive me if I misunderstood you.

    My mention of the societal differences was only meant to serve as an example of a possible limud zechut in certain situations, not neccesarily the one mentioned here. Sorry for not making myself clear.

  23. Anonymous8:31 PM

    This has to do with the post see sefer Ikarim Rav Albo. If anone has the answer to other questions please share.
    1)It says KI TOIV,but why not by the creation of man?
    2)Why does it say KI TOIV by the seperation Between Light and Dark if seperation is bad?
    3)It says that a Tzaddik is never Nichshal a food that is Assur if so why did Adam eat from the Eitz Hadas?

  24. I too would like to see an increased appreciation derech eretz as it applies in our general culture. There are, however a couple of points I think need to be recognized.

    In the 1950's there was an occurrence of mass hysteria known as The Seattle Windshield Pitting Epidemic. People, it would seem, started "looking at their window" rather than "through them" and noticed the typical cracks caused by small rocks and the like, and attributed them to nefarious causes. The human mind can be very selective in what it notices, and susceptible to suggestion as well. A caricature of Frum Yidden having poor manners is going to make it much more likely that confirming examples will be noticed, whether out of antagonism or a sense that it reflects poorly on the observer as well. I would argue that had the situation been reversed it is not anywhere near as likely that it would have been noticed as reflecting well on the son. This isn't a criticism, it is just natural.

    Secondly, I have worked in customer service, both Jewish and general, and I can tell you that even in the general culture, among affluent educated people, it is often that common courtesy is observed in the breech. I can also tell you that while I have not had a lot of interaction with the larger "Frum" world my experience has been that they may often not be as sociable, but among my Jewish customers they have not generally been the one's who have caused a scene. Yes, this is very anecdotal but it is my experience.

    Finally derech eretz is subjective. I have a non-Jewish coworker of European birth who finds our affinity about such customs as saying please and thank you as being phony and insincere. When you are purchasing from someone you are doing them a favor. Of course in such a case as this they are also doing you a favor by providing something you need. I see nothing wrong if in a particular culture please and thank you are reserved for less casual interactions. In the end the merchant set up shop to make money.

    But I still tell my coworker to use please and thank you to those in his charge because when and where it is customary to do so it is rude not to regardless.

    I have to agree that while much more work is needed in this area, there needs to be more of an attempt to dan l'kaf zchus as well.

    Thanks, :)

  25. Anonymous12:19 AM


  26. >>>3)It says that a Tzaddik is never Nichshal a food that is Assur if so why did Adam eat from the Eitz Hadas?

    It means a tzadik is not nichshal b'shogeg, but if a person deliberately eats a ma'achal issur that is a different story. Adam knew what he was eating; he just fell prey to temptation.

  27. Anonymous10:00 AM

    I guess it depends like which Medrash you re learning?

  28. Anonymous7:41 PM

    Well its a few days' later nothings moved so I will add how this Klal answers another question:
    The Gemara says:
    "ומפני מה אין חמי-טבריא בירושלים ? - כדי שלא יהיו עולי רגל אומרים: אלמלי לא עלינו אלא לרחוץ בחמי טבריא - דיינו, ונמצאת עלייה שלו לשמה
    OK, so being Oleh Regel will be lacking because people will say I went up because of the Hot Springs, but then there is another Gemara
    It says:
    והתניא האומר סלע זו לצדקה בשביל שיחיו בני ובשביל שאזכה בה לחיי העולם הבא הרי זה צדיק גמור
    Yet if I give Charity for all the wrong reasons I am completely righteous? What's the difference they are both lacking in the Mitzvah, but our Klal answers.
    The hachanos, preparations, are even more valuable than mitzvos themselves" In the first gemara he is saying the ALIYAH LIREGEL: The preparation for the mitzvah of RIYAH if lacking, then the whole ALIYAH LREGEL is no good because of our Klal "hachanos, preparations, are even more valuable than mitzvos themselves". But when the action of the mitzvah itself is lacking like the Tzedakah you are still a Tzaddik Gamar because of course the hachanos, preparations, are even more valuable than mitzvos themselves" וד"ק

  29. Anonymous7:44 PM

    I need the geulah SO I heard THAT LAST PART FROM THE TOLNA REBBE

  30. I just came back from two weeks in a yeshiva, where I didn't even see a computer, to say nothing of an internet connection. I'm glad I saw this post, though...because of something I realized recently, and it's connected to what Yirmiahu said. I learned that there are people who are totally useless, sometimes even noxious, in normal everyday life, but when the chips are down, they are the heroes and saints. I know one fellow who is simply a pest. He interrupts, he talks during davenning, he asks foolish and irrelevant questions during the shiur, he derides dayanim who once paskened against him in a din torah. But if chas veshalom someone needs help with a medical issue, or with end of life care, his entire demeanor changes, and he is simply priceless. I know another person who laughs like a hyena, who constantly carps about yeshiva boys who ought to be earning a living instead of sucking at the teat of the credulous fools who support them, but when an elderly relative of his who has abused him for years sent a message that he wanted mechilla, this pest cried, and agonized about it, and then he went over and was mochel him beleiv shalem. He said, "If I'm going to ask God to forgive me and the people I'm davening for at the amud, and they certainly don't deserve it, how can I withhold mechila from this bitter old man? And, and this is really true, there are people who are marvelous in everyday life, who are well mannered, and civil, and really a pleasure to be around, and when you need them, they disappear, they're just useless.

    All this is not an excuse. Chilul Hashem and good manners are extremely serious. But let's not forget that there is a whole other layer to personality that doesn't show its face until things get rough.

  31. Anonymous6:46 PM

    Well, another day another Question that our Klal answers. This time in Preparation for Chanukah I saw two Rambams one in הלכות תמידין ומוספין פרק ג
    it says
    י דישון המנורה, והטבת נרותיה בבוקר ובין הערביים--מצות עשה, שנאמר "יערוך אותו אהרון ובניו" (שמות כז,כא); והדלקת הנרות
    Cleaning out the Menorah and setting it up is done by Ahron and his sons It is a mitzvah that is to be done by Kohanim. Then there is a second Rambam in Hilchos Biyas Hamikdash That the actual lighting of the Menorah is good even when done by a non-Kohain and not only that you where able to light outside the Beis hamikdash as we say 'Vihidliku Neiros Bchatzros Kodsecha' they lit the menorah in the Chatzer. This again illustrates the point that "The hachanos, preparations, are even more valuable than mitzvah themselves". And for those who are cynical about the mareh makom of the Taz the Sfas Emes I uess sor of expected everyone to be on a certain level of scholarship which Included knowing Shulchan Aruch well wpith the nosei Keilim so when he said this Mamar he figured you would know the first Taz in Hilchos Rosh Hashanah.

  32. Anonymous7:47 PM

    I guess he sort of

  33. Anonymous12:58 AM

    A prime example of hachanah - one which is Torah mandated - is the mitzvah of Shabbos. In the words of the Shulchan Aruch: "One should arise early Friday morning to make preparations for Shabbos. Even if one has many servants, he should make a point of personally preparing for Shabbos - this accords honor to Shabbos. Rav Chisdah used to cut up the vegetables (for Shabbos). Rabbah and Rav Yosef would chop the firewood. Rabbi Zeirah would light the fire. Rav Nachman would put away the weekday tableware and take out the Shabbos tableware. Every person should learn from them: No one should say, 'It's beneath me [to perform menial tasks of preparation],' - it should be an honor for him to accord honor to Shabbos."

  34. Anonymous3:00 PM

    Its funny now that the dust of yom tov has setteled I realize it is not a really fresh idea it says it in Pirkie Avos רבי יעקוב אומר, העולם הזה דומה לפרוזדוד בפני העולם הבא; התקן עצמך בפרוזדוד, כדי שתיכנס לטרקלין.

  35. Anonymous3:02 PM

    And of course the The hachanos, preparations, are even more valuable than mitzvah in this case reward itself