After the Jews cross through Yam Suf they sing, זה קלי ואנוהו, which the gemara (Shabbos 133b) renders as 'I will glorify Him'. We are to use a beautiful succah, lulav, shofar and so on; this is the concept called 'hiddur mitzvah'.
But here is my question: Is hiddur mitzvah supposed to be a selfish value? Or are we meant to take it less literally, as an imperative to beautify mitzvos in general, including those performed by others? In other words: Have I fulfilled 'hiddur mitzvah' by purchasing a nice mitzvah item for someone else?
In my years as a shul rabbi in charge of distributing the shul's lulav and esrog sets, I never looked in the esrog boxes before selecting my own. I always paid for an esrog of a certain level, and took one of the boxes marked at that level without opening various boxes to compare the products within. [Other than the embarrassing year when a vendor specifically gave me a 'special' esrog – which raised serious questions of bribery in my mind.]
My logic was simple: If I take the nicest esrog, then I will have the most beautiful esrog and someone else will be forced to settle for less. I shouldn't have a beautiful mitzvah at the expense of someone else. Just last week I heard about a rosh yeshiva in Israel (I forget whom) who has the same practice – he takes a less-beautiful esrog, and leaves the nicest one for someone else. So I'm not the only one doing this.
In support of this approach, one could argue that 'beautiful' has multiple meanings: Holding an aesthetically appealing esrog is one type of beauty, but another, deeper beauty is found in offering aesthetically appealing esrogim to others. Perhaps if I enable someone else to perform a mitzvah beautifully, I can claim 'credit' for hiddur mitzvah.
But is that really a correct application of hiddur mitzvah? Perhaps we are meant to feel a degree of selfishness regarding our personal relationship with Gd.
Let's turn the question to Chanukah, since that's coming up: Is it better for me to buy a beautiful menorah for myself and let others use their less-nice models, or for me to give a less-fortunate person money so that he will be able to use a beautiful menorah, and I'll make do with an older, cheaper menorah? Or: In a family with multiple menorot, should I take a less-nice menorah, to permit another to use a better one? [Yes, I know it's actually a chanukiah. No, I'm not about to start calling it that.]
We might draw on the Mishneh Berurah's comments (694:3) regarding the Purim Seudah, when he says it would be better for a person to enjoy a basic meal and use the rest of his funds to increase his gifts to the needy for their Purim meals – but that's a Purim-related halachah, and not really about hiddur mitzvah.
I'm not sure.