Monday, November 21, 2011

Buying the nicest menorah for myself

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.


  1. R'H Schachter's practice iiuc is to give the difference to tzedaka. I've often wondered if the intent plays a role (e.g. is the hiddur for you or the mitzvah - one buys a b class etrog and a 1000 etrog box)
    Joel Rich

  2. I don't see the connection between chanukiya and etrog, since one concerns halacha plus subjectivity and the other is mostly sujective.

  3. "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" thus making it, as Batya says, highly subjective. This would apply particularly to the purchase of a menorah. For some people, the beauty lies in the material the menorah is made from, for some the beauty is in the design and shape of the menorah. For some the beauty lies in the size of the menorah. For some the beauty stems from the 'history' of the menorah--who gave it to you and for what occasion it was given. Still others ascribe beauty to a menorah if it doesn't look like everyone else's menorah. Some ascribe beauty to a menorah based on the name of the 'designer' or company that produced the menorah. Some use bits and pieces of all or some of the above to ascribe beauty to a menorah. In short, one person's hiddur mitzvah menorah may be another person's "It's okay I guess." Trying to quantify hiddur mitzvah strictly through the cost of an item isn't going to get you anywhere.

  4. My idea of a great, functional and portable menorah is a long rectangular bar of polished solid brass, with beveled or rounded edges. It would be drilled with precise holes (also with beveled or rounded edges) to accommodate the bases of glass oil cups easily ordered through the Jewish supply stores in big cities like NYC. The shamash can fit into a hole on an elevated step in the bar. Something like this can be elegant in a non-gaudy way and very affordable. Since the cups and wicks are generic, getting replacements for them as needed should be easy.

    As for oil, we've had good success with extra virgin olive oil (OU or Star-K) from the supemarket.

    "Super Wicks" (e.g., from Eichler's) of the right size stay put in the glass cups and don't get smoky when the oil inside is nearly gone.

  5. Joel-
    I think intent does matter, yes; it seems to be the theme of the mitzvah.

    Both are subjective, although it is true that the gemara does provide more detailed standards for arba minim.

    True, but the degree of spending does say something, no?


  6. What's the source for a beautiful chanukiyah as a fulfilment of zeh Ke-li ve-anveihu?

  7. If anybody out there makes or wants to make a menorah to my description above, I'd like to find out.

  8. Curious what you think of my latest post if you have a chance to look:

  9. Melech-
    Aside from the gemara I cited (which offers examples, not the set of all cases), see Mishneh Berurah 673:28.

    R' Maroof-
    That's a long post... Not sure when I'll get to it, but we'll see.

  10. Because of how it's produced, extra virgin olive oil needs no hechsher even for eating - all the more so for lighting. Why is the OU or StarK necessary?

  11. Leibel Berenbaum (the son of Shmuel Berenbaum) used to use the bottom of coke cola cans (for a Chanuka menorah) and he thought this was the greatest hidur mitzvah possible and was incredibly joyful as if this was the menorah of the temple itself.
    I did not actually see this myself but i heard it from a friend (david beckerman)who was at the Mir before i got there. But i believe it. leibel had a great knowledge of shas and kabalah and had all types of customs that defied reason. he used to learn a meshechta every day standing on his feet while fasting in a room that was so hot in the summer it made me want to go to hell for a vacation.
    he wrote a pretty good book of lumdut when he was thirteen years old , his father did not like that and said thirteen is too young to be publishing a book lumdut. I could go on and on but to be short let me just say leibel was colorful character (and also the reason i got involved with rebbi nachman's teachings). Leibel had a real soft side towards rebbi nachman.

  12. "Aside from the gemara I cited (which offers examples, not the set of all cases), see Mishneh Berurah 673:28."

    Yeah, I don't really get that, why a chanukiyah would be a fulfilment of zeh Kei-li ve'anveihu. The nerot, sure. The nerot are comporable to a sukah, lulav, shofar etc. Meaning the actual item through which the mitzvah is fulfilled, absence of which means there is not mitzvah. But the chanukiyah? I still don't get it.

    Anyway, I tried tracking down the source for the Mishnah Berurah. As far as I could tell, seems ultimately the source is here in the Seder Hayom by R. Moshe ben Yehudah Machir, the contemporary of the ARI, here:

    Notice he says a beautiful menorah demonstrates chavivut for the mitzvah (as opposed to Zeh Ke-li; are those different concepts?).

    [Notice also a couple of lines up he emphasizes how this mitzvah should be done by one's self, not through another. ]

    Ayyway, with regard to the first comment above by Anonymous, I've wondered about expensive fancy tzedakah boxes, if the money is better given to tzedakah.

  13. Melech-
    My understanding is that hiddur applies to any item connected to a mitzvah, such that its beauty will reflect on the mitzvah's performance. What do you think of Rosh HaShanah 24b on the beautification of the menorah in the Beis haMikdash?

  14. I am much more of the opinion that I'd rather spend $1 on art supplies to make my own tzedakah box with colorful buttons or paper glued onto a cheese can, rather than spend $100 or $200 on an artistic, expensive tzedakah box. Then I put the savings inside and give it to someone else.

    My only exception is if I am buying fancy Judaica as a gift for someone.

  15. tesyaa said...Because of how it's produced, extra virgin olive oil needs no hechsher even for eating - all the more so for lighting. Why is the OU or StarK necessary? November 21, 2011 9:26 PM

    I look on it subjectively as a kind of hiddur.

  16. I look on it subjectively as a kind of hiddur.

    Well, it does add to the cost, so you may be correct, and you are giving parnasa to various Jews in the hashgacha supply chain, but the product is identical to the product without the hechsher (leaving aside the natural differences between olives grown in Spain, Italy, Tunisia etc).

  17. Tesyaa-
    Without commenting on the specific case of olive oil, a general note: Hashgachot are businesses, with expenses and revenue. If someone calls a business with an offer to pay for its products, the proprietor doesn't say, "I don't think you really need this." He says, "Thank you for your order."

  18. Melech-
    Regarding the menorah being part of the mitzvah itself, see Ateret Paz I 2:Yoreh Deah 7 (available on the Bar Ilan CD):
    (וכן ראיתי עתה בחו' "נר ישראל" בעניני חנוכה (סי' ג), דג"כ עמד שם בהערה זאת מאי שנא נר חנוכה מנר דשבת, דבנר חנוכה מצינו דאית ביה קפידא שיהיה בו כלי, משא"כ בנר שבת, וביאר כעין הנ"ל דבנר שבת עיקר הענין הוא שיהיה אור דלוק משא"כ בנר חנוכה דהנר המקבל את השמן הוא חלק מהמצוה, ועפ"ז עמד לבאר נמי הא דהביא הבאר היטב (סוס"י תרעג) בשם המטה משה שכתב דרש"ל קנה מנורה של כסף ובליל ב' דחנוכה התחיל להדליק בה, ובירך להדליק ושעשה ניסים ושהחיינו, אף שבשעת קנין יש לברך על כלי חדש ניחא ליה לסדר ברכת שהחיינו עם אלו הב' ברכות. ע"כ. דלכאורה ד"ז תמוה מאוד איך יברך שהחיינו שנתקן על קנין כלי חדש בשעת ההדלקה, ומה שייך זה להדלקה ונמצא דהוא מפסיק בין ברכה למצוה דהיינו ההדלקה, משום דברכת זמן דחנוכה הרי כבר בירך ביום הראשון. [וכאמת עי' למו"ר בשו"ת יבי"א ח"ד (חאו"ח סי' כד סוף אות י) שעמד בדברי הרשב"ש בתשובותיו (סי' תלב) שכתב, לענין שיניח פרי חדש לפניו בעת שמברך זמן בקידוש של ליל יו"ט שני דר"ה לא הסכים לזה א"א הרשב"ץ כיון שאינו חובה הו"ל הזמן הפסק בין הקידוש והשתיה. ע"כ. וכתב ע"ז מו"ר מרן מלכא שליט"א כי מכאן תשובה מוצאת למ"ש המטה משה (סי' תתקפט) דמהרש"ל קנה מנורה חדשה של כסף וכו' ובירך עליה שהחיינו בלילה השני וכו', דלכאורה אמאי לא חייש להפסק, ואפילו להפוסקים גבי ר"ה דלא חיישינן להפסק בהבאת פרי חדש, יודו בזה דאיכא למיחש להפסק. וצ"ע. עכתד"ק. ע"ע]. אולם לפי הנ"ל ביאר בחו' הנזכרת, דכיון שהנר המקבל את השמן הוא חלק ממעשה המצוה והוא קנאו למצוה, א"כ שפיר חשיב ברכה זו מעין המצוה כיון שמברך שהחיינו על הנר שהוא חלק מהמצוה. ועפ"ז עמד לבאר עוד, הא דחזינן דהמשנ"ב ברס"י תרעו הביא בשם הרש"ל דכשמברך בהדלקת נר חנוכה צריך לומר להדליק נר "שלחנוכה" במילה אחת ולא "של חנוכה" בשני מילים, ולכאורה צ"ב מאי שנא מברכת נר שבת דמברכים "של שבת" בשני מילים, [וכן נמי לדידן קהילת קודש בני ספרד דבשבת מברכים "של שבת", ובחנוכה מברכים "להדליק נר חנוכה" בלי "של"]. אולם לפי הנ"ל י"ל דהרש"ל לשיטתו אזיל, דבנר שבת שהנר עצמו אינו חלק מהמצוה אלא הוא רק משמש למצוה אמרינן להדליק נר של שבת, משא"כ בנ"ח דהנר עצמו הוא חלק מהמצוה אומרים להדליק נר שלחנוכה או לדידן נר חנוכה להראות שהנר עצמו הוא חלק מהמצוה, ולכן מחברים את הנר למילת חנוכה שלא להפריד בן הדבקים, ואייתי שפיר דמהרש"ל לשיטתו דבנר חנוכה הוא חלק מגוף המצוה. ע"ש בדברים.

  19. Interesting. Thanks.