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Hiddur Mitzvah

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Oct 5, 2006

Hiddur Mitzvah

When one performs a mitzvah, he has the option of performing the mitzvah in a manner that fulfills the minimal requirement or he can perform the mitzvah in a manner that glorifies the performance of the mitzvah.  Performing a mitzvah in a glorified manner is known as hiddur mitzvah.  This article will discuss the parameters of hiddur mitzvah and how hiddur mitzvah relates to the four species of Sukkot. 

The Concept of Hiddur Mitzvah

The Gemara, Shabbat 133b, cites a Beraita that derives from the verse (Shemot 15:2) "zeh keli v'anveihu," this is my G-d and I will glorify him, that one should glorify G-d through the performance of mitzvot.  Therefore, one should have a nice sukkah, a nice lulav, a nice shofar, nice tzitzit and a nice sefer Torah.  Ra'avad (cited in Chidushei Anshei Shem, Berachot 38a, no. 2) suggests that hiddur mitzvah is a biblical concept.  Ritva, Sukkah 11b s.v. V'Ee, writes that hiddur mitzvah is a rabbinic concept.

The Beraita includes on its list of items nice covers for a sefer Torah.  This implies that the cases and covers used to store an item used for a mitzvah are also subject to hiddur mitzvah.  Accordingly, having a nice lulav or etrog case would constitute a fulfillment of hiddur mitzvah.  However, one can argue that one cannot bring a proof from the covers of a sefer Torah.  Rambam, Hilchot Sefer Torah 10:10, writes that there is a special mitzvah to beautify a sefer Torah.  As such, sefer Torah may be the exception to the rule.  Nevertheless, the Mishna, Sukkah 45a, states that in the times of the Beit HaMikdash, the aravot for the simchat beit hasho'eiva were placed in gold vases prior to their use.  This seems to indicate that there is some element of hiddur mitzvah in having a nice case for a lulav or etrog.

Hiddur mitzvah has subjective standards as well as objective standards.  The requirement to have "nice" items used for the mitzvah clearly has no objective standards.  There can be two sukkot that look nothing alike and the construction of both can be a fulfillment of hiddur mitzvah.  Yet, there are certain aspects of hiddur mitzvah which are objectively defined.  For example, according to Tosafot, Baba Kamma, 9b s.v. Ad, the size of the item is a factor in hiddur mitzvah.  Regarding b'rit milah, the cutting of certain strands of flesh is a form of hiddur mitzvah (Shabbat 133b). 

Hiddur Mitzvah and the Four Species

Hiddur mitzvah is particularly important regarding the mitzvah of taking the four species.  The Torah (Vayikra 23:40) refers to the etrog as a p'ri eitz hadar, a beautiful fruit.  The implication is that regarding the etrog, hiddur is an essential part of the mitzvah.  In fact, the Gemara, Sukkah 29b, applies the requirement of hadar to all four species and therefore, certain flaws will invalidate these four species.

Beyond the inherent requirement to have species of beauty, the theme of hiddur mitzvah as an enhancement of the mitzvah is manifest in numerous ways.  First, the Gemara, Sukkah 11b cites a Beraita that records a dispute between R. Yehuda and Chachamim as to whether tying the lulav, hadasim and aravot together is necessary to fulfill the mitzvah.  According to R. Yehuda, it is an absolute requirement.  According to Chachamim, the Gemara explains that there is no requirement, but tying them together constitutes a fulfillment of hiddur mitzvah.

[R. Eliezer of Metz, Sefer Yerei'im no. 422, notes that the implication of the Gemara is that the type of knot that one must use is one that is prohibited to tie on Yom Tov.  Therefore, Sefer Yerei'im rules that one should tie the three species together with a double-knot. Sefer Yerei'im's ruling is codified by Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 651:1.  This prompted R. Yosef ben David of Salonika, Beit David, Orach Chaim no. 454, to question the practice that many people have to bind the three species together using a woven lulav holder that has compartments for the hadasim and the aravot (koitscheklach).   He claims that the double-knot is an objective form of hiddur mitzvah and if one does not use a double-knot, he does not fulfill the hiddur mitzvah properly.  R. Eliakim Gotnow, Agurah B'Ohalecha, Orach Chaim no. 33, claims that this form of hiddur mitzvah is subjective.  The goal of this hiddur is to bind the three species together which is accomplished by these lulav holders.  Furthermore, the lulav holders are nicer than a standard double-knot and therefore it is preferable to use the lulav holders. Mishna Berurah 651:8, cites the opinion of Agurah B'Ohalecha, implying that one may rely on his opinion.]

Second, Rambam, Hilchot Lulav 7:7, writes that there is a fulfillment of hiddur mitzvah by increasing the number of hadasim beyond the minimum requirement of three hadasim.  Rabbeinu Asher, Sukkah 3:14, explains that there is no prohibition of bal tosif (the prohibition of adding unnecessary items to a mitzvah or adding entire mitzvot) because the additional hadasim serve a purpose in enhancing the mitzvah.  Regarding increasing the number of aravot, Ran, Sukkah 17a (first paragraph), rules that it is prohibited because increasing aravot does not constitute hiddur mitzvah.  [Ran is explaining the opinion of Rambam that one may not increase the number of aravot.  In truth, Rambam struggled with this issue and concluded in his later years that it is permissible to increase the number of aravot.  See Birkat Avraham no. 31, by R. Avraham the son of Rambam.]

Third, the Gemara, Sukkah 42a, states that one fulfills the mitzvah of taking the four species from the moment one lifts them.  Nevertheless, the Gemara, Sukkah 41b, cites a Beraita that records the minhag of Anshei Yerushalayim who would hold the four species the entire day.  R. Yosef D. Soloveitchik, Shiurei Maran HaGrid, Sukkah pg. 197, explains the opinion of Tosafot, Sukkah 45b, s.v. Echad, that the practice of the Anshei Yerushalayim was based on hiddur mitzvah

HiddurMitzvah with Multiple Etrogim

R. Yosef D. Soloveitchik (of Brisk), Beit HaLevi 2:47, raises the following question regarding hiddur mitzvah:  Suppose someone already fulfilled the mitzvah of taking the four species and later in the day he attained an etrog that was nicer than the one he used for the mitzvah.  Should he repeat the mitzvah using the nicer etrogBeit HaLevi suggests that one cannot fulfill hiddur mitzvah unless it is in the context of fulfillment of the primary obligation.  Since this individual already fulfilled the mitzvah, he cannot fulfill hiddur mitzvah separately.

A similar question is posed by Beit HaLevi's son, R. Chaim Soloveitchik (cited in Mikra'ei Kodesh, Sukkot Vol. II, no. 9).  Suppose someone has two etrogim.  One is certainly valid but is not particularly nice and the other is very nice but is questionably valid (it may be the product of a lemon graft).  Which etrog should be used first?  R. Chaim asserts that one should take the etrog of questionable validity first because if one takes the one which is certainly valid, his fulfillment of the mitzvah would be complete and he would not gain by using the etrog that has more hiddur mitzvah value.  However, if he takes the questionable etrog first and it is in fact valid, he will have a greater fulfillment of the mitzvah.  If it is not valid, he will fulfill the mitzvah with the other etrog.

Expenditures for Hiddur Mitzvah

The Gemara, Baba Kamma 9b, states that one should add one-third in order to fulfill hiddur mitzvah.  Rashi, ad loc., s.v. B'Hiddur, explains that if one has a choice of two items to be used for a mitzvah and one is nicer than the other, one should spend one-third more for the nicer item.  Tosafot, ad loc., s.v. Ad, explain that one should purchase an item one-third larger than the minimum requirement. Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 656:1 quotes both opinions but sides with the opinion of Tosafot.


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