By Mrs. Marjorie Glatt
Special Projects Coordinator, YUConnects
A few days before Sukkos about two years ago, my husband brought home his prized esrog. I know he spends time searching for just the right one and is always excited to return with his “find.” Good wife that I am, when I opened the box to take a peek at the fruit, I immediately critiqued his selection. “What? You call that beautiful?” I inquired delicately. “It is all lumpy, a little heavy on the bottom, has ridges down the side, and a greenish tint.” With perfect patience and a wry smile, he replied, “You simply don’t know the definition of beauty. It isn’t what you think is attractive . . . it’s the Torah’s definition of what makes an esrog ‘mehudar.’ These ridges, lumps, and particular shape are actually the optimal features for a beautiful esrog.”
After I quickly changed the conversation (and determined to make jelly out of that yellow specimen in the not-too-distant future), the fascinating analogies to relationships suddenly hit home. At the YUConnects office at Yeshiva University, our educational programs include guiding young adults on values that will lead to long-term healthy relationships. We engage in vibrant discussions on important attributes to seek in a spouse, offer counseling in choosing “the right one,” and cultivate lessons for maintaining shalom bayis. There were clearly striking correlations to the esteemed esrog.
Anyone who went to the market in Meah Shearim, or similar markets worldwide, on erev Sukkos, would witness thousands of pious Jews scrambling in their quest to select beautiful kosher arba’ah minim, with a prime focus on finding the “perfect esrog.” Some people wait until the last minute, some are overly picky, and others decide to put all their resources and time into the endeavor.
Certainly, not all analogies drawn from the halachic and historical research will apply to long-lasting relationships; we do not recommend slicing and sharing a spouse with the rest of the community, nor do we “pasul” (invalidate) an individual for a birthmark on their upper torso!
Still, the holiday of Sukkos is replete with comparisons to the loving relationship Hashem has with Bnei Yisrael. The sukkah itself is compared to the chuppah. This time of year is the reigniting of the passion for the observance of the mitzvos after the repentance period of Aseres Yemei Teshuvah and Yom Kippur.
With that in mind, the pursuit of obtaining the “mehudar” fruit, coupled with general halachic guidelines in the care of the esrog, has lessons for us all. The following observations will make you stop, think, and view the esrog—and hopefully, your spouse—with greater appreciation:
1. Beauty is in the eyes of the Torah—then the choice is yours! As mentioned, “mehudar”—beautiful—is defined by the Torah. What may not appear important is considered precious if it meets proper halachic ideals.
However, the preferred shape and style vary greatly between cultures. Some notable kinds include the Moroccan classic hourglass-shaped ridge, commonly called the “gartel,” favored by many chassidim; the popular Chazon Ish selection that has many ridges; the larger Yemenite kind; and the greener Italian Yanover variety. Each of these is acceptable; each is sought after by different kinds of Jews and ultimately cherished.
So, too, in a search for a spouse, various characteristics and personalities are suited for different people. Some qualities should be essentials: honesty, integrity, devotion, and compatibility of religious/Torah values. Our sages have offered guidance and taught us about critical qualities that will be important for long-lasting bonds—but they don’t include tablecloth colors or the style of hat. Nonetheless, our particular preference on the actual look, personality, or form can certainly vary and we are justified in seeking mutual attraction—lumps and ridges included!
2. Hang in there—maturity matters. Another meaning for the word “hadar” is “dwelling,” since the p’ri etz hadar (esrog) remains on the tree even after it ripens. Season after season, the esrog endures and doesn’t fall off like other fruits. Part of the esrog’s appeal within the Jewish concept of beauty is the resolve of the fruit to “hang on” and withstand the elements trying to bring it down.
Naturally, maturity in entering a marriage is an essential trait. So is perseverance. When two people commit to matrimony, their personal determination to make it last is a key barometer of whether it will stand the test of time. Much like the esrog, admired for its ability to “hang in there,” a crucial criterion for a spouse should be the fortitude to partner together season after season.
3. Fragrance and flavor. The esrog is also unique in that it has both fragrance and flavor. Unlike the other minim (species), which have neither or only one of those characteristics, the esrog contains both qualities and is therefore compared to a person with both Torah knowledge (flavor) and good deeds (fragrance).
When seeking a soul mate, one certainly should look for the person who will encapsulate both attributes, not just a bright intellectual type. Instead, seek someone who performs chesed, acts of kindness. Similarly, an observant Jew cannot rest on his acts alone; everything is based on understanding Torah principles so that a solid foundation will help build a strong Jewish home.
4. The heart is where it’s at. Each of the arba’ah minim is also compared to a body part: the lulav is the upright spine, the hadassim are the eyes, and the aravos the mouth/lips. While all come together to serve Hashem in this mitzvah, the esrog is the centerpiece—the caring and compassionate heart.
With all that is written about beauty, values, and qualities to seek, ultimately it is that inner sensation/emotion that guides one person to another. Let the heart rule; it is usually not wrong.
5. Check out the roots. Halachic authorities are strict about requiring careful examination regarding the source of the esrog orchards to ensure no cross-pollination or grafting of the citron tree with other trees. Rabbinical certification that the tree is not “murkav” authenticates that the base of the tree wasn’t grafted with a lemon tree to make cultivation easier.
The parallel to yichus, or investigating a family tree, is quite evident. While people should not be overly concerned whether one’s lineage dates back to a particular tzaddik or tradition, research into familial ties and character may uncover clues about a potential spouse that will impact future interpersonal relationships. Though not precise, as the proverb states, “the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
6. No microscope, please. When searching for an esrog, it is appropriate to make sure there are no holes or marks, especially on the upper third of the fruit. However, if a mark is visible only via a microscope but not to the naked eye, the esrog is 100 percent acceptable. “Lo nitena Torah le’malachei ha’shares” (“The Torah was not given to the ministering angels”) means that the Torah’s laws do not demand anything beyond ordinary human capability. Minute imperfections don’t count.
This has many obvious comparisons to relationships. Not only shouldn’t one examine so closely to uncover tiny flaws, but it may not always be best to check, recheck, and check again every reference and opinion about a person. No one is perfect and no one benefits from microscopic inspections.
7. Handle with care. To prevent piercing the rind or breaking off the pitom, an esrog must be handled delicately, wrapped in silken flax or soft foam. Contact with a sharp object can invalidate the esrog and render it useless for the holiday.
Relationships may not be quite as fragile, but that is no reason to proceed with abandon. Words and actions truly pierce the heart and can be destructive. Even unintended passing remarks can’t be withdrawn, and the resulting hurt may be difficult to mend or can even be irreparable. If only we all would treat our loved ones as gently as the esrog in the silver box . . .
8. Never too early to daven. The Bnei Yissaschar cites Chazal who tell us to daven for a beautiful and kosher esrog on Tu B’Shevat, when trees first produce sap, many months before Sukkos. He states that the Hebrew phrase in the Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 1:1) is “Rosh hashanah l’ilan” (“the tree”), written in the singular, not “l’ilanos” (“the trees”), to give tribute to the only fruit that is physically used in observance of a mitzvah, the esrog. It is never too early to daven for Hashem’s help in finding the right esrog, even in the winter month of Shevat.
With all the guidelines, research, and advice offered on finding a zivug (mate), nothing compares to proper davening to the Al‑mighty. Some parents even begin their prayers the moment their child is born, since Divine intervention is what ultimately brings two partners together. As Hashem is the matchmaker for us all, heartfelt supplications for the special someone will be heard and answered l’tovah (for good).
May the search for the perfect esrog to honor Hashem be a z’chus to find the “perfect for you” soul mate with beautiful qualities—on the outside as well as within.
Excerpted from YUTorah’s Sukkos To-Go 5774.