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Thought for the Day: Severity of Disqualifications in ארבעת המינים

There may be 50 ways to leave you lover (slipping at the back, Jack, being my favorite as it avoids conflict), but it seems like every time I learn though the laws of ארבעת המינים/The Four Species I find yet another potential issue.  Since all us men go nuts with the selection of the most beautiful ארבעת המינים set (not unlike our wives insanity at Pesach), each potential issue engenders yet another stress point.  In fact, I just received a notification from the CRC about potential issues with Myrtle this year, so all the more reason to know what's what.

I am not going to discuss the details of all the disqualifications -- such as dryness, withered, spotted, berried, punctured, split, as so forth -- that can occur.  Rather, I found it useful for me to understand the underlying reason (root cause analysis, as it were; pun fully intended) for the disqualification.  As it happens, depending on the reason, the disqualification could be for the entire holiday, only the first day, or even only making a bracha on the first day.  Cool, eh?

By my reckoning, there are three levels of severity.  Let's start with most severe and work our way down.  Most severe are those disqualifications that take the species out of the category of species commended by the Torah.  Of course it is obvious that you can't make up your own requirements for what to use; you can't decide to use grapes, orange tree branches, maple leaves, and magnolia flowers as your way of celebrating Sukkos.  We are, after all, talking reality; not Reform Judaism.

More subtle, though, is that the Torah requires specific species of plants.  The willow is the one that has long, smooth leaves.  The Myrtle has three leaves per cluster.  A skosh more subtle: we know that esrogim have bumpy skin, more skin/meat than fruit, and seeds are aligned along long axis of fruit... but if you find a fruit from a tree for which you have no tradition, is that enough to definitively conclude that the fruit is without question an esrog.

Then there is חסר/missing stuff.  Of course we all recoil in horror from a broken pitom (some of us are so nervous, in fact, that we only buy the sub-species of esrog that doesn't have a pitom).  And don't even get me started about a broken or even split תיומת!  It is certainly the right species, so what's wrong?  What's wrong is this is lacking in הדר/splendour.  Yep, as we were singing in joy crossing the sea when exodusing from Egypt, we included the stanza: זֶה אֵלִי וְאַנְוֵהוּ/This is my G-d, and I shall glorify Him! (Shmos 15:2)  Maybe you thought that was just poetic, but HaShem took us at our word and enshrined into halacha that ארבעת המינים must be beautiful.

Finally, we have wilted or even dry plants.  Nothing missing, just old and dry (hey... watch it; I'm not that old and dry yet!); so what's the problem?  You might thing it is problem with הדר, and you would thereby be in agreement with many rishonim and poskim.  However, there is another verse that you probably just thought was poetic, this time from Hallel/t'hillim 115:17: לֹא הַמֵּתִים, יְהַלְלוּ-יָהּ/the dead do not praise G-d.  Some poskim understand that to mean that we are not allowed to use dead things in ארבעת המינים.  That is, you could have an absolutely stunning willow branch that was carefully preserved, but dead.  If the issue is הדר, you might be ok; especially for the second day or chol ha'mo'ed.  But if the issue is "dead minim tell no tales" (of praise, that is.  Do you like the subtle pirate joke; which I am noting because it is a pretty far stretch...), then it will be disqualified completely.

And that, dear wives, is why it takes us much longer to find suitable ארבעת המינים than Shabbos flowers.


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