Sunday, October 7, 2012

Etrog or Wife – On Which Should a Jew Spend More?

Print Friendly and PDF

to our newsletter for more exclusive content
unavailable anywhere else in English on the web

The following story is told by Rabbi Yosef Elnekaveh, former Rabbi of Neve Dekalim in Gush Katif, Gaza.

The Kabbalist sage Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu of blessed memory was known for his ability to check the validity of an etrog in seconds and precisely state its halachic [Jewish legal] strengths and weaknesses. Every year before the holiday of Sukkot, he would examine hundreds of etrogs and classify each as plain kosher or “mehudar” (great) or not worthwhile. He would rarely say the word “pasul” (disqualified) regarding an etrog, but would rather say, “take something else.”

Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu holding a yellow etrog
If Rabbi Eliyahu examined an etrog after he had already checked it once, even if a few days had passed, he would say that he already checked it and said it was such and such. There are scores of such testimonies.

Only once I heard him say regarding an etrog that it was “pasul.” It happened when a man brought him an etrog of the highest quality to examine, and the buyer proudly stated that he had paid $1000 for the etrog!

Rabbi Eliyahu looked for a split second at the etrog which appeared to be in perfect form and asked, “If this etrog is pasul, will you get your money back?” The man replied that yes, he had made the sale conditional on Rabbi Eliyahu’s examining the etrog and declaring it halachically fit for use.

Rabbi Eliyahu looked the man in the eye and asked, “Tell me, did you purchase for your wife a piece of jewelry for the holiday? That’s also a mitzvah [commandment] from the Torah. It’s the mitzvah of v’semachta bchagecha [thou shalt rejoice on the holiday]!”

The man mumbled something unclear. Rabbi Eliyahu continued, “The etrog is pasul.”

“What? How can it not be fit for use,” asked the buyer.

The rabbi turned the etrog upside down and showed him a small hole under the stem that was very difficult to detect. When Rabbi Eliyahu pushed the stem up a bit, the hole became visible. It was made by a worm which penetrated the thick skin of the etrog to the middle.

The man was shocked. Rabbi Eliyahu continued, “You don’t have to buy an etrog for $1000. It’s enough to purchase a nice one like everyone else for $25-$30. And use the remaining amount to bring joy to your wife for the holiday. Making your wife happy on the holiday is a positive commandment from the Torah.”
Do the math. Rabbi Eliyahu ordered the man to spend 39 times more on his wife, than on his etrog.
Or else face the above consquences
When the man had left, we asked the rabbi how he detected the hole under the stem in a moment’s time. He replied that according to a Hassidic saying, the word etrog is an acronym for the verse “אל תבואני רגל גאוה” [Let not the foot (or holiday) of pride overtake me] Psalms 36:12. But this etrog, said Rabbi Eliyahu, didn’t jive with the idea behind the verse.

END OF STORY. So my friends, if you also neglected to buy something substantial for your wife for the holiday, you can still rectify that today, and take her to get a nice dress or piece of jewelry. Just make sure that you spend much more on your wife than on your etrog.

Chag Sameach from Bet El!

"Like" on Facebook
To receive email updates with articles like this one:

One-click unsubscribe link at the bottom of every email

Print Friendly and PDF


  1. this is an idiotic story

  2. This is an excellent story. Now I know why Rav Belanga, from the movie Ushpizin, bought his wife the earrings which he gave her prior to showing her the $1000 Etrog... But it seemed to me that he was more interested in the Etrog than appreciating the beauty of his wife wearing the earrings.

  3. Common sense
    Our beautiful Torah never contradicts reason
    An important story

  4. Or maybe accompany your wife to her favorite bookstore so she can buy herself a book with money she has earned herself? I mean: jewelry? A dress? This is what makes the little woman light up with joy? What century is this rabbi living in? If you wonder why young people are not attracted to Judaism in as great numbers as one would wish, nothing could be more revealing as a reason than this kind of claptrap.

    1. My Dear Beautiful Friend Roni,

      Only saw your comment now, a few years later and I must reply.

      I can only assume that you were not yet married at the time of this writing. Many friends and myself included have found numerous times in our relationship with our wives that a material gift of the kinds talked about in this story can touch a woman in the deepest way.

      In general (yes there are exceptions), woman have different qualities than men and one of those qualities that we lack is a deep appreciation and discerning for appearance and beauty. For a woman to choose what she wants to wear to an event - is a slow, developmental process that can easily take 20 times more time than the one minute that it takes the husband to choose what he'll wear.

      To you, that might appear childish and trite. Why waste 20 minutes on something as material as clothes? Better to spend the time and resources reading a book and broadening your knowledge, as you suggest the alternative gift in your comment - a book over jewelry.

      I fear that you may find yourself quickly on the sofa of a marriage counselor with your future wife, unless you consider the wisdom of Judaism in commanding a man to purchase a meaningful gift - clothes or jewelry - for his wife.

      The rabbis explain that women are gifted with a sense for beauty and appearance that we guys simply don't possess. Focusing on their appearance is not indulging in something meaningless, rather it's making good use of a talent that they were gifted with to make themselves and things look just perfect.

      A husband, even though he doesn't have the talent, who doesn't learn to at least recognize and appreciate his wife's efforts and taste in this realm is doomed to take his decorative Ketuba off the wall and use it (get divorced).

      Good luck my friend.


Feel free to comment on the above post. If you're going to attack me, do it with elegance.