Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Shopping for esrogim, Ushpizin, &c

I'm starting to think this whole esrog thing is a scam. Have you noticed they all look the same? Sure some are straighter, or cleaner, or more yellow, or more green than others, but for the most part there are minor differences. Yet, these minor differences can add upwards of $75 to the price. I can't understand it. In fact, I've been buying esrogim for year, and I always get the one that looks nicest to me. Some years, the most gorgeous esrog (again, to me) costs $20; sometimes it costs $75. What's the difference? I have no idea. In each case, I'm buying the one I like best.


I shop for my arbah minim in an open market where dozens of vendors hawk their wares. Every year, I visit 10 or more stalls, and I've still never seen a $300/1000 NIS esrog like the yahalom which played such a crucial role in the film Ushpizin. Prices, this year, ranged from $20 per set to about $100. And, the last time I watched the movie, I hit pause at a moment when the 1000 NIS filled the screen, and gave it a close look. (right) Its a little crooked, no? And not very bumpy. So what made it so expensive? 


Speaking of Ushpizon here's a great collection of clips from the movie (below). The lip-synching woman gets me every time, though in general, I find it hard to relate to people as intensely emotional as the Bellanga couple (watch the clip to see what I mean). Don't get me wrong. I'm not judging such people. It's how they are, and that's fine. I just take issue with the widely held belief that there's something more authentic, or more deeply religious, or more honest, or more legitimately spiritual, about that particular personality type.  I accept that King David was the sort to go around "leaping and whirling before the Lord.” [(II Sam. 6:16)] But that's not me, and there has to be room in Judaism for both types.

Ok, you may be asking, what about the requirement to "be happy." Surely, that's God telling you how to feel, right? Well not so fast. The verse is question says "וְהָיִ֖יתָ אַ֥ךְ שָׂמֵֽח" and most translate this as "you should be really happy." Samson Rephael Hirsch takes it differently
In my humble opinion, this explanation is to be interpreted as follows, in terms of the context of what precedes it: The waste left over from your threshing floor and vats is used to make the booths for your festival. In these nomadic booths you experience the joy of national elation with your entire household, in your settlements. Moreover, during the period of ingathering you leave the field and vineyard, the threshing floor and vat, and you meld with the national gathering that assembles at the Lord’s Temple, at His chosen place, for the source of your blessedness and joy is not in your settlements, your fields and vineyards, your threshing floor and vats; rather, it is the Lord your G-d Who bestows this bountiful blessing on you from the place of His Torah and through the means of His Teaching, if you dwell in His tent faithfully. This adherence to the Lord and His Teaching, not the city and field, nor the threshing floor and vat, is what gives you joy, and your joy shall be such as to fulfill the words, “you shall having nothing but joy.”
You shall have nothing but joy. This, I think, a better description of the original Sukkot experience. The crops are in, and you're in the very best position of the year: There's no heavy work to do, your money for the year has been made, and you've got plenty of food in storage. All you have is joy.

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