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The Eye of the Beholder

09/23/2021 12:35:24 PM


For those who ordered a lulav and etrog set this year, or in years past, you surely noticed that our vendor sells sets that are categorized as “children’s”, “standard”, or “supreme” (“rabbi’s”). But as you might have suspected, lulavim and etrogim don’t grow with these labels on their stems. While we say the main difference between them is their size, that’s not the entire picture. Like Plato’s theory of forms, there is an ideal etrog/cirton that conceptually exists. However, the ideal conception of an etrog from one community to the next is a little subjective. Some communities like their etrogim a little greener, some a little yellower. Some people imagine the ideal etrog as smoother, other’s more oval, and others like solid colors without any spots. Thus, when I check the lulavim and etrogim for our community to make sure they are all kosher, I sometimes find a “standard” etrog that is a little “nicer” that I’ll swap with my supreme. Which means that someone out there who ordered a standard got a free upgrade! But why was there a nice etrog in the standard box, and not a supreme one? Because beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

I imagine that the company has a big bin of etrogim in front of them.  And then someone comes along and picks up all the ones that can be considered extra nice. These etrogim are of a solid color, symmetrical, a good size, and unmarred by any dents or imperfections. These are put to the side and put in the supreme category. Then there are the etrogim that are kosher, but imperfect. Perhaps it is still ripening from green to yellow. Perhaps the pitom grew at a slant. For whatever reason, the etrog is still kosher, but least conformed to the selector’s platonic idea of an etrog. These are reserved for the children’s category. Then there are all the rest. I envision that these leftover “standard” etrogim is the largest category and thus there are probably some “supreme” etrogim that are overlooked or were not needed. Thus, in my attempt to beautify and honor the commandments, I seek out the most beautiful etrog – in my opinion – and that becomes the one I will use for the duration of the holiday. 

The truth is, that there is a little brown indent and discoloration on my etrog which probably prevented it from being considered “supreme”. However, because of its shape, color, and size, I still believe it to be superior to the one that someone else though was supreme. And this right there is the truth of beauty and art. Two people can be looking at the same thing and one person appreciates it more than others. Two people can be looking at Marcel Duchamp’s “fountain," one chuckling with bemusement, the other quizzical and unimpressed. Or in our case, two people can be looking at an etrog and one sees a supreme, and the other just a standard. When it comes to beauty, we’d be wise to remember the subjective nature of the experience. That not only might we find beauty where others have overlooked it, but also that there might be beauty and value that we had been quick to disregard.  

Sun, March 3 2024 23 Adar I 5784