It’s just two days after Yom Kippur, and already I can’t help but notice that some people don’t seem to have learned anything from the High Holidays.
Like in all socio-economic caste systems, the Rabbi who was managing the sale of the lulav and esrog for the upcoming holiday of Sukkot differentiated between three types and offered the following: Aleph (the most expensive), Bet (medium priced), and Gimel (the least expensive), and all were supposed to be full and kosher sets.
However, when people went to pick up their lulav and esrog, those who had purchased the less expensive sets were told that they would not receive the piece that holds the parts of the lulav together (the palm branch together with the two boughs of willow and three boughs of myrtle).
I said that the advertising for the sets did not mention withholding any parts and that I never received a lulav set that was missing parts before or ever heard of a supplier withholding parts of the set from purchasers. In fact, the piece that holds the three parts of the lulav together is a piece from the palm branch that is folded together and has a value of a penny or two, maybe. The point, though, wasn’t the value of the missing piece, but the principle that the seller was trying to “stick it” to the people who couldn’t afford the more expensive sets.
Aside from it being false advertising for the lulav and esrog sets, it was also stealing from the people who had purchased them. And the person distributing the sets told the customers:
Sorry, but the Rabbi told me not to give those pieces to you!
Honestly, I was quite upset at the dishonesty of this whole affair, and I said:
I am disappointed that you withheld a 2-cent piece of the lulav that is for conducting a mitzvah for the holiday of Sukkot!
After this, the distributor says that they checked again, and you can have the piece that holds the lulav parts, but the supplier is withholding “the ring” that holds them tightly all together.
At this point, I was livid, and I said:
This is ridiculous—the 2-cent holder comes with it now, but the 1-cent ring doesn’t, and this is acceptable to you.
Well, the supplier wouldn’t budge on the lulav ring for the “lower” customers. They were intent on punishing the customers who paid the price for the lulav sets, but who didn’t pay the top price!
So what did I do? I escalated this matter and said to the person who coordinated all this:
I care about the people, and I just really want to see them treated with respect and not degraded.
Moreover, I insisted that this supplier not be used in the future.
In the end, we were able to get the lulav rings for the people, but it took an extraordinary effort to get the supplier to do the right thing.
This really tested my faith, but I remembered the words of my dear father, Fred Blumenthal (זצ״ל) who said:
Don’t look at others as the example, but rather you be the example (of what’s right).
This led me to reflect on all the different ways that we compete with and classify each other instead of valuing each person and acting like a real community (with an emphasis on “unity”). Really, it’s a million things, from who can afford the better bar mitzvah to who makes the more lavish wedding; who is rated grade A for matchmaking, and who is considered to have a “mum” (defect) and be less or undesirable; who gets the prime kovod (honors) in the synagogue, and who never even gets called to the Torah for an Aliyah.
The truth is that there is a conflict between the ideal and the real. We are told that religion is a matter between us and Hashem and is purely about our spiritual achievements. However, what we observe is that money talks! And regardless of how much money, there is all too much judging going around.
The funny thing is that tying together the four species of the citron, date palm, willow, and myrtle symbolizes four types of Jews with differing levels of Torah knowledge and observance. So in the same way, despite our differences, we need to walk into the sukkah together!
Let us hope and pray that teshuvah (repentance) isn’t just a cliche for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but the prelude to proper and righteous behavior all year round.