Object Lesson

There is a poignant story of Reb Aryeh Levin, a saintly and renowned rabbi in Jerusalem who passed away in 1969. Once before the holiday of Sukkot, when people were busily seeking the perfect etrog (the fruit used for the Sukkot celebration), Reb Aryeh was seen heading into an old age home. A student asked him why, when visiting an old age home was possible at any time of the year, he would not use his precious moments before the holiday to choose the perfect etrog.

Reb Aryeh told him that there are two times when the Torah uses the word hidur (beautification) in relation to a mitzvah. One is with the etrog [Leviticus 23:40] and the other is honoring the face of the aged [Lev. 19:32]. Now, explained Reb Aryeh, fruit is an object, but an aged individual is a subject. Too often, we are more concerned with things than people. The greater mitzvah is beautifying the commandments relating to human beings.

In an age of increasingly sleek, diverting and beautiful objects, Reb Aryeh’s lesson is more compelling than ever. No natural magnificence or crafted ingenuity is more beautiful than human compassion.

About the Author
Named the most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek Magazine and one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post, David Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California.