Esrogim – What to Look For


esrog-rav-leibel-randDelivered by Rav Leibel Rand at Kollel Avreichim

Courtesy of the Five Towns Jewish Times

Written by Rabbi Yair Hoffman

This past Sunday, Motzei Yom Kippur, Rav Leibel Rand Shlita, the Rosh Kollel of Kollel Avreichim, delivered a shiur on Esrogim.  The Beis Midrash was filled with residents from Five Towns, Far Rockaway, and even Long Beach. The following is a synopsis of what was presented.

The Mitzvos d’oraisah that come once a year are very special to Klal Yisroel.  We are under the impression that we have 613 Mitzvos, but in our days, they are much rarer.  The Minchas Elazar used to cry when he performed one of the once-per-year Mitzvos. When asked why he was crying he responded, “Nowadays we do not have taryag Mitzvos anymore.  We only have 270 mitzvos – [the siman is Raish Ayin which in gematria is 270 and also means “bad.”]

The Minchas Elazar was crying for those Mitzvos that are missing.  So we should “chap-a-rein” when faced with the rarer once-per-year Mitzvos and perform them in the most optimal manner possible.

What is Optimum in an Esrog

So what is the optimimum esrog?  We will try to rank the maalos.

1.      The first is that it should be clean.  Nekius. The Pri Magadim says that is the ikkar – essential quality in what makes an ideal esrog.  The only thing that is considered a true blemish is something that is nirah l’anayim – seeable to the naked eye and is obvious at arm’s length.  At that distance you ought to be able to detect that blemish without particular concentration.  If you don’t notice a blemish at arm’s length then it is okay. This means without iyun b’histaklus.

What are we looking for? Maaros psulos – colors that disqualify the esrog – Black or white.

Where on the esrog is the maareh pasul?

The line is the nose – the chotem of the esrog. above the half line where it starts sloping.  If you have a mareh pasul anywhere from there to the top it is pasul.

There is, however, a Machlokes about where the chotem is. There are four shitos – opinions.  Rashi, the Rosh, the Chsam Sofer, and the  Ri migash and Rach.  This fourth opinion holds that the stem of the pitom is the chotem.

The final halacha is that anywhere in these four areas (picture 7) – a maareh pasul would render the esrog pasul.

Optimum is completely clean above here.  No need for magnifying glass.

As far as the lower part of the esrog , it is nisht geferlach.  That is the first thing to look for.

2.      The second is the look of the esrog. This is not a psul but a maalah.  An esrog where the color is not uniform, is not a good look.  It should not have different blotches.  Either fully yellow or fully green is okay.  However, if it has blotches of these two different colors then it is a bad look. The raavad’s shita is that it is an issue. the Mishna Brurah says to be choshesh – to be concerned for it.  So maaleh #2 is uniform.

3.      The third issue is a bletl – a scab or a crust.  It comes in various forms – sometimes lighter, a gray or a brown discoloration.  It is a scab.  Sometimes it is very small and you don’t recognize it as a scab.  The scab has two presentations.

a.      The first type is thick.  If you go over it with your finger you can discern it is a higher than the esrog.

b.      The second is very thin, nice and smooth and you don’t get a bump.  The Ramah says that these things (the second type) are not a problem.

We will discuss the first type.  On this one you should be machmir – stringent.  If it is above the chotem you should find another esrog.  If it is readily discernable – as a type one, you should be machmir.

If it is not higher than the rest of the surface of the esrog (type B) the Minhag of the olam is not to be machmir.  If you can get one without it, of course, do so, but the Minhag is to be lenient.

[Now we will digress to a psul. An esrog has a problem where it is in more than one place – in 2 or 3 places – even below the chotem.  Since these encompass most of the circumference of the esro.  The esrogg has been effected by these huge black dots.  – It pasuls the esrog, since it is berov hekeifoEven though it is below the chotem.

There is another case of this, where it may not encompass most of the circumference but it does go down the length of it – it is the height that pasuls.

Also an esrog that has a black dot on the pitom.  The Mishna Brurah in his Biur Halacha says that you should be machmir, stringent, regarding a black dot on the pitom.  The velt does not consider the pitom as part of the chotem, but the Mishna Brurah says that the rishonim who hold the chotem is lower did not mean to exclude the pitom.]

4.      The next one is that you should get an esrog with a pitom.  There are two reasons.  The second reason deal with the problem of ascertaining at what stage of the Esrog’s development the pitom fell off in its growth.  If you look where the pitom was, it will typically leave a depression or groove.  That is a sign that the pitom fell off early in the development and then it is not a problem.

5.      The next hiddur is that you should not get a little esrog.  Hiddur mitzvah ad shlish – the beautification of a Mitzvah is up to a third more. To get a minimum shiur is not a hiddur.  What is the shiur?  [Editor’s Note:  The Shulchan Aruch rules that it is the size of an egg]

As an added note – the achronim are very machmir that something green like grass is a mareh pasul.  A patch of green as grass in the chotem may be a maareh pasul, thus in two or three areas as well it may be a problem.

6.      The last maaleh is that  it should be pretty.  It should be aligned nicely and it should be like a Migdal, a tower, nice and long and a nice chotem.  It should have a pretty color.  That is zeh kaili v’anveihu.


1.      The first psul is when part of the Esrog is missing –  chaser.. In anything chaser – it is pasul. Some rishonim say that the amount is like the size of an issur [an Italian coin], but we rule that it is any amount.

An esrog is actually covered by a thin, thin membrane that covers the entire esrog.  Beneath that is what you see the pores and color.  Below that, the esrog turns white.  When we talk about chaser – the membrane is not what we are concerned about that would be a shailah of niklaf but not chaser.  The white part is certainly considered chaser. What about the green part? Nowadays we have plenty of esrogim so be machmir.

SAFEK – A doubt in Chaser

What if you have a safek and you cannot tell 100 percent whether it is chaser?  On a safek, if you are stuck – you can make a bracha.  Why?  Because we have a sfek sfaikah – a double doubt.  There is a safek as to how much it is missing – that is one doubt.  Whether we paskin that way.  And the second is the doubt as to whether we rule like those Poskim who say that you need the minimum shiur of an issur to be considered chaser.

The issue of chaser is true at any point and not just at arm’s length.  This is at any distance.  Also if the safek is at the chotem then the sfek sfaikah doesn’t necessarily work.  On the chotem, the chaser will change the color.

2.      When discussing niklaf the membrane is missing, then that can change the color.  If it is above the chotem then it is pasul.  Also, if it is in 2 or 3 areas that occupy most of the esrog that also pasuls.

3.      If the oketz falls out and leaves a hole that pasuls.

[Going back to the previous issue of missing – chaser – A chaser is permitted on the rest of the days and you can make a bracha – even if the pitom falls off.  You can make a bracha on the second day, but it is not hiddur Mitzvah.  If you are stuck you can even make a bracha on the second day even though it is a sfeika d’yoma.]

4.      One of the psulim is called nikav – this is pasul even if it is not missing anything.  If it has a hole and it goes down to the chambers where the seeds are.   Sometimes, a teimani (Yemenite) esrog has a hole. A Yemenite esrog has no pitom, it is probably rare that the whole goes down to the chadrei haEsrog, but nonetheless we should be worried..  It is sometimes difficult to figure out how deep that hole goes.

Other Halacha L’Maaseh Issues

1.      The first is when you bench esrog.  You should hold them all together.  This should be done at a higher point to make sure that you have all four in your grasp.

2.      You should ascertain that the spine, the shidrah should protrude beyond the level of hadassim – four inches above the hadassim.  Not just the leaves but the spine itself.

3.      The first day there is a din of lachem.  You can do matana al menas l’hachzir, the common difficulty that everyone faces is if you have children at home.  So if you give your son an esrog, it is his for keeps and he cannot give it back to you as a matana.  The second day you can’t fulfill the lachem as a result.  The MB says that if you have a child who knows how to shake but cannot give it back – his father should buy him a lulav.  The Mishna Brurah says that there are those who say for chinuch purposes that since outwardly the mitzvah is b’seder – the fact that it is missing the lachem doesn’t pasul according to some people.  This is one tzad in the Mishna Brurah.  Rav Moshe Feinstein, in his Igros Moshe, says that bzman hazeh we should not rely on this leniency – that was when everyone was poor.

Now what about a k’tana – an underaged girl? there is no Mitzvah in chinuch for daled minim – so if she does it, and she has lachem – there is no way she could make a bracha.  The other more lenient side of the Mishna Brurah would not apply to her. So a ktana is more chamur than a katan.

4.      There is a hiddur mitzvah in making a bracha on your own daled minim.  Therefore if you have someone who has prettier minim than yours – there is a hiddur on your own.  That’s true if the other’s is prettier, but what about if the other person’s daled minim is kosher according to more shitos?  Is that a maaleh?

This is a little complicated.  The velt relates a story of Rav Chaim who had two esrogim: one was prettier but not so meyuchas, and the other was more meyuchas but not as pretty.  As an aside, murkav is the main issue regarding not meyuchas.  If it is grafted it may not be considered the species of esrog.  It is not an esrog.

The way you know that it is not murkav is through a chazakah.  Rav Chaim had an esrog that wasn’t pretty and he had another one that was certainly not murkav.  He recited the bracha on both. He would shake the yanav which is certainly not murkav.. Then he would recite it on the other.

If your friend’s esrog  is just prettier than yours then reciting the bracha on your own esrog is also a hiddur mitzvah.  If there are shitos that hold that yours is not than do yours first and then his that is a question

As an aside, the ohr hachaim says you have to pay for the mitzvah or it doesn’t count. [Editor’s note – This seems to be more than the chayei adam’s requirement of paying full cost for a Mitzvah].  And now a thought.

“Kol atzmosai tomarnah Hashem Mi Chamocha – All my bones shall say, Hashem who is like You..”

In Nishmas we say these words.  The Midrash states that it refers to the 4 minim. The Lulav is spine haddasim is eyes aravah is sfasayim esrog is the lev.

The Meforshim explain that we say Hallel for the nes that we were saved on this past Rosh HaShana.  Regarding praising Hashem, had we had the faculties and capabilities, even if we were able to do it infinite times like the waves of the ocean on such an ongoing level –  we would not be able to express our praise and thanks even to one billionth of what we are obliged to do.  We are mortals and our abilities are limited.  Since it is this way, therefore we say, al kain aivarim – they, our limbs, should express it.  This is a problem.  Didn’t we just say that it was not possible?

The world asks this question.

The Meforshim give a moshol:  There was a king that went on a hunting trip in the rural areas of the province.  His carriage was sinking, his small hunting party couldn’t rescue him.  An uneducated provincial guy had a pair of oxen and he hitched the kings carriage to it and he saved the kings life.  The king gave an order to send him a gift.  They sent him a set fo royal china.  This fellow ate on the floor regularly.  He didn’t know what to do with the royal china and didn’t use it.  One day the king happened to be in the same neighborhood.  The minister told him, you ought to say hello to the person that saved your life.  The king came to the door of his savior.

The person didn’t know what to do. What could he possibly offer the king? He got out the royal china.  He brought that out.

Al kain aivarim.. We have nothing.  These aivarim, these limbs, are the royal china.

This is the moshol as heard.  Rabbi Rand wanted to add that this person at least saved the royal china.  If he had less saichel, he could possibly have used it for less important purposes.  He might have used it to dig with or even to have used it as a chamber pot.

That is perhaps another reason why the aibershter gave us Yom Kippur.  In case that we perhaps used the royal china in a way that is inappropriate.  We, at least, washed it. That is one of the purposes, perhaps of Yom Kippur, even for those who passed the test on Rosh Hashana.  A gut gebenched year.


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  1. Thank you very much for this detailed explanation. Taking the trouble to help people learn in such practical ways is a great blessing.