By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow

Suppose a person has two esrogim, an inferior one that is definitely kosher and a beautiful one of questionable validity (it may have been from a grafted tree). Upon which esrog should he recite the berachah on Sukkos morning? Rav Chaim Brisker ruled that he should recite the berachah over the esrog that is more beautiful and subsequently replace it with the inferior esrog. If the beautiful esrog turns out to be kosher, he has fulfilled the mitzvah in the most mehudar fashion. If it’s not kosher, he at least still fulfilled the mitzvah with the inferior esrog. Whereas if he first holds the aesthetically inferior esrog, he has definitely fulfilled the mitzvah in a non-mehudar fashion. The fact that he later took hold of a beautiful esrog is of no regard. He already fulfilled the mitzvah; what can possibly be gained by holding a beautiful esrog now? It’s meaningless.

The Gemara in Eiruvin discusses a situation where someone has a doubt regarding two of his animals. One should be brought as a sacrifice for ma’aser beheimah and one should be brought as a korban shelamim. Since we are unsure which one is which, we offer both animals as sacrifices in exactly the same way.

Rashi notes that there is a mitzvah for an owner to perform semichah, to lean with his hands on his shelamim. Since he is unsure which animal is a shelamim, he leans on both animals. Rashi assumes that generally one recites a berachah before performing semichah on a korban, just as one would recite a berachah before fulfilling any other mitzvah such shofar, matzah, or sefiras haOmer. However, Rashi says that in our Gemara he would not recite a berachah because only one animal requires semichah; the other one does not, and it may be a berachah l’vatalah.

But why not just recite one berachah and then perform semichah on both animals? Since one animal definitely does require semichah it would not be a berachah recited in vain. It would seem that Rashi feels that if one would perform semichah on the animal that is ma’aser beheimah before performing semichah on the shelamim which actually requires semichah, it would be a berachah l’vatalah. This is because the semichah on the first animal would be a hefsek, an unnecessary interruption, between the recital of the berachah and the performance of the mitzvah. If one makes a hefsek between a berachah and the intended action that requires the berachah, the berachah is invalid.

The Tzitz Eliezer says that Rav Silber said that this Rashi proves that Reb Chaim’s solution to the aforementioned esrog dilemma is incorrect. If one would pick up the questionable esrog first, that action would constitute a hefsek if indeed the esrog turned out to be pasul, and the berachah recited over the arba’ah minim would be in vain. So while one would gain that he might have fulfilled the mitzvah with the most beautiful esrog possible, he risks a berachah l’vatalah if it turns out that the esrog is invalid.

Rav Yitzchok Zev HaLevi Soloveitchik, zt’l, defended his father’s position. He said that the Shulchan Aruch rules that one fulfills the mitzvah of the four minim even if one takes all four species individually. There is a mitzvah that all four species be held together, but that is a preference, not a requirement. As soon as one picked up his lulav, he began fulfilling the mitzvah. He has not completed the mitzvah, however, until all four species are taken. Rashi would agree that even if one picked up a non-kosher esrog after reciting a berachah and grasping his lulav, the berachah would still be valid. Once the mitzvah process began, a temporary interruption in that process would not be deemed a hefsek. In the case of the two animals, however, only one requires semichah. If one does semichah on the wrong animal first, he has not even started the mitzvah. That would be a bona fide hefsek and the berachah he recited would be in vain.

Many Acharonim say that even if one took an esrog that was definitely invalid first while the kosher esrog was in front of him, there is no issue of berachah l’vatalah. The berachah would nevertheless be valid on the lulav and the other minim. To illustrate: what happens if one recited the berachah of al netilas lulav, proceeded to Hallel, and then noticed that his aravos remained in their case? He held the other three minim properly but not the aravos. What berachah does he recite when he now grasps the lulav with his aravos in place?

Similarly, what would be the halachah if one recited the berachah of al netilas lulav with his esrog turned upside down and forgot to turn it right side up until he already recited Hallel? If he corrects his mistake and now holds all four minim correctly, he is fulfilling the mitzvah now correctly for the first time with all four minim. What berachah does he recite?

Many Acharonim say that he should recite the very rare berachah of either “Al netilas aravah” or “Al netilas esrog,” depending on which species he was lacking initially. The “Al netilas lulav” was not uttered in vain because that berachah will be effective on the other minim. The Chofetz Chaim questions this ruling in the Biur Halachah (siman 641) and leaves the issue unresolved.

Still, another issue can be raised on R’ Chaim’s solution. The Chelkas Yoav writes that indeed it is a mitzvah to fulfill the mitzvah of all four minim simultaneously. In the aforementioned scenario, if the first esrog was grafted, then the holder fulfilled the mitzvah of lulav, hadasim, and aravos. He must finish his mitzvah by grasping the other esrog which is kosher. When he grasps the kosher esrog he finishes his mitzvah but not in the choicest manner. He fulfilled the mitzvah of arba’ah minim in two parts, not simultaneously. So if one follows R’ Chaim’s advice, he has a chance of fulfilling the mitzvah with a beautiful esrog, but if it was not kosher he sacrificed that he has not fulfilled the mitzvah of all arba’ah minim at once, which is the preferred manner. It would seem that fulfilling the mitzvos at the same time is a bigger hiddur than using the nicest esrog. Taking the nicest esrog pertains to only one of the minim, but taking all four simultaneously affects the mitzvah as a whole.

The Mishnah Berurah advises that if one did hold the four minim one after another, he should nevertheless grasp them again at the same time. Although as a matter of practical halachah he already fulfilled his obligation, nevertheless we should initially fulfill the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam that requires all four minim to be grasped at once.

Admittedly, it was difficult for me to grasp all these issues at once. v

Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead and is a rebbi at Mesivta Kesser Yisroel of Willowbrook. He can be contacted at

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