Mishnat Hashavua: Sukkah 3:1

Do mitzvot require background checks?

A stolen lulav, or one that is all dried out, is invalid [for use to fulfill the mitzvah of waving the four species of palm, myrtle, willow, and etrog on Sukkot]. If it comes from an ahsera [a tree used for idolatry] or an idolatrous city, it is invalid. If its tip is cut off, or its leaves are split, it is invalid. If its leaves are separated, it is valid. Rabbi Yehudah says that he should tie it above. Stone palms from Mt. Barzel are valid [despite being short]. A lulav that is at least three hand breadths, and thus long enough to shake, is valid.

Comments

The Torah (Lev. ) commands the Israelites to “take for yourselves on the first day [of Sukkot]” four species that were identified as palm, myrtle, willow, and the etrog. These plants are held together and waved in thanksgiving for the harvest. But what if the objects used in this ritual were stolen, or came from a place of idolatry, or were damaged goods? This Mishnah (and those that follow it) establishes a high standard of integrity for the materials used in this popular ritual.

Questions

Our Mishnah raises troubling questions about religious rituals—it is apparently not enough to do the ritual in the designated fashion. We must be concerned with the origin of the materials used in our rite—what laws and morals were compromised to obtain these goods? What standards are necessary to serve God with integrity? In our day, similar questions are emerging regarding kashrut. What moral and religious standards do we apply to our food beyond its ritual kashrut?