By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER.
A Succah is kosher – it fulfills the requirements of Jewish Law – even if its walls are unadorned… even if it is devoid of decorations, fruits, gourds, garlands and flowers. Yet the widespread custom is to festoon the succah with just such embellishments.
We thereby reflect the value of “Hiddur Mitzvah” – adding beauty to our observance of the Commandments. The Rabbis interpret Exodus 15:2 – “This is my God, and I will glorify Him” – as prescribing that we “make a beautiful Succah, a beautiful Lulav, a beautiful Shofar, beautiful Tzitzit, a beautiful Torah Scroll…” etc. (Shabbat 133B). Not content merely to meet the minimum demands of the Law, we strive for bigger, better, more beautiful forms of religious expression.
Through Hiddur Mitzvah, we express love for God and enthusiasm for the Mitzvah being enhanced. We inject individual tastes, style, and personality into religious duties, and we make the Mitzvah more inviting and appealing to others. By purposefully adding a subjective element of beauty to the letter of the Law, we demonstrate the critical importance of all that cannot be quantified: love, inspiration, commitment, character, faith.
Hiddur Mitzvah – the principled quest for beauty in religious observance – has a still more basic objective. Anne Frank defiantly maintained:
“Think of all the beauty still left around you… and be happy!”
(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)