Ki Tavo: Succah 41 - 47
A Time for Comfort
Rabbi Elazar bar Tzadok said, “This was the custom of the people of Jerusalem on Succot: They would leave their homes with lulavs in their hands, they would go to the synagogue with their lulavs in their hands, they would say the Shema and pray with their lulavs in their hands. When they would read from a Torah scroll or say the Priestly Blessings, they would place the lulavs down. They would go to visit the sick or comfort the mourners with lulavs in their hands. When they were about to enter a Yeshiva study hall to learn Torah, they would send the lulavs home with someone.”
This teaching of Rabbi Elazar bar Tzadok on our daf conveys the love they had for mitzvahs to fulfill them in the most passionate way possible.
One case mentioned by Rabbi Elazar bar Tzadok appears to be problematic. Why did he say that when they would go to comfort mourners, they went with their lulavs in their hands? The halacha is that there is no aveilut (mourning) during the entire period of the Chag. If a close relative passed from this world right before the Chag begins, the period of mourning — called shiva — ceases when the Chag begins. And if a relative passes during the middle days of Succot, the mourning period of shiva begins only after Succot ends. (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 548:1, 7)
One answer I have seen over the years is that there is an alternate text for what Rabbi Elazar bar Tzadok said. The text found in the Talmud Yerushalmi omits the words “and when they went to comfort mourners.” It would seem that this omission is intentional and is due to the lack of mourning during Succot due to the joyous nature of these days. As the Torah states, “And you will rejoice on your Chag, and you will be only joyful.” (Devarim 16:14) However, all texts of the Talmud Bavli of which I am aware indeed include — not omit — the words “and when they went to comfort mourners.”
Here is one answer offered by our commentaries for the text of our gemara (and I invite the reader to share other explanations). According to Rabbi Elazar bar Tzadok in our gemara, it is actually permitted, and even a mitzvah to comfort “mourners” during Succot. True, there is no “sitting shiva” or saying Kaddish or other practices of mourning during the Festivals. Nevertheless, a person may know of someone whose close relative passed from this world shortly before or during Succot and feel that a visit with singing and food and drink together would help lessen the person’s sadness and lift his spirits, helping the person to fulfill the mitzvah to enjoy Succot. In this case, it is correct for a person to do so, despite the lack of a technical mourning period during these days. (See Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 548:6) This is what Rabbi Elazar bar Tzadok means when he says “and when they went to comfort mourners.”
One additional point: Why does Rabbi Elazar bar Tzadok specifically mention that this was the custom of the people of Jerusalem? Why not in other places? A simplistic answer would be that he lived in Jerusalem and was well aware of the customs of Jerusalem. However, I have heard another explanation. This custom was the practice only in Jerusalem due to the nature of the mitzvah in Jerusalem in particular. The mishna in masechet Succah (41a) states: “Originally, the mitzvah of lulav was for all seven days of Succot in the “Mikdash,” while the mitzvah was for only one day in the “Medina.” Later, after the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai established a rabbinic mitzvah to take the lulav on the other days as well, as a “reminder of the Mikdash.” Although other Rishonim define the Mikdash as the Beit Hamikdash proper, the Rambam’s view is that the “Mikdash” in this mishna includes Jerusalem as well. This view is apparently not the majority view nor the halacha. However, we should not dismiss the significance of this ruling that the mitzvah was, and still is, a Torah mitzvah in Jerusalem for all days of Succot (except for Shabbat when it is forbidden to take it according to a rabbinic decree). This may help understand why, specifically, the people of Jerusalem had a special connection and love for this mitzvah — making a special effort to hold the lulav throughout the day.
- Succah 41b