Lulav, Sukkah, Shofar
‘Beautification is Not an Obstruction’
The Avnei Nezer and the Chelkas Yoav were two of the great Torah luminaries of pre-war Poland. The following is based on a fascinating correspondence of letters between these two rabbis regarding chatzitzos. Chatzitzah literally means “separation.” We know that regarding many different mitzvos nothing may separate the person performing the mitzvah from the item with which he performs it. For example, a kohen may not wear underclothes because they would separate him from the bigdei kehunah. Likewise, a person shaking lulav may not wear gloves, and a person putting on tefillin cannot wear a shirt separating the tefillin from his arm.
We also have a general rule, though, that anything meant to beautify a mitzvah does not constitute a chatzitzah. For this reason, a decorative sheet in a sukkah is not considered a chatzitzah (separating the person from the schach) as long as its purpose is to beautify the sukkah (and not, for example, to provide shade or shelter from the rain).
A Golden Mouthpiece
Based on this principle, the Chelkas Yoav asked, in a letter he sent to the Avnei Nezer, why a golden mouthpiece at the tip of a shofar is considered a chatzitzah between the shofar and the person blowing it. Its purpose is to beautify the shofar.
The Avnei Nezer sent back the following answer: A decoration is only not considered a chatzitzah if it beautifies the mitzvah while it is being performed. But a golden mouthpiece beautifies a shofar only when it sits on the shelf. When it’s blown, the mouthpiece is hidden and does not beautify the shofar at all.
Binding the Lulav
When the Chelkas Yoav received the Avnei Nezer’s reply, he responded with a challenge from our sugya where we find a machlokes concerning bounding the lulav, hadasim, and aravos together. The opinion maintaining that they must be bound says that a bound lulav is more beautiful, and the Gemara states that the bonds tying them together do not constitute a chatzitzah. Yet, the bonds are hidden during the performance of the mitzvah! Here we have proof that even hidden beautifications are not necessarily chatzitzot.
Two Ways of Beautifying a Mitzvah
The Avnei Nezer responded by explaining that there are two ways of beautifying a mitzvah. One can beautify a mitzvah by decorating it, and one can beautify a mitzvah by performing it in the most halachically correct manner. For example, if one eats matzah on Seder night while full, one fulfills one’s obligation. Nonetheless, our Sages tell us that it is a hidur mitzvah to eat matzah with an appetite and thus one should not eat a big meal on erev Pesach.
Tying the three species together does not make the lulav more physically beautiful. Rather, doing so constitutes a hidur mitzvah since le’chatchilah one should pick them all up together. Our Sages tell us that the optimum way of picking them up together is to bind them together, thus making them like one.
Since this hidur mitzvah has nothing to do with the physical appearance of the lulav, the binding cords may be hidden without constituting a chatzitzah. The same cannot be said about a golden shofar mouthpiece (see Avnei Nezer, O.C. 432-433).
About the Author: RABBI YAAKOV KLASS, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. RABBI GERSHON TANNENBAUM, rav of Congregation Bnai Israel of Linden Heights, Boro Park, Brooklyn, is the Director of Igud HaRabbanim – The Rabbinical Alliance of America.
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