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Obstructing A Lulav, Sukkah Or Shofar
“Beautification is Not an Interposition”
(Sukkah 37a)



The Avnei Nezer and the Chelkas Yoav were two of the great Torah luminaries of prewar Poland. The following discussion is based on a fascinating correspondence of letters that passed between them regarding the sugya of chatzitzos. Chatzitzos literally means “interposition” (separation or obstruction). We find regarding many different mitzvos that there must not be an interposition between the person performing the mitzvah and the item with which he performs it. For example, there must be no underclothes between the kohen and his priestly garments. There must be nothing, such as a glove, between the lulav and the hand of the person who grasps it. There must be nothing separating between a person’s head or arm from his tefillin.

However, we also have a general rule that anything meant to beautify the mitzvah does not constitute a separation. For this reason, a sheet hung under the schach to decorate the sukkah does not render the sukkah passul. If the same sheet was hung to provide shade or shelter from the rain, one would not fulfill his obligation, since the cloth separates him from the schach.


A Golden Mouthpiece

The Chelkas Yoav asked, according to this principle, why a golden mouthpiece at the tip of the shofar renders the shofar possul. The halacha states that such a mouthpiece forms a chatzitza between the shofar and the person who blows it. However, since the gold mouthpiece serves to beautify the shofar, it should not be considered a chatzitza.


Visible Decorations

This question was sent by the Chelkas Yoav to the Avnei Nezer. The Avnei Nezer sent back the following answer, which was included in the introduction to further printings of the Chelkas Yoav. A decoration is not a chatzitza only when it serves to beautify the mitzvah while the mitzvah is being performed. A golden mouthpiece certainly beautifies the shofar as it sits on a shelf, but when it is blown, the mouthpiece is hidden and does not beautify the shofar at all. Therefore it is a chatzitza.


Binding the Lulav

When the Chelkas Yoav received the Avnei Nezer’s response, he countered it with a challenge from our sugya. Here we find a controversy over whether the lulav, hadasim and aravos must be bound together. The opinion that they need not be bound maintains that one beautifies the mitzvah by binding them together. The Gemara then states that when holding the lulav, there is no objection to the bonds separating between one’s hand and the lulav. Since the bonds serve to beautify the mitzvah, they are not a chatzitza. Here we see that even though the bonds are hidden within one’s hand as he grasps the lulav, they still do not form a chatzitza.


Two Ways of Beautifying a Mitzvah

The Avnei Nezer responded to this challenge by explaining that there are two ways of beautifying a mitzvah. A mitzvah may be beautified by decorating it, as a sukkah is decorated with colored sheets. A mitzvah may also be beautified by performing it in its most perfect, halachically correct manner. For example, if one eats matzah on Seder night after being well satiated from having eaten all day on erev Pesach, he still fulfills his obligation. However, our Sages tell us that it is a hidur mitzvah to eat matzah with a good appetite. Therefore, one should not eat a big meal on erev Pesach in the afternoon.

Tying the three species together does not make the lulav more physically beautiful. Rather, it is a hidur mitzvah. How so? One fulfills the obligation of the four species even if he picks them up one at a time. Nevertheless, le’chatchila one should pick them all up together. Our Sages tell us that the optimum way of picking them up together, the hidur mitzvah, is to bind them together, and thus make them like one. Since this hidur mitzvah has nothing to do with the physical appearance of the lulav, even if the binding cords are hidden, they do not create a chatzitza (see Avnei Nezer, O.C. 432-433).


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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.