Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility Skip to content

Does Joy Overcome Sadness? – Gefet 23

Does joy override sadness? I donโ€™t think so, and neither does the Gemaraโ€ฆ

Is mourning a Torah law or a rabbinic decree? The rishonim disagree.

Tractate Moed Katan can be divided into two parts. The first deals with Chol haMoed, and the second with the laws of morning. This sourcesheet will serve as a transition between the two parts. The very connection between the seven days of mourning and the seven days of rejoicing is thought-provoking. In this Gefet, we will begin to explore this charged topic.

In the statement below, the Gemara establishes the general halakhic principle that there is no mourning on a holiday:

ืชืœืžื•ื“ ื‘ื‘ืœื™ ืžืกื›ืช ืžื•ืขื“ ืงื˜ืŸ ื“ืฃ ื™ื“ ืขืžื•ื“ ื‘

ืื‘ืœ ืื™ื ื• ื ื•ื”ื’ ืื‘ื™ืœื•ืชื• ื‘ืจื’ืœ, ืฉื ืืžืจ ื•ืฉืžื—ืช ื‘ื—ื’ืš.

A mourner does not practice the halakhot of his mourning on a festival, as it is stated: โ€œAnd you shall rejoice in your festivalโ€ (Deuteronomy 16:14).

It appears that this is a decree of precedence. We see a contradiction between two areas of halacha: the laws relating to the joy of the festival, and the laws of mourning. The Gemara states that joy triumphs over mourning. Why? The Gemara goes on to elucidate:

ืื™ ืื‘ื™ืœื•ืช ื“ืžืขื™ืงืจื ื”ื•ื – ืืชื™ ืขืฉื” ื“ืจื‘ื™ื, ื•ื“ื—ื™ ืขืฉื” ื“ื™ื—ื™ื“. ื•ืื™ ืื‘ื™ืœื•ืช ื“ื”ืฉืชื ื”ื•ื – ืœื ืืชื™ ืขืฉื” ื“ื™ื—ื™ื“ ื•ื“ื—ื™ ืขืฉื” ื“ืจื‘ื™ื.

If it is a mourning period that had already begun at the outset of the Festival, the positive commandment of the community comes and overrides the positive commandment of the individual, i.e., the mourning. And if the mourning period began only now, i.e., the deceased died during the Festival, the positive commandment of the individual does not come and override the positive commandment of the community.

There are three situations in which mourning is cast aside. One deals with an instance in which the deceased passes away before the festival, and the second and third deal with death during the course of the festival. With the help of the Ein Mishpat Ner Mitzvah, we will look at the two clauses in the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 399) that deal with these situations. A brief summary of his explanation follows:

  1. Mourning at the outset/from the beginning: If the mourners had a chance to observe the mourning customs before the festival, even for a single moment, the festival puts the mourning period to an end.
  2. Mourning only now: If the mourners did not have a chance to observe the mourning customs before the festival, the mourning is postponed until after the festival โ€“ apart from three things: a) the mourner privately observes the mourning customs throughout the festival; b) the mourner is not required to desist from labor after the festival, as he desisted throughout the festival; c) people come to offer their condolences throughout the festival and not afterwards.
  3. Mourning only now: If the deceased passed away during the festival, the laws resemble those in situation 2. Mourning is practiced privately, and the days of the festival count towards the days in which condolences are offered and labor is avoided.

At this stage, we must note two important points:

  1. The prohibition of labor during mourning creates a financial burden for the mourner, as she cannot work. To lengthen this prohibition from a week to two weeks would be a blow to the mourner; thus, the cancellation of the prohibition of labor during mourning makes sense.
  2. In situations 2 and 3, the Shulchan Aruch writes that people arrive to comfort the mourner throughout the festival, although the mourning does not actually take place. Therefore, it is written that the mourner conducts his mourning practices privately.

Therefore, the difficulty that arises in conjunction with this halacha is contained in the first situation, where the deceased passed away before the festival. However, commentators have debated whether this lineย  in the Shulchan Aruch only relates to the situation in which the deceased passed away during the festival, or whether it can also be applied to a situation in which the deceased passed away before the festival. We will touch on this important topic in next weekโ€™s Gefet.

After this opening, which touches on the comforting of mourners, we will return to the central question that arises from the Gemara โ€“ how does the festival cancel/push off mourning? Perhaps there is a basic statement here that happiness is a stronger emotion than sadness; however, if we delve into the Gemara and the rishonim, their statements seem to tell a different story. We will return to the words of the Gemara:

ืื™ ืื‘ื™ืœื•ืช ื“ืžืขื™ืงืจื ื”ื•ื – ืืชื™ ืขืฉื” ื“ืจื‘ื™ื, ื•ื“ื—ื™ ืขืฉื” ื“ื™ื—ื™ื“. ื•ืื™ ืื‘ื™ืœื•ืช ื“ื”ืฉืชื ื”ื•ื – ืœื ืืชื™ ืขืฉื” ื“ื™ื—ื™ื“ ื•ื“ื—ื™ ืขืฉื” ื“ืจื‘ื™ื.

If it is a mourning period that had already begun at the outset of the Festival, the positive commandment of the community comes and overrides the positive commandment of the individual, i.e., the mourning. And if the mourning period began only now, i.e., the deceased died during the Festival, the positive commandment of the individual does not come and override the positive commandment of the community.

The Gemara explains that the principle at work here is the declaration that a positive commandment of the community overrides the positive commandment of the individual. That is, it is not that joy triumphs over mourning; rather, the power of the community is stronger than the power of the individual.

In light of the Gemara, two questions arise: From where do we learn that mourning is a positive commandment? And if there is a situation of collective mourning, will we still be required to choose between communal joy and communal mourning? We will look at Rashi, whose words contain an answer to those questions:

ืืชื™ ืขืฉื” ื“ืจื‘ื™ื – ื•ืฉืžื—ืช.

The positive commandment of the community โ€“ rejoicing.

ื•ื“ื—ื™ ืขืฉื” ื“ื™ื—ื™ื“ – ืื‘ืœ, ื“ื›ืชื™ื‘ (ื™ืจืžื™ื”ื• ื•) ืื‘ืœ ื™ื—ื™ื“ ืขืฉื™ ืœืš.

Overrides the positive commandment of the individual โ€“ mourning, as it is written, โ€œMourn, as for an only child [yachid]โ€ (Jeremiah 6).

Rashi notes that the positive commandment of the community is learned from the verse โ€œโ€œAnd you shall rejoice in your Festivalโ€ (Deuteronomy 16:14). The positive commandment of learning is learned from Prophets, in Jeremiah 6:26:

ื‘ึผึทืชึพืขึทืžึผึดึคื™ ื—ึดื’ึฐืจึดื™ึพืฉื‚ึธืงึ™ ื•ึฐื”ึดืชึฐืคึผึทืœึผึฐืฉืึดึฃื™ ื‘ึธืึตึ”ืคึถืจ ืึตึคื‘ึถืœ ื™ึธื—ึดื™ื“ึ™ ืขึฒืฉื‚ึดึฃื™ ืœึธึ”ืšึฐ ืžึดืกึฐืคึผึทึ–ื“ ืชึผึทืžึฐืจื•ึผืจึดึ‘ื™ื ื›ึผึดึฃื™ ืคึดืชึฐืึนึ”ื ื™ึธื‘ึนึฅื ื”ึทืฉึผืึนื“ึตึ–ื“ ืขึธืœึตึฝื™ื ื•ึผ:

My poor people,

Put on sackcloth

And strew dust on yourselves!

Mourn, as for an only child;

Wail bitterly,

For suddenly the destroyer

Is coming upon us.

The prophet turns to the entire nation of Israel, but tells the nation to perform an โ€œevel yachid.โ€ In his commentary on the book of Jeremiah, Rashi interprets the verse thus: โ€œMourning for an only child; one who had only one son, and that son passed away.โ€ However, here in the Gemara, Rashi brings this verse as a source for the claim that mourning is always individual mourning (a position adopted by other commentators on the Torah). Rashiโ€™s commentary here raises a philosophical-existential claim as well as a halachic one. One who mourns always feels alone โ€“ and therefore, even if mourning is shared by the entire nation of Israel, it will always be an individual period of mourning, because mourning by its very nature causes each and every one of us to be isolated within ourselves. From a halachic standpoint, we may conclude from Rashi that even if mourning is shared by many people, it will remain an individual mourning period, and will therefore be pushed aside by collective rejoicing.

The source brought by Rashi for the positive commandment of mourning raises a question about the Gemara: If the source for the commandment of mourning is from Prophets, could this be an additional reason that rejoicing on the festival halachically overrides mourning? After all, rejoicing during the festival is a positive commandment derived from Torah (Chumash), while according to Rashi, mourning is a positive commandment derived from Prophets. Tosafot here asks the question in an even more pointed fashion; it offers two different suggestions that reflect a major disagreement between the rishonim about the boundaries of mourning and rejoicing on Chol haMoed.

ืชื•ืกืคื•ืช ืžื•ืขื“ ืงื˜ืŸ ื™ื“ ืข”ื‘

ืขืฉื” ื“ื™ื—ื™ื“ – ืžืฉืžืข ื“ืื‘ื™ืœื•ืช ืื™ื›ื ืขืฉื” ื“ืื•ืจื™ื™ืชื ืžื“ืœื ืงืืžืจ ื•ื“ื—ื™ ืขืฉื” ื“ืจื‘ื ืŸ ื•ื”ืื™ ื“ืงืืžืจ ืœืขื™ืœ (ื“ืฃ ื™ื:) ืœื ืžื‘ืขื™ื ื™ืžื™ ืื‘ืœื• ื“ืจื‘ื ืŸ ื”ื™ื™ื ื• ืขืฉื™ื™ืช ืžืœืื›ื” ื“ื ืคืงื ืœืŸ (ืœืงืžืŸ ื˜ื•:) ื‘ืืกืžื›ืชื ืžื•ื”ืคื›ืชื™ ื—ื’ื™ื›ื ืœืื‘ืœ ืื‘ืœ ื’ื•ืฃ ื”ืื‘ื™ืœื•ืช ื“ืื•ืจื™ื™ืชื ืžื™ื”ื• ื ืจืื” ืœื™ ื“ืฉืžื—ืช ื”ืจื’ืœ ื ืžื™ ื“ืจื‘ื ืŸ ื•ืฉืžื—ืช ื”ื™ื™ื ื• ื‘ืฉืœืžื™ ืฉืžื—ื” ื›ื“ืื™ืชื ื‘ื—ื’ื™ื’ื” (ื—.).

Tosafot Moed Katan 14b

The positive commandment of the individual – It appears that mourning is a positive commandment from the Torah, since the Gemara did not say โ€œand overrides a rabbinic decree.โ€ Yet is it not stated above (Moed Katan 11): โ€œIt is not necessary to state that during the days of his mourning, when the prohibition against labor is rabbinic, it is permitted to perform laborโ€ฆโ€? This refers to the prohibition of labor alone, which is learned (Moed Katan 15b) from a mere allusion [as opposed to an explicit source in the Torah]: โ€œAnd I will turn your festivals into mourning.โ€ However, mourning itself is from the Torah. But it appears to me that rejoicing on the festival is a rabbinic commandment, and that โ€œAnd you shall rejoice in your festivalโ€ (Deuteronomy 16:14) refers to peace-offerings of joy, as we see in Hagiga 8a.

Tosafot makes an obvious assumption: If the only thing that determines precedence according to the Gemara is the relation between the individual and the community, we must assume that mourning and joy are of equal halachic status. That is โ€“ either both commandments are from the Torah, or both are rabbinic decrees.

Tosafot develops both suggestions:

  1. Mourning is a positive commandment from the Torah. That is, all of the verses from Prophets or Writings are supporting texts, not source texts. Rather, the source is halacha given to Moshe at Sinai. Tosafot directs us to a different verse from the one brought by Rashi, the verse provided in the Gemara in Moed Katan 15b: โ€œA mourner is prohibited from performing work, as it is written: โ€˜And I will turn your festivals into mourningโ€™ (Amos 8:10). Just as a festival is a time when it is prohibited to work, so too, a mourner is prohibited from performing work.โ€ Thus, mourning possesses the same level of obligation as rejoicing on the festival. The Tosafot in Tractate Nazir 15b clarifies that not all seven days of mourning are derived from the Torah, but only the first day of mourning.
  2. Mourning is a positive commandment derived from rabbinic decree. And so is rejoicing on the festival! The verse โ€œAnd you shall rejoice in your festivalโ€ does not refer to the joy of the heart, nor to the joy brought on by meat, wine, and festive clothes; rather, it refers to peace-offerings of joy. The expansion of the verse to include more general expressions of joy is a rabbinic expansion. Tosafot sends us to Hagiga 8a, and if we turn there, we will see that the Gemara echoes his claim.

From Ritva and Ramban on the sugya, we see that the two opinions in the Tosafot form an axis on which to map the disagreement between the rishonim: The gaonim maintained that the first day of mourning was derived from the Torah, and interpreted the entire sugya in this light. However, Ri and the French sages did not accept this opinion, claiming instead that mourning was a rabbinic decree; accordingly, they interpreted the sugya differently.

This disagreement has an interesting halachic ramification: According to the approach of the gaonim, in which the first day of mourning is mourning from the Torah, in diasporic communities where there is a second Yom Tov, that day will be rabbinic; therefore, the Torah commandment of mourning will override the rabbinic commandment of collective rejoicing, and that day will be treated as an ordinary day of mourning. Ri disagrees with this verdict. As the Ritva summarizes:

ื—ื™ื“ื•ืฉื™ ื”ืจื™ื˜ื‘”ื ืžืกื›ืช ืžื•ืขื“ ืงื˜ืŸ ื“ืฃ ื™ื“ ืขืžื•ื“ ื‘

ืื™ ืื‘ืœื•ืช ื“ืžืขื™ืงืจื ื”ื™ื ืืชื™ ืขืฉื” ื“ืจื‘ื™ื ื•ื“ื—ื™ ืขืฉื” ื“ื™ื—ื™ื“. ื”ื’ืื•ื ื™ื ื–”ืœ ื›ืชื‘ื• ื“ืื‘ืœื•ืช ื™ื•ื ืจืืฉื•ืŸ ื›ืฉื”ื•ื ื™ื•ื ืžื™ืชื” ื•ืงื‘ื•ืจื” ื“ืื•ืจื™ื™ืชื ื”ื•ื, ื•ืœื“ื™ื“ื”ื• ืืชื™ ืฉืคื™ืจ ื”ื ื“ืงืจื™ ืœื™ื” ื”ื›ื ืขืฉื” ื“ื™ื—ื™ื“, ืื‘ืœ ืจ”ื™ ื–”ืœ ืื•ืžืจ ืฉืื™ืŸ ืื‘ืœื•ืช ืžืŸ ื”ืชื•ืจื” ื›ืœืœ ืืœื ืœืขื ื™ืŸ ืื ื™ื ื•ืช ื“ืงื“ืฉื™ื ื‘ืœื‘ื“ ื›ื“ืื™ืชื ื‘ื–ื‘ื—ื™ื (ืง”ื ื’) ื•ืื‘ืœื•ืช ืžื“ืจื‘ื ืŸ ื”ื™ื, ื•ื”ืื™ ืขืฉื” ื“ืืžืจื™ื ืŸ ื”ื›ื ืขืฉื” ื“ืจื‘ื ืŸ ื”ื•ื, …..ื•ืœืคื™ ื–ื” ื›ืชื‘ื• ื”ื’ืื•ื ื™ื ื–”ืœ ื›ื™ ื”ืงื•ื‘ืจ ืžืชื• ื™ื•ื ื˜ื•ื‘ ืฉื ื™ ื•ื”ื•ื ื™ื•ื ืžื™ืชื” ื•ื™ื•ื ืงื‘ื•ืจื” ื•ื”ื•ื ื™ื•ื ืื—ืจื•ืŸ ืฉืœ ืจื’ืœ ื—ื™ื™ื‘ ืœื ื”ื•ื’ ืื‘ืœื•ืช, ื“ืืชื™ ืื‘ืœื•ืช ื“ืื•ืจื™ื™ืชื ื•ื“ื—ื™ ืจื’ืœ ื“ืจื‘ื ืŸ, ืื‘ืœ ืจ”ื™ ื”ื–ืงืŸ ื–”ืœ ืื•ืžืจ ืฉืื™ื ื• ื›ืŸ.

Chiddushei Ritva, Moed Katan 14b

If it is a mourning period that had already begun at the outset of the Festival, the positive commandment of the community comes and overrides the positive commandment of the individualโ€ฆ The gaonim wrote that the first day of mourning, the day of death and burial, is from the Torah, and therefore according to him it makes sense that mourning is referred to as a positive commandment of the individual [as opposed to a rabbinic commandment]. But the Ri states that mourning is only derived from the Torah with regard to offerings, as we see in Tractate Zevachim (101a); in general, mourning is a rabbinic commandment, and the commandment referenced here is a rabbinic commandmentโ€ฆ As such, the gaonim wrote that one who buries his dead on the second Yom Tov โ€“ where that day is the day of death and burial, and that day is the final day of the festival โ€“ will be obligated to observe mourning customs, as mourning is from the Torah and overrides the rabbinic festival day. Ri, however, disagrees.

Interestingly, Tosafot here makes clear that the disagreement between Ri and the gaonim is in fact a disagreement between the Tosafists themselves!

We will summarize the results of todayโ€™s study:

The Gemara describes two situations in which mourning clashes with rejoicing; in both of them, rejoicing wins out:

  • Mourning that precedes happiness โ€“ an individual who passed away before the festival, even if only by an hour.
  • Happiness that precedes mourning โ€“ an individual who passed away after the advent of the festival.

The Gemara does not justify this decision by stating that the commandment of rejoicing is stronger than that of mourning, or that rejoicing is a commandment from the Torah while mourning is from rabbinic decree. The Gemara assumes that mourning and rejoicing themselves possess similar force, but the joy is collective joy, while the mourning is individual mourning. Rashi explains that every mourner is an individual mourner.

Tosafot struggles to understand the Gemara, and suggests two opposite explanations:

  • The first day of mourning is derived from the Torah (halacha from Moshe at Sinai). Therefore, it is on an identical level to the commandment of rejoicing on a festival. This is the approach of the gaonim, as well as Tosafot on Nazir 15b.
  • Mourning is a rabbinic decree, as per the approach of the Ri; however, unlike the suggestion brought in Riโ€™s name by the Ritva and the Ran, the Tosafot here suggests that rejoicing on a festival is also a rabbinic decree. The verse โ€œAnd you shall rejoice in your festivalโ€ refers to an offering, and its expansion to include various other kinds of joy is an expansion by rabbinic decree.

The halachic ramifications of this disagreement include the question of mourning on the final day of the festival, which is ostensibly rabbinic. According to the gaonim and the first suggestion by the Tosafot, this will be a day of mourning, because the Torah commandment of mourning will overrule the rejoicing of the additional day observed in diasporic communities.

Next week, we will explore the question of whether we should still comfort mourners when the festival has concluded or postponed their mourning.

Rabbanit Yael Shimoni

Rabbanit Yael Shimoni is the Ramit and Deputy Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshivat Drisha in Kfar Etzion. Rabbanit Shimoni has learned at Migdal Oz, Matan, and the Susi Bradfield Womenโ€™s Institute for Halakhic Leadership at Midreshet Lindenbaum. She holds a BFA from Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design and a BEd in Torah Shebeโ€™al Peh and Jewish Thought from Herzog College. She is currently studying towards an MA in Jewish Thought Education at Herzog College. Rabbanit Shimoni taught gemara and halakha at Pelech High School and served as a ramit for shana bet at Migdal Oz. She directs Meshivat Nefesh, the online responsa program of the rabbaniyot of Beit Hillel. She is also a plastic artist and member of โ€œA Studio of Her Own.
Scroll To Top