October 13, 2014 – Chol Hamoed Succos 5775

If my serving as a chazzan on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur was a furlough of sorts from my aveilus, the Succos holiday has returned me full force to being a mourner.

First, my temporary reprieve which allowed me to serve as the chazzan is no longer. Thus as I recited the Hallel on the first day of Succos, it was as though my direct line to the Almighty had been shut down. I was back to sending my prayers through others.

Second, Succos is “zman simchasaeinu”, the holiday of our joy. We are commanded to be in a spirit of joy. For one in a state of mourning, however, achieving this state of joyousness is a challenge becuase our tradition pointedly (and publicly) reminds one of his state of aveilus. The most glaring example is the restriction on the mourner from participating fully in the Hoshanos, the “march” around the Torah with the esrog and lulav. The widely accepted practice is that the aveil does not march and remains stationary at his seat during this part of the service. Thus, while all the other congregants are circling the Torah with their esrog and lulav, the mourner stands out from the crowd as a non-participant. This tradition is particularly curious, as in general, mourners are prohibited from public displays of mourning on Shabbos and Yom Tov. Yet, on this holiday of joy, mourners are restricted from fully participating in a way that clearly and publicly identifies them as mourners. As I stood stationary during Hoshanos, I felt bad not only for myself but also for my beautiful esrog and lulav which sadly were “cheated” by having been purchased by an aveil.

Third, during Chol Hamoed Succos (the intermediate days of the holiday) we commemorate the simchas beis hashoeva ceremony (the drawing of the water) that took place during the holiday of Succos in the Beis Hamikdash (the Temple) with celebrations large and small in the sukkah. As a mourner one cannot participate in these celebrations. Thus, this year I did not travel to New York to attend the Simchas Beis Hashoeva of the Zvhiller Rebbe in his sukkah in Union City New Jersey. Yet, another reminder that I am an aveil – even during zman simchaseinu.

Clearly, the point must be that one whose parent has died cannot (and should not) be in a state of true or complete joy during the first year after suffering the loss – even at the very time when we are commanded to be joyous. Perhaps, as I discussed with my good friend Rabbi Dovid Katzenstien, there is another deeper point – that even in a state of aveilus, when the mourner is restricted, out of respect for his parent, from participating in activities that cause one to be joyous, the mourner must still at some, though reduced level, achieve some modicum of holiday joy – as if to say to the Almighty, “though I am burdened by my loss, I nonetheless am striving to fulfill Your commandment to celebrate this holiday in state of joy.” Perhaps, the mere attempt to do so, restrictions notwithstanding, brings honor to the departed in the heavens above.

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