Earlier the Talmud had used a discrepancy between two mishnayot to prove that in the land of Israel one does take the lulav on Shabbat if it falls on the first day of Sukkot. One mishnah said that the people take their lulavim to the Temple, while one said that they take them to the synagogue. The Talmud had solved this difference by saying that the first mishnah referred to a time when the Temple stood and the second to the post-destruction period. Hence, in the land of Israel they do take the lulav on Shabbat, even after the destruction of the Temple.
The Talmud now retracts that resolution. Once the Temple was destroyed, the lulav was not taken on Shabbat, even in the land of Israel. Both of these mishnayot refer to Temple times. The reason that one describes people bringing their lulavim to the synagogue and not the Temple is that the mishnah refers to the “provinces,” areas outside of the Temple.
This week’s daf continues to discuss the aravah ritual. In the Temple they would circle the altar once every day with the aravah for the first six days of Sukkot. On the last day they would circle it seven times. But after the Temple was destroyed this custom was no longer observed. The Talmud now asks why.
Outside of the Temple the mitzvah of the lulav is still observed for seven days, as a remembrance of the Temple, where it was taken for seven days. Abaye asks Rabbah why we don’t also perform the ritual of the aravah for seven days, as it too was done in the Temple for seven days.
Rabbah answers him that we can fulfill the mitzvah of the aravah with the aravah that is part of the lulav. We don’t need to have a separate aravah ritual, as they did when the Temple still stood.
Abaye does not accept Rabbah’s answer, because taking the aravah as part of the lulav is not the same as taking the aravah alone, as the ritual was performed in the Temple. And if you were to attempt to say that we could lift it up again separately for seven days in memory of the Temple, we all know that we just don’t do that.
R. Zevid offers another interpretation as to why we don’t still do perform the aravah ritual for seven days. The lulav ritual is a toraitic commandment, for seven days in the Temple and for one day outside of the Temple. Because it was a toraitic commandment we still observe it for seven days. But the aravah ritual was never a Torah commandment, even when the Temple still stood. Therefore, without a Temple, the ritual is no longer observed for a full seven days.
R. Zevid’s statement that the ritual of the aravah is of rabbinic origin is not so simple. There is a dispute among the sages concerning the status of the aravah ritual. According to Abba Shaul (cited above on 34a), it is indeed from the Torah. He picks up on the plural word “willows” from Leviticus 23:40. One aravah is for the lulav ritual and the other for use in the Temple ritual. So Abba Shaul holds that it is from the Torah.
According to the other rabbis, the laws of the aravah are a “halakhah from Moses on Sinai.” This means it is an ancient law, believed to have been given orally to Moses on Sinai. The status of such a halakhah is disputed by post-talmudic rabbis, some holding that this also means that it is from the Torah while some hold that it is not. But such an ancient tradition is not considered to be from the “rabbis” as R. Zevid had said.
R. Yohanan mentions two other halakhot that are “halakhah from Moses on Sinai.” One of these is “ten plants.” This refers to Mishnah Sheviit 6:1 concerning a field that has ten plants in it. I refer you to the Mishnah Yomit commentary to understand this mishnah. The other is the water libation made on Sukkot. This will be the topic of the fifth chapter of Sukkot.
This is what is called “tweaking” your original statement. R. Zevid now notes that the observance of the lulav in the provinces is from the Torah, at least for one day. Therefore, in the absence of the Temple there is greater impetus to keep observing it for seven days, as it was in the Temple. But the aravah ritual never had any toraitic basis outside of the Temple. While it may be “from the Torah” that only refers to its observance in the Temple itself. Therefore, in the absence of the Temple it is not observed for seven days.
Our mishnah discusses the issue of how priests with certain physical blemishes, who normally are not allowed to go between the altar and the Sanctuary, can perform the aravah ritual, which involves circling the altar with the aravah in hand.
Resh Lakish claims that the normal prohibition for blemished kohanim to go between the Sanctuary and the altar is suspended so that they may fulfill the mitzvah of the aravah. There is a dispute as to why. The Tosafot say that this prohibition is only derabanan—of rabbinic origin. Therefore, it is waved so that the positive commandment of the aravah may be fulfilled. The Rambam says that the prohibition is from the Torah. The reason it is suspended is that a positive commandment overrules a negative commandment, as long as the negative commandment is not punishable by karet or death.
Rabbi Yohanan does not seem to agree with Resh Lakish. So he turns to him and says, “Who said so?” In other words—what gives you the right to make this stuff up?
The problem with R. Yohanan’s statement is that he himself said that the laws of the aravah ritual were given to Moses on Sinai. So why should he be so upset with Resh Lakish.
The Talmud now fixes R. Yohanan’s statement. R. Yohanan agrees that it is a commandment from the Torah. But maybe they could fulfill the commandment by standing the aravot up next to the altar, and not by circling it. And who said that it has to be performed by blemished priests? R. Yohanan agrees that there is such a mitzvah, but he does not agree that blemished priests are allowed to perform it.
In this section the amoraim dispute the status of the aravah ritual.
According to both of these amoraim, the aravah ritual is attributed to the prophets. However, they dispute the exact nature of how it originated. According to one amora it seems to have been a formal institution enacted by the prophets, whereas according to the other amora, it was a custom, not a formal institution. Rashi explains that the ramification for this dispute is whether one says a blessing over the aravah ritual. If it’s a formal institution, then one does say a blessing. But if it’s just a custom, then one does not.
In any case, as occasionally occurs, we are not sure who said what.
The first statement here seems to be conclusive evidence that R. Yohanan was the one who said that it is a “institution of the prophets.” But R. Zera argues with R. Abbahu that from another statement we can see that R. Yohanan holds that the ritual was related to Moses on Sinai, long before the prophets. So which is it?
R. Abahu takes some time to answer this one. He then finds a way to maintain both statements of R. Yohanan. The aravah ritual was indeed given to Moses on Sinai. However, the Jews then forgot the commandment, assumedly when exiled to Babylonia. The prophets reinstituted the ritual when the Second Temple was built.
The Talmud cites another statement issued by R. Yohanan. This statement is complicated and has an interesting story so I will translate Rashi’s interpretation.
R. Kahana was a student of Rav, and he was very sharp. He fled to the land of Israel, to R. Yohanan, due to persecutions [in Babylonia], for he had killed a man, as it is stated in the last chapter of Bava Kamma (117a). R. Yohanan depended on R. Kahana to answer some questions. [Because of this] R. Yohanan would say to the people of the land of Israel: I thought that the Torah was yours, for you had not been exiled from your land and you had not suffered the troubles of exile. But now I see that it belongs to the people of Babylonia, for even though they were exiled, they were supported by the wise of the exile of Yehanyah (end of seventh century B.C.E.)….Thus we can see that the Torah was never lost during the Babylonian exile.
So R. Yohanan does not believe that the Jews forgot their Torah during the Babylonian exile.
The Talmud now resolves the difficulty in a different way. In the Temple the aravah ritual is a halakhah given to Moses on Sinai. When God instructed Moses to teach this ritual, its observance was restricted to the Temple. But the prophets expanded its observance to the provinces as well. This follows what we have seen earlier, that when the Temple still stood the aravah ritual was observed in the Provinces as well.