Aveilus during Sefirah
On Which Days Do We Practice Aveilus?
- R’ Akiva had 12,000 pairs of talmidim who all died between Pesach and Shavuos because they did not act with respect toward one another (גמ’ יבמות דף ס”ב ע”ב). Therefore, we adopt certain customs of aveilus (שו”ע סי’ תצ”ג ס”א).
- The poskim argue about which days they died on, the ramifications being on which days we practice aveilus. Multiple minhagim developed based on this, as will be explained.
- Opinion 1. They died throughout the full 34-day period after the first day of Pesach (מדרש הובא בביאה”ל ד”ה יש). According to this, aveilus is practiced for 34 days from the start of sefirah, i.e., from Day 2 of Pesach through the 34th day of the omer. After neitz on the 34th day, one may be meikel in the aveilus due to the rule of “מקצת יום ככולו” [part of a day is treated like the whole day]. This is the opinion of the Mechaber (שו”ע סי’ תצ”ג ס”ב). According to this, there is no basis to be meikel on Rosh Chodesh Iyar (שו”ע ס”ג) or Lag Ba’Omer.
- Opinion 2. They died during the first 33 days (ביאור הגר”א), and aveilus is practiced during those 33 days. One may be meikel in the aveilus the morning of Lag Ba’Omer, but not the previous night. This is the Rama’s opinion (שם ס”ב) [these two opinions agree that aveilus is only practiced on the days the talmidim actually died].
- Opinion 3. They died throughout the entire period between Pesach and Shavuos, except for the 16 days on which Tachanun is not said [7 days of Pesach, including Isru Chag/Yom Tov Sheini, 6 days of Shabbos, 2 days of Rosh Chodesh Iyar, and the day of Rosh Chodesh Sivan], totaling 33 days (בשם תוס’). Accordingly, Klal Yisrael took upon themselves some aveilus for 33 days, with differing customs as to which 33 days, as follows:
- 1. Some subtract 16 days from the beginning of sefirah, i.e., from the second day of Pesach through the second day of Rosh Chodesh Iyar, thereafter practicing aveilus until Shavuos, for a total of 33 days (ב”ח, מג”א סק”ה), despite the fact that those days are not the same 33 days R’ Akiva’s talmidim died. The Rama (ס”ג) mentions this minhag.
- According to this, there is one day that can have the leniency of מקצת יום ככולו, and Lag Ba’Omer was chosen (פמ”ג). Therefore, one may get a haircut on Lag Ba’Omer morning, but not from Day 34 through Shavuos (רמ”א ס”ג) – not even Rosh Chodesh Sivan (מג”א).
- Nevertheless, one may get a haircut on Erev Shavuos because of מקצת יום ככולו (מחצה”ש).
- 2. Another minhag the poskim cite is to practice aveilus from the first day of Rosh Chodesh Iyar through the morning of 3 Sivan – they are meikel on the yemei hagbalah [the 3 days of preparation leading up to Shavuos] and apply מקצת יום ככולו on the morning of the first of those 3 days. They add the two days of Rosh Chodesh Iyar to keep the total at 33 (מג”א סק”ה).
- According to this minhag, Lag Ba’Omer is no different than any other day of aveilus (ט”ז סק”ב). However, some apply מקצת יום ככולו on the morning of Lag Ba’Omer (ח”א הובא במ”ב). The reason is unclear.
- 3. Another minhag cited is to practice aveilus from after Pesach until [but not including] Rosh Chodesh Sivan, besides for two days of Rosh Chodesh Iyar and Lag Ba’Omer (דרך החיים הובא במ”ב סקט”ו). Some say that the minhag of Eretz Yisroel is not to get haircuts or make weddings from Pesach until [but not including] Rosh Chodesh Sivan (ספר א”י להגרימ”ט סי’ ח”י אות ב’).
- Opinion 4. Another minhag cited is to practice aveilus during all the days from the day after Pesach until Shavuos, besides for Rosh Chodesh Iyar and Rosh Chodesh Sivan (מג”א שם). The Rama does not cite this, implying he does not agree with it.
- Opinion 5. Another opinion mentioned in the poskim is that the talmidim died for 32 [not 33] days between Pesach and Shavuos. Based on this, one may be meikel starting the night of Lag Ba’Omer, both for weddings [below, 37] and haircuts . According to this, the reason Tachanun is not said at Minchah on Erev Lag Ba’Omer is because it is treated like any other Erev Yom Tov (לבוש סק”ב א”ר סק”ח, שו”ע הרב ס”ה). However, most poskim do not side with this opinion.
Establishing a Minhag
- Within one city, there should not be some people practicing aveilus on certain days and others on different days, due to the issur of לא תתגודדו (רמ”א ס”ג).
- Some say that the issur of לא תתגודדו only applies in a city in which everyone has the same shul and rav. However, in today’s big cities, which have many Jews from different places and many separate shuls, rabbanim, and kehilos, there is no issur (שו”ת אג”מ ח”א סי’ קצ”ט).
- In a place without a fixed minhag, a person may keep one minhag one year and a different one the next (שו”ת חת”ס סי’ קמ”ב, שו”ת מנח”י ח”ד סי’ פ”ד).
- One whose minhag on a given day is that he does not get haircuts may still give a haircut to a person whose minhag is to be meikel on that day. The issur during aveilus is to get a haircut, not to give one (הגרשז”א, הליכות שלמה ניסן פי”א דבר הלכה אות ל”ה).
Arizal’s Minhag: All the Days of the Omer
- Haircuts. The Arizal’s minhag was not to get a haircut throughout sefirah, until Erev Shavuos (פרי עץ חיים ספה”ע פ”ז) [some say it was until Day 48 of the omer (שו”ת מנח”א ח”ג סי’ ס”ה)]. This minhag is based on Kabbalah, not aveilus (שו”ת אור לציון ח”ג פי”ז תשובה ו’). Meticulous people follow this (ארחות רבינו ח”ג עמ’ צ”ה), even when there is a bris milah (שע”ת סק”ח).
- Weddings. Some say that even one who follows the Arizal’s minhag may make a wedding on Lag Ba’Omer (שו”ת מנח”א ח”ד סי’ ס’) [but the chosson may not get a haircut for the wedding].
- Others hold that the Arizal’s minhag included not making weddings (שו”ת דברי יואל ח”א סי’ כ”ו אות א’).
- The minhag is not to dance during sefirah, especially if it is not for a mitzvah (מ”ב סק”ה).
- The prevalent minhag is not to listen to musical instruments during sefirah even without dancing. This is inferred by a kal v’chomer from the issur of dancing (ערוה”ש ס”ב, שו”ת אג”מ או”ח ח”א סי’ קס”ו, שו”ת מנח”י ח”א סי’ קי”א).
- Recorded music. Similarly, listening to an audio recording of musical instruments is assur (שו”ת אג”מ שם, שו”ת צי”א חט”ו סי’ ל”ג).
- A cappella. Today, there are many a cappella recordings [vocals without instruments] specifically for sefirah and the Three Weeks, backed by [anonymous] rabbanim. In practice, the gedolim opposed this, especially when the singers mimic instruments (שו”ת שבט הלוי ח”ב סי’ נ”ז אות ב’, וח”ח סי’ קכ”ז אות ב’, הגר”נ קרליץ, חוט שני שבת ח”ד עמ’ שע”ט, הגריש”א, תורת המועדים ס”ה אות א’, מו”ר בעל קנה בשם).
- Truthfully, it is only with difficulty that the poskim allowed listening to recorded music all year round, as it is contrary to the halachos of remembering the Churban (שו”ע סי’ תק”ס ס”ג). They only did so based on the weakness of the generation. Therefore, at the very least, one should not listen to music during periods of aveilus, such as sefirah or the Three Weeks, and not be influenced by the general disregard of the people who produce this music for profit and extinguish whatever weak feelings of aveilus that are still felt.
- Stores. Unfortunately, there are stores that play these songs during these days to attract customers to their stores and to open their hearts [and wallets]. To rationalize listening for oneself is a personal matter but it is wrong to lead astray G-d-fearing Jews who want to properly keep the halachos of aveilus.
- For therapeutic purposes. One who is ill may listen to music to lift his spirits (הגרשז”א, הליכות שלמה פסח פי”א הערה 54, הגר”נ קרליץ), as well as one experiencing melancholy or depression (הגר”ח קנייבסקי). In these scenarios, it is best to listen with earphones if possible so others do not hear.
Halachos of Lag Ba’Omer
Erev Lag Ba’Omer
- Tachanun. Tachanun is not said at Minchah on Erev Lag Ba’Omer (מ”ב סק”ט, ומ”ב סי’ קל”א סקל”ג).
- The Mechaber holds that one should not get a haircut until the morning of the 34th of the omer (שו”ע סי’ תצ”ג ס”ב), beginning at neitz (מ”ב סק”ו). The Rama holds one may get a haircut Lag Ba’Omer morning but not the night before (רמ”א שם). However, there are Acharonim who hold one may get a haircut the night before (א”ר סק”ח הובא במ”ב סקי”א, שע”ת סק”ה). The Arizal’s minhag was not to get a haircut at all (above, 18).
- Upsherin. The Arizal’s minhag was to cut the hair of three-year-old boys in Meron on Lag Ba’Omer, leaving their peyos (שע”ת סי’ תקל”א סק”ב). This is considered “making peyos,” not giving a haircut. Therefore, both the Mechaber and Rama would allow doing an upsherin on Lag Ba’Omer night (הגריש”א, הלכות חג בחג ספה”ע פ”ז הערה 58, שו”ת אור לציון ח”ג פי”ז תשובה ג’). However, the minhag is not to do upsherins before Lag Ba’Omer.
Listening to Music
- According to the Mechaber, music, like haircuts, is only mutar on the morning of Day 34. The Rama holds it is mutar on Lag Ba’Omer morning (שו”ת שבט הלוי ח”ח סי’ קס”ח אות ה’).
- Nevertheless, in Eretz Yisroel, many are meikel on music for Rashbi’s yahrzeit even at night (חוט שני שבת ח”ד עמ’ ש”פ), e.g., at bonfires in honor of Rashbi. One should not listen to music on the way to Meron before neitz of Lag Ba’Omer.
Weddings on Lag Ba’Omer
- According to the Mechaber, weddings should not take place until the morning of Day 34 of sefirah since weddings have the same status as haircuts (מ”ב סק”ה). According to the Rama, weddings should only take place on Lag Ba’Omer day, not night. Even the Mishnah Berurah, who allows haircuts on Lag Ba’Omer night (above, 29), writes that he did not see people being meikel on weddings on Lag Ba’Omer night (מ”ב סקי”א).
- Nevertheless, some do permit making weddings on Lag Ba’Omer night after tzeis. If necessary, [e.g., that is the only night a hall has open,] one may rely on this (פר”ח ס”ב, שע”ת סק”ה, שו”ע הרב ס”ה) and even have music and dancing. However, everyone agrees one may not make a wedding before tzeis of Lag Ba’Omer night.
- Seudah that continues into 34th at night. If people who also practice aveilus after Lag Ba’Omer make a wedding on Lag Ba’Omer day, they should take care to finish the seudah and dancing before the 34th night. If necessary, they may be meikel and continue into the night (שו”ת מנח”י ח”ד סי’ פ”ד אות א’). Some allow this lechatchilah (שו”ת אג”מ אהע”ז ח”א סי’ צ”ז, חוט שני שבת ח”ד עמ’ ש”פ), and that is the common minhag of those who make weddings on Lag Ba’Omer.
Going to Meron This Year
ונשמרתם מאד לנפשותיכם
- This is the first year after the horrific tragedy in Meron in which 45 men, bochurim, and boys were killed, lo aleinu. Lag Ba’Omer is the first yahrzeit of their holy neshamos rising to Shamayim to bask in the glory of the Shechinah.
- Because of this, the authorities implemented many new rules and laws to minimize the number of people on Har Meron at one time. They are selling tickets, limiting time spent there, organizing transportation, regulating the number of bonfires and how they are made, and the like. They say it is all for increased on-site safety to prevent a repeat tragedy, chas v’shalom.
- However, they also ruined many measures that were taken at the holy site of Meron to preserve the location’s kedushah and unique character and to ensure it is suitable for G-d-fearing people, e.g., they abolished the men’s mehadrin path. They also abolished many things that were done for hundreds of years, e.g., the tremendous celebration and legendary “Hilula” at the courtyard of R’ Shimon bar Yochai’s kever, with various excuses.
- While the destruction of kedushah and forced control over a holy site can cause the feeling that we will not listen to any of their rules or management, both the Torah and logic dictate that some changes should be made. There must be increased caution for the sake of the public and to ensure that the huge crowds that come to R’ Shimon bar Yochai’s kever in Meron are not endangered, chas v’shalom.
Entering a Cramped Area
- It is forbidden to enter an area where people are packed close together. One who does so first of all endangers himself, and he also endangers others. When people are overcrowded together, any small movement can trigger a chain of movements, causing people to fall. When a person falls in a very crowded area, it is hard to make room for him to stand up and people can easily fall on top of him, leading to disaster. It is certainly forbidden to intentionally push people from behind; all the more so when going from a wide space into a narrow space.
Consideration for Others
- The reason R’ Akiva’s 24,000 talmidim died in this period is because they did not behave with respect toward each other (גמ’ יבמות דף ס”ב ע”ב). To rectify this, we must try very hard to improve in this area by honoring and having consideration for others with renewed energy.
- Lingering at R’ Shimon’s kever. Everyone wants to enter the inner area of R’ Shimon bar Yochai’s holy kever on Lag Ba’Omer to pour out his troubles at the kever of the saintly Tanna: a holy place at a holy time. But of course he is not the only one who wants to do this; hundreds of thousands of people also want to have this zechus. It is also clear that the site is too small and narrow to contain everyone who goes to Meron. Every year, it is a very dangerous place.
- Therefore, it is both self-evident and required by the Torah under the mitzvah of ואהבת לרעך כמוך that each person must have consideration for others by davening a short tefilah at the kever and then quickly leaving the area and completing his tefillos outside so others can also have the zechus. This is exactly what the Kohen Gadol did: even though he entered the Kodesh HaKodashim just once a year on Yom Kippur, he only said a brief tefilah, giving up the opportunity to pour his heart out in tefilah in the Kodesh HaKodashim on the holy day even without ushers hustling him out. This was out of consideration for others, lest the crowds waiting outside become worried that he died, ח”ו (משנה יומא פ”ה מ”א). This was a segulah for Hashem to accept his tefillos. Incidentally, the piyut Bar Yochai mentions the Kodesh HaKodashim…
- Also, since lingering at the site of the kever will prevent others from coming to Har Meron due to barricades and the like, one who does so withholds the opportunity from his fellow, steals time, and causes distress to other people who want to go on the mountain to daven at R’ Shimon bar Yochai’s kever.
- Someone who stubbornly insists on remaining inside the kever or lingering on the mountain more than he should demonstrates that the world revolves around him and other people’s needs are not important to him. This is not a segulah for his tefilos to be accepted or for him to be zocheh to the light of R’ Shimon bar Yochai. This also does not rectify the situation of R’ Akiva’s talmidim.
- The mingling of men and women in Meron is a problem every year. Even when there was a mehadrin path, the area before the path, the buses, and the stations on the way were all issues. Now that they blatantly abolished the mehadrin path and will be checking everyone’s tickets, there will be a mass of men and women in one spot, and it will probably be a very bad situation with pushing and pressure to go onto to the mountain. Therefore, everyone must be extremely careful to avoid nisayon. Bochurim and girls probably should not go at all for multiple reasons. [Chazal instituted three days of fasting – “בה”ב” – after Pesach and Sukkos because groups of men and women would come on Yom Tov to hear the drashah and they would look at each other (תוס’ קידושין דף פ”א ע”א ד”ה סקבא). They instituted three days of fasting for something like this …]