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Why Make a Siyum During the Nine Days?

Why Make a Siyum During the Nine Days?

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I noticed that many make a point of making a siyum—a celebration for the completion of a tract of Talmud—during the nine days when we mourn over the destruction of the Temple. Isn’t this counterintuitive? Shouldn’t we be sad during this time, not seeking out different ways to celebrate and rejoice?

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It is forbidden to eat meat during the Nine Days. However, meat may be served and eaten as part of a festive meal celebrating a mitzvah such as a circumcision. Another such festive meal is a siyum, celebrating the completion of a significant portion of Torah. Thus, some make a siyum, which then opens up a “loophole” for them to eat meat.

However, there are many who follow the practice of the students of the Baal Shem Tov, and are particular to participate in a siyum during the Nine Days, but have the custom not to eat meat afterward. To understand this, let’s first explore the Jewish view on mourning in general.

Excessive Mourning

According to Jewish law, excessive mourning is prohibited. Thus, one is not supposed to add to the time-honored mourning customs, nor may one extend the mourning beyond the mandated time period. For example, it is appropriate to cry intensely within the first three days of the burial, sit shivah for seven days, observe certain elements of mourning for 30 days (shloshim) and, if one loses a parent, to engage in certain elements of mourning for 12 months. However, one may not extend any specific element of mourning beyond its allotted time.1

As Jews, we believe that death is not final, and eventually we will all be reunited with our loved ones. To a degree, excessively mourning and falling into despondency belies that belief.

The same is true about mourning the destruction of the Temple.

Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Shapiro of Dinov, known as the Bnei Yissachar, points out that the Talmud states, “Just like when the month of Av begins, we decrease rejoicing, so too when the month of Adar begins, we increase rejoicing,”2 Yet, he notes, the Talmud only outlines the ways we decrease in joy in the month of Av, but never describes how we increase it in the month of Adar. He explains that this is precisely the point. When it comes to mourning, one may only decrease his joy and mourn in the specific ways outlined in Jewish law. Certainly, one is supposed to be sad and cry over the destruction of the Temple, but one may not, heaven forbid, despair. Not only does over-excessive mourning give off the impression that one has given up all hope and faith in the final redemption and rebuilding of the Temple, but bringing oneself to outright depression is considered a sin.3

We are commanded to “serve G‑d with joy,”4 and this applies even to a time of mourning. One cannot lose all hope and become despondent.

Revealing Hidden Good

We can now understand why we make a siyum during a time of mourning. The Nine Days are a time of divine judgement and severity, and making a siyum on learning a section of Torah adds joy, as the verse states, “The orders of the L‑rd are upright, causing the heart to rejoice . . .”5 By adding in joy (in a permissible manner), we help reveal the hidden good behind the destruction.6

This idea of the hidden good behind the destruction of the Temple is articulated in the Midrash this way: “The lion [Nebuchadnezzar] came in the month of the lion [Av, which has the constellation of Aries] and destroyed the lion [the Temple], in order that the Lion [G‑d] should come in the month of the lion and rebuild the lion [Jerusalem].”7 In other words, the whole destruction came about so that the Temple would be rebuilt—bigger, better and longer-lasting than before.

The notion that the joy of a siyum weakens the powers of evil and destruction is actually hinted at in the very name of the ministering angel of the nation of Edom (Esau), whose descendants (the Romans) destroyed the second Temple and cast our nation into exile.

This angel is usually referred to simply as ס״ם (“Samech Mem”) since we normally refrain from saying the names of angels, but the angel’s full name is סמא״ל, which is an acronym for סיום מסכת אין לעשות—“A siyum shouldn’t be made.” Thus, this angel of destruction’s very name hints at the fact that he doesn’t want us making a siyum—which is precisely why it is an excellent idea to make one!8

When to Make a Siyum

If the purpose of the siyum were merely to allow consumption of meat, there would be no need to make a siyum on Shabbat (when eating meat is permitted) or on 9 Av (when all food is forbidden).9 Yet, the Rebbe advocated that a siyum be made on those days as well.

Furthermore, there are those (notably the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Dovber of Lubavitch10) who have the custom not to eat meat at siyumim made during the 9 Days, but nevertheless specifically make or participate in a siyum at this time. Additionally, the Rebbe said that, if possible, one should try to participate in a siyum until the 15th day of Av, since some aspects of the destruction continued until that day.11

When the siyum is viewed not as a loophole for meat consumption but a portal to a deeper, spiritual joy that breaks through the bounds of sadness, this all makes sense.

May the merit of learning and making a siyum stand in our good stead and result in the ultimate siyum, the conclusion of this long and bitter exile, with the coming of Moshiach and the rebuilding of the holy Temple!

Visit DailySiyum - Live Broadcast during the period of mourning to participate in Chabad.org’s live siyum broadcast.

Footnotes
1.
Talmud, Ta’anit 27b.
2.
Talmud, Taanit 29a.
3.
Shaar Yissachar, Chodesh Adar 2.
6.
Sefer Hasichot 5751, vol. 2, p. 708.
7.
Yalkut Shimoni, Jeremiah 259.
8.
Shaar Yissachar, Chodesh Taamuz - Av 8
9.
A siyum on the 9th of Av would be made on material permitted to be learned on that day, such as the tractate Mo’ed Katan which deals with the laws of mourning. Sefer Hasichot 5751 vol. 2 p. 708.
10.
See Sefer Haminhagim - Chabad p. 46
11.
Sefer HaSichot 5751 vol. 2 p. 733
Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Anonymous Florida July 28, 2017

I thought. The morning period was eleven months not twelve months,please explain Reply

Aharon Johannesburg, South Africa July 26, 2017

Great piece.

Is the constellation associated with Av in fact Leo and not Airies as (perhaps) incorrectly mentioned in the article?

Moshiach now! Reply