January 23, 2022

Moed Katan 11

Massechet Moed Katan, which spans three chapters, primarily addresses the laws of Chol HaMoed. However, much of its third chapter is dedicated to the laws of אבלות (mourning), and this is because a mourner is forbidden to perform certain activities which generally align with those activities forbidden on Chol HaMoed, and also because some mourning practices cease on festive days.
I mention this as today we begin the second chapter of Moed Katan (Moed Katan 11b), and it is noteworthy that the first two Mishnayot of this chapter (Moed Katan 2:1-2) connect the two themes of Chol HaMoed and mourning.
In particular, the first Mishna begins by speaking about מי שהפך את זיתיו – ‘someone who has already already “turned over” their olives (as part of the process of preparing them for pressing)’, וארעו אבל – ‘and [then suddenly, a close relative dies and] they become a mourner’. The question then addressed by the Mishna is whether the loss that they would incur – or what is known as דבר האבוד – if they do not proceed in the process of pressing their olives, justifies them performing certain activities as a mourner or on Chol HaMoed.
Of course, we could simply read this Mishna as a teaching of law and focus our attention on what the law is in such a situation. However, as discussed in my recent interview with Rav Yaakov Nagen (see https://youtu.be/E0UALH9VU38), I believe that the Mishna is often poetic in its style and phraseology, and that oftentimes much is being said in Mishnayot beyond that which is explicit. And I believe that this is certainly the case here.
In terms of the olives, the case being discussed is where only part of the process has been completed. The individual has “overturned” (מי שהפך) the olives but has now stalled in their process because a relative has died. As such, we need to know whether the “losses” they are likely to incur (דבר האבוד) justify them performing certain actions in their days of mourning.
Yet it is significant that though both of these words, “overturned” and “loss”, describe what is being done which needs to be evaluated now that someone is a mourner, they also powerfully capture the feelings of someone who is in mourning. Their world has been overturned, and they are trying to make sense of their loss. And like the law being discussed, the question which many mourners struggle with is how do they proceed? And how can they move forward with what they were doing before their loss and before their world was overturned?
And in answer to this question, we find that there is a debate. According to Rabbi Yehuda, they should place the olives in the press and load the beam with weights and then leave it this way until after the Festival. What this means is that they should do whatever is immediately needed in the process, but deal with the rest after the festival. Whereas Rabbi Yossi rules that, notwithstanding the fact that they are a mourner, they should complete the pressing process. And the very fact that there is a debate about this law is, to my mind, reflective of the different ways that some people deal with personal loss.
When people have suffered a loss and are in mourning, some feel that they can only do the bare minimum in terms of non-essential activities and they leave the rest until a later time. Whereas others feel the urge to address other issues, even when they are in mourning, for the sake of their own peace of mind.
Ultimately, what we learn from our Mishna is that how people cope with the threat of financial loss when they have suffered a personal loss differs from person to person, and this is because different people react differently when their world has been overturned.
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