The Mishna (Sukkah 3:8) towards the end of today’s daf (Sukkah 36b) records a debate between Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Meir about the type of material that may be used to tie the lulav bundle (lulav, hadassim & aravot) together.
According to Rabbi Yehuda, it may only be tied במינו – with material of its own kind, and this is why many of us use lulav leaves to bind our lulav bundle together. Contrasting this, Rabbi Meir rules that other materials may also be used to bind the lulav bundle together such as a linen thread, and it is noteworthy that some communities have the custom to bind and adorn the lulav bundle with different coloured ribbons.
As part of their exchange, Rabbi Meir noted that מעשה באנשי ירושלים – it occurred amongst the people of Jerusalem that they would bind their lulav bundles with gold threads. In response, Rabbi Meir was then told that though this was the case, the lulav bundles were held together with material of their own kind, and the gold threads to which he referred were then bound on top.
Clearly, the main focus of this Mishna is the halachic question whether or not the bundle must be tied במינו (with its own kind), although we should also consider the possibility that the different economic perspectives of Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Meir might have influenced their respective positions on this matter. However, what particularly drew me to this Mishna was the use of the word מעשה – ‘it occurred’ – which Rabbi Meir used and which suggested that he was referring to a particular incident. But if this is so, what was the incident?
Before proceeding, it is important to note that both Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Meir lived in Israel during the second half of the 2nd century soon after the Bar Kochba revolt and during a time of considerable poverty, challenge and turmoil. What this means, as pointed out by Rabbi Yisachar Tamar (1896-1982) in his ‘Alei Tamar’ commentary on Sukkah 3:8, is that it is highly unlikely that Rabbi Meir saw the people of Jerusalem on Sukkot holding their lulav bundles with gold threads. Instead, at that moment Rabbi Meir was reminiscing about stories of the past when ‘it occurred’ that this was how people would wrap their lulav bundles in Jerusalem. In fact, perhaps this is why he needed to be corrected by being told that ‘the lulav bundles were held together with material of their own kind, and the gold threads to which he referred were then bound on top’ – because he never actually saw this. Instead, it was part of the memory that he had formed from the stories he had been told when he was young.
Understood this way, our Mishna does not only revolve around the halachic question of whether or not the bundle must be tied במינו, but also around the message of hope – and specifically, the hope of a Torah Sage who was reflecting back on a time when things were better, and hoping that the difficult situation faced by the Jewish people will soon improve.