Pesah as Zeman Simhateinu: What Does it Mean to Rejoice Over Victory?

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Judah Kerbel

The Last Days of Pesah: Zeman Simhateinu?
When praying the Amidah and saying Kiddush on Festival nights, we mention the name of the holiday and the character that the time represents. Pesah is Zeman Heiruteinu; Shavu’ot is Zeman Matan Torateinu; and Sukkot/Shemini Atzeret is Zeman Simhateinu. Each festival is characterized differently, and that characterization lasts throughout the entire holiday.

That, at least, is the common and contemporary practice.

In Darkei Moshe, the Rema cites Sefer Minhagim of R. Isaac Tyrnau and Minhagei Maharil who say that for the entire Pesah festival we refer to Pesah as Zeman Heiruteinu, including the last days of Pesah. Rema endorses this practice. However, he mentions that there was another approach of Sefer Minhagim of R. Abraham Klausner, a teacher and predecessor of the aforementioned authorities, which was to refer to the last days of Pesah as Zeman Simhateinu, as we do on Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret.

Why switch to Zeman Simhateinu in the middle of the holiday? None of these sources explain why Zeman Heiruteinu is no longer the best expression, but one could surmise that the moment of liberation was when Benei Yisrael left Egypt, and thus, the last days of Pesah are no longer Zeman Heiruteinu. However, according to R. Klausner, Zeman Simhateinu does fit the last days of Pesah because we rejoiced when the Egyptians drowned.

Several centuries later, R. Yaakov Reischer, in Hok Yaakov, asks the glaring question: Many are aware that according to a Midrash Harninu quoted by Shibbolei Ha-Leket (§174), quoted by Beit Yosef (Orah Hayyim 490:4), the reason the full Hallel is not recited on the last days of Pesah (and, along with them, Hol Hamo’eid) is because our celebrating came at the expense of the drowning of the Egyptians. “When your enemy falls, do not rejoice; if he trips, let your heart not exult,” warns Proverbs 24:17. If we do not recite the full Hallel on the last days of Pesah because our joy is meant to be subdued, R. Reischer asks, how is it possible to refer to those days as Zeman Simhateinu?

While, in practice, we indeed do not refer to the last days of Pesah as Zeman Simhateinu, considering this question can guide us as to how we balance our victory with the tragic losses that take place on another side of a conflict.

Is It True that Our Joy is Subdued on the Last Days of Pesah?
While it is popular to suggest that the reason the full Hallel is not recited on the last days of Pesah is because of a prohibition of rejoicing at the demise of our enemies, there are both technical and theological challenges to be made against that claim.

First, while there are halakhic sources that attribute Proverbs 24:17 as the source for not reciting the full Hallel at the end of Pesah, that reason is not brought in the Talmud. In fact, the Talmud (Arakhin 10a) seems to indicate that Hallel is not said at all during the last six days of Pesah, but for a totally different reason. Namely, while the number of bulls offered as sacrifices changes daily on Sukkot, it does not change on Pesah. In order to generate an obligation to recite the full Hallel (or maybe Hallel at all, although that’s not the view we follow), there has to be something novel on each day of the festival that elicits a new need to recite it. Apparently, this has nothing to do with our relationship to our enemies. R. Yehiel Mikhel Epstein, author of Arukh Ha-Shulhan (490:2), presents both the explanation of Beit Yosef and the Gemara in Arakhin, and while the approach of Beit Yosef may resonate homiletically, it is not the “ikkar ta’am,” the essential reason. The main reason, argues R. Epstein, is that the sacrifices are distinguished on each day of Sukkot but not on Pesah. Interestingly, R. Epstein’s son, R. Barukh Epstein, in Torah Temimah (Exodus 14:20, fn. 9), accepts his father’s position and criticizes earlier poskim for bringing in a midrashic reason for this practice when there is a halakhic reason readily available in the Gemara.

However, R. Barukh Epstein makes another point, which brings us to the more theological reasons to question the midrash quoted by Shibbolei Ha-Leket. If it is really true that we do not recite the full Hallel on the last days of Pesah because we refrain from rejoicing at the suffering of our enemies, why would we recite Hallel at all? If both are ultimately expressions of gratitude and praise, does it really make a difference if we omit two paragraphs?

If any expression whatsoever contradicts the dictum of “When your enemy falls, do not rejoice,” then Torah Temimah’s objection is very compelling. However, the premise itself has some difficulties.

The Fall of the Enemy: No Joy Whatsoever?
While the verse from Proverbs that says “When your enemy falls, do not rejoice” is frequently invoked, even “codified” in Avot (4:19), there seems to be a contradicting verse in Proverbs itself, which says, “With the perishing of the wicked, there are shouts of joy” (11:10). How do we reconcile these two verses in Proverbs?

Furthermore, an aggadah (Sanhedrin 39b)[1] often marshaled to support Shibbolei Ha-Leket’s explanation for the abbreviated Hallel on the last days of Pesah says as follows:

As R. Shemuel bar Nahman said in the name of R. Yonatan, “What is the meaning of the verse ‘They did not come near each other the entire night?’ At that moment, the ministering angels wished to sing before the Holy One Blessed be He. The Holy One Blessed be He said to them: ‘My handiwork [the Egyptians] are drowning in the sea, and you are singing before me?’” R. Yosi said: “He does not rejoice, but others rejoice.”

In this gemara, God objects to the angels’ singing at the defeat of the Egyptians, but seemingly only in His presence. Further, the gemara concludes that others—presumably people and angels—may rejoice. Not only may others rejoice, but Arukh La-Ner goes as far as to say that it is God’s will that people rejoice at the downfall of the wicked. God cannot rejoice at the downfall of His own creations, even when they are justifiably punished, but people perhaps have a mitzvah to do so. Alternatively, a passage in Megillah 16b describes a scene involving Haman and Mordekhai when the former is instructed to treat the latter with royalty. Mordekhai insists that Haman help him get on the horse he is meant to ride while Haman parades him. As Mordekhai climbs on Haman’s back, Mordekhai gives him a kick. Haman retorts, “Does not your Bible say “When your enemy falls do not rejoice?” Mordekhai replies that this only applies to other Jews, but when it comes to wicked gentiles, the Torah says “You shall tread on their high places” (Deuteronomy 33:29). However sparingly one might apply Mordekhai’s approach, it would seem that there is certainly a right to rejoice in the face of the Egyptians’ defeat.

Channeling the Joy Positively
In his monumental series on the festivals, Yerah La-Mo’adim, Rabbi Yerucham Olshin, a rosh yeshiva of Beth Medrash Govoha, suggests in two different essays that both values—recognizing the loss of God’s creations while rejoicing over our victory—can coexist. In discussing Hallel,[2] R. Olshin suggests, based on the teaching of his wife’s grandfather, Rabbi Aharon Kotler, that both reasons for not reciting the full Hallel on the last days of Pesah are necessary. If the only reason to not recite the full Hallel would be because of the sameness of the sacrifices each day, that would not be sufficient, because we also say Hallel for miracles (Hanukkah being the prime example). Does the splitting of the sea not constitute a miracle that would require the recitation of Hallel on its anniversary? Therefore, the Midrash teaches us that our celebration of the miracle is muted because of the drowning of God’s creations. But if the only operative factor in not reciting Hallel on the last days of Pesah is the Midrash, would we skip Hallel just because of this when, seemingly, a holiday should require Hallel regardless? Furthermore, maybe there is an obligation to recite Hallel not just because Pesah has the status of a mo’eid[3] but because, according to Ramban, of the commandment to rejoice on a festival (simhat Yom Tov)! Therefore, the gemara in Arakhin needs to teach us that the last days of Pesah in fact do not warrant (the full) Hallel.

At this point, we can understand the phenomenon of the abbreviated Hallel on Pesah. The full Hallel cannot be recited because there is no change to the sacrifices throughout Pesah—to this, we would say that simhat Yom Tov still justifies at least some form of Hallel. Even for Ramban, who sees reciting Hallel as part of simhat Yom Tov, a partial Hallel suffices. Additionally, and more importantly for our considerations, the injunction against rejoicing at the downfall of our enemies precludes the full Hallel; but, after all, God saved us, and therefore some form of Hallel is warranted, even if not the full Hallel. Even though it was at the expense of the lives of the Egyptian oppressors, our salvation in and of itself warrants joy and gratitude.

R. Olshin provides a similar approach when it comes to the possibility of referring to the last days of Pesah as Zeman Simhateinu. While as a matter of practice, we do not use this term on Pesah, it is not because there is no room for celebration in the context of the miracle of Yam Suf. When the verse tells us to not rejoice at the downfall of our enemies, it does not mean that we should not have any gladness whatsoever; it is just that it is not full joy. While we do not celebrate the drowning of the Egyptians, we certainly can and should celebrate the fact that God rescued and redeemed us.

R. Olshin, and his son R. Isser Zalman Olshin, suggest a difference between reciting Hallel in its entirety—which may be problematic—and the expression of Zeman Simhateinu—which may be less problematic—on the last days of Pesah. R. Hayim Soloveitchik asserted that Hallel requires “simhah sheleimah,” full joy. Thus, Hallel is not recited on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur because even though there is an element of simhah on those days, it cannot be simhah sheleimah—“the book of life and the book of death are open, and you sing before me?!” Yet, not all shirah is problematic; there is a Shir shel Yom for these days. Shir shel Yom does not require simhah sheleimah, while Hallel does. Likewise, the full Hallel cannot be recited on the last days of Pesah because our joy is mitigated by the death of some of God’s creations. Yet, a partial Hallel can be recited, and the opinion that one should use the expression Zeman Simhateinu is legitimate (even if we do not follow it) because there is still an element of joy, even if not complete joy. Our joy is just limited to focusing on our own survival and salvation.

R. Hershel Schachter makes a similar point in his haggadah with regard to the recitation of the ten plagues. It is customary to spill out wine from our cups as we mention each plague. While there are a variety of reasons for this, R. Schachter gives credence to the approach that spilling wine is an expression of our acknowledgement of the suffering of our enemies:

We do not rejoice on this night because HaKadosh Baruch Hu punished the Mitzrim (Egyptians). Rather, we rejoice over the fact that when they received their punishments, our servitude ended. We drink a lecha’im, a toast, to the fact that we are b’nei chorin (free people), but we spill out that part of the wine over which we said the eser makkos. We are not interested in drinking a toast to the suffering of our enemies.[4]

Ba-Yamim Ha-Heim, Ba-Zeman Ha-Zeh – Then and Now
This model for the celebration of Pesah, and specifically celebrating keri’at Yam Suf, provides a model for us in our current circumstances. The death of any and all human beings is tragic before God—yes, even those who oppress us. Our aim in engaging in war is not about what we inflict on the other side per se, but on our self-preservation and survival. Two things can be true at one time. We can appreciate God’s pain over the death of our enemies, especially those individuals on the other side who are not oppressors. Yet, it is incumbent upon us to show our gratitude to God for our successes in war and for any life that is saved through the efforts of the IDF. If only Israel’s detractors would understand the nuanced approach of Jewish tradition. We are not a war-mongering nation. We are not a nation that worships power. We even have ways in our tradition of holding space for the losses of the other side of a war. Yet, self-defense is a must, and when we emerge from a precarious situation into one of security and stability, it is only natural to be thankful and to display gratitude when and where it is due—to the Holy One, Blessed be He, who saves us in every generation from those who conspire against us.

This year, as hard of a year as it has been, we will recite an abbreviated Hallel for the last six days of Pesah as usual, with acknowledgment that our enemies have suffered, but also with gratitude to God, “whose kindness endures forever.” And, even if we do not verbalize it this way in our prayer, we will indeed experience a Zeman Simhateinu because of this gratitude we have to God.

[1] Also cited in Megillah 10b.

[2] Yeruham Olshin, Yerah La-Mo’adim: Pesah (Shiurim) (Lakewood: Gilyon Publishing, 2013), 453-464, 470-473.

[3] See also Pesahim 117a, which indicates a requirement to recite Hallel on each perek u-ferek, each “occasion.” In this respect, perhaps Hallel would be required due to simhat Yom Tov, if not for the fact that the Gemara in Arakhin argues that the lack of distinction in korbanot negates the need or ability to recite Hallel.

[4] Hershel Schachter, Rav Schachter on the Haggadah, adapted by Dr. Allan Weissman (New York: Feldheim, 2019), 157.

Judah Kerbel is the rabbi of Queens Jewish Center in Forest Hills, NY, and a development associate for RIETS. He holds semikhah from the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, an M.A. in medieval Jewish history from the Bernard Revel Graduate School, and a certificate of completion in the mental health counseling program of RIETS/Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology. He received a B.A. in Jewish studies and psychology from the University of Maryland and learned at Yeshivat Har Etzion.