Decorating the Shul and House with Flowers

The Daily Halacha Moment - Decorating the Shul and House with Flowers 💐


״כל השונה הלכות בכל יום - מובטח לו שהוא בן העולם הבא״ (נידה עג ע״א, מגילה כח:)


“Anyone who studies Halachot every day is guaranteed that he is destined for the world-to-come” (Megilla 28b, Niddah 73a)


Question:

Where does the custom to decorate the Shul and house with flowers come from?


Answer:

Many have the custom to place fragrant herbs and flowers in every corner of the synagogues and homes in honor of the Chag of Shavuot. This is to commemorate how Hashem gave the Torah to Klal Yisrael. Our sages taught ( Shabbat 88b) that with every statement that Hashem spoke the entire world became filled with pleasant fragrances. This is alluded to in the pasuk ( Shir Hashirim 5:13), "His lips are roses dripping with fragrance myrrh." We also have the custom to set up tree branches in the synagogues and houses, alluded in the Gemara ( Rosh HaShanah 16a), "On the festival of Shavuot we are judged concerning the fruits of the trees." Although some poskim (See footnote) question the validity of this custom, it is best to allow people to practice it since well-established customs have the authority of Torah law. This custom in particular is an ancient one mentioned already by our Talmudic sages. [See footnote 1 regarding the dispute]


Sources & footnote:

[1]. Rama O"C 494:3 (quoting Maharil pg. 160) explains that the custom commemorates the joy of Matan Torah. The Chida in Birkei Yosef 494:6 says that this custom is an ancient one dating back to the time of the Midrash Targum Sheini on Megillat Esther 3:8, which writes that Haman mentioned this minhag of ours to Achashverosh. Magen Avraham 494:5 explains that trees are used for decoration so that we should pray for a good fruit harvest because Shavuot is the day we are judged regarding the fruits of the year. The Levush 494:1 explains based off the pasuk ( Shemot 34:3) which implies that Har Sinai was covered with fragrant bushes, and for this reason Hashem had to warn the people not to allow there animals to graze on the mountain. This is also cited by the Mishnah Berurah 494:10. On the other hand, the Gra as quoted by the Chayei Adam 131:13 and Maaseh Rav, Siman 191 wanted to abolish this custom. He felt that since it was only a minhag and not a real din, we should abolish it since it became a religious practice of the non-Jews (I.e. Christmas trees). This seems to be accepted by the Aruch Hashulchan 494:6 and Rav Moshe Feinstein ( Igrot Moshe YD 4:11:5). Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (quoted in Ve’alehu Lo Yibol 1 pg. 184) argues that the Gra only wanted to abolish the custom of placing trees in shuls and not flowers. The Steipler ( Orchot Rabbenu vol. 2, pg. 99) agrees. Nonetheless, Maran Ovadia Yosef ( Yechaveh Daat 4:33 and Yabia Omer YD 3:24, see also Yalkut Yosef Kitzur S”A 494:17)

explains that the custom is justified based on the Sh"t Maharik Shoresh 88 who explains that there is no concern of "'Bechukoteihem lo telechu" ( Vayikra 18:3, the prohibition regarding following non-Jewish practices and laws) by a custom that has a good reason for its practice. See also Piskei Teshuvot 494:10.


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