By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
Last year, an unofficial poll taken in Far Rockaway, New York, revealed a startling and alarming fact. Over 90% of women polled were unaware of the halacha of “lochem.” The Torah tells us of a requirement in the laws of lulav and esrog that applies on the first day of Sukkos. The Arba Minim, the four kinds taken on Sukkos, must belong to the person who is performing the mitzvah. It may not be borrowed – it must be owned. One may, of course, rely on the concept of “Matana al menas lehachzir” – a conditional gift where the recipient will eventually give back the item – but this is not akin to borrowing. It is still considered ownership.
These halachos are discussed in Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 649:2. Remember, it applies only on the first and second day of Yom Tov – not on the other days of Sukkos.
Question: What happens if someone takes a Lulav on the first (or second day of Yom Tov) and does not fulfill the Mitzvah of lochem?
Answer: They have not fulfilled the Mitzvah and the blessing is considered a Bracha Levatala.
Question: What if the husband or father has in mind to give it as a gift but the person acquiring it does not have in mind to acquire it?
Answer: It still does not work. One needs to have in mind that they are acquiring something in order to acquire it.
Question: But aren’t women exempt from this Mitzvah?
Answer: Yes, but if they do choose to do it, they should do it right.
This is an important halacha. And it should be taught to all women who perform the Mitzvah of Lulav and Esrog.
The issue in regard to minors is discussed in the Gemara (Sukkah 46b) regarding how exactly a minor should perform this Mitzvah. The Gemorah states that says that one should not give his lulav as a gift to a minor on the first Yom Tov, because a minor is unaware of the notion of giving something back. In other words, he can receive an object but cannot give it back to others.
The Shulchan Aruch (OC 658:6) does bring a dissenting opinion (Ran) that a child at the stage of p’utot (who understands buying and selling- usually at age six) is able to halachically give the lulav back (see Shulchan Aruch, CM 235:1), however most Poskim rule stringently for children.
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