The Mitzva to Dwell in a Sukka (1) Contrasting the First Night and the Rest of the Festival

  • Rav David Brofsky

the laws of THE FESTIVALS

 THE LAWS OF SUKKOT

by Rav David Brofsky

 

Shiur #19 – The Mitzva to Dwell in a Sukka (1)

Contrasting the First Night and the Rest of the Festival

 

Introduction

 

The Torah states, “And you shall dwell in sukkot for seven days” (Vayikra 23:42). The Rambam writes in his Sefer Ha-Mitzvot (positive commandment 168), “And He commanded us to dwell in the Sukka for seven days during the Festival.” The gemara (Sukka 28b) describes the ideal fulfillment of this mitzva:

 

"You shall dwell" – similar to [normal] residence. From here [the Sages] said: Throughout the seven days [of the festival], the Sukka must be regarded as one's principal abode, and the house merely a temporary residence. How so? If a person has pretty dishes, he brings them up to the Sukka; attractive linens, he brings them up to the Sukka; he eats, drinks, and enjoys himself in the Sukka, and he studies in the Sukka.

 

The next few shiurim will discuss the nature and scope of this mitzva. What does dwelling in one’s Sukka entail? What is the difference between the first night of Sukkot and the rest of the festival? When is one exempt from being in his Sukka?

 

Teshvu Ke-Ein Taduru - How Many Meals Must One Eat in the Sukka?

 

In determining the nature of the mitzva to dwell in the Sukka, we must first distinguish between the first night and the rest of the Festival. The gemara (Sukka 27a) cites a debate between R. Eliezer and the Sages regarding how often one must eat in the Sukka.

 

R. Eliezer says: A person is obligated to eat fourteen meals in the Sukka, one during the day and one at night. And the Sages say: There is no defined number, except for the first night of the festival… What is R. Eliezer's reasoning? “You shall dwell” – similar to [normal] residence (teshvu ke-ein taduru). Just as [during] residence [in the house] – [one eats] one [meal] during the day and one at night, so too in the Sukka – one [meal] during the day and one at night.

 

The gemara first relates that R. Eliezer maintains that the principle “teshvu ke-ein taduru” dictates that one must eat fourteen meals, two meals each day of the Festival, in the Sukka. The gemara then cites the position of the Sages, who disagree.

 

And the Sages: Like residence [in the house]. Just as [during] residence [in the house] - if he wishes, he eats, and if he wishes, he does not eat, so too in the Sukka – if he wishes, he eats, and if he wishes, he does not eat. If so, even the first night of the festival as well! R. Yochanan said in the name of R. Shimon ben Yehotzadak: It is stated here "the fifteenth," and it is stated regarding the festival of unleavened bread, "the fifteenth." Just as in that case, the first night is obligatory and from then on it is optional, so too here – the first night is obligatory and from then on it is optional. And from where do we learn the law there? The verse states: "At evening shall you eat unleavened bread" (Shemot 12:18) – Scripture established it as an obligation.

 

The Sages disagree with R. Eliezer on two points. First, they maintain that eating in a Sukka is obligatory only on the first night of the Festival. Second, they apparently interpret the principle of teshvu ke-ein taduru differently than R. Eliezer.

 

The Sages derive that one must eat in the Sukka on the first night through a gezeira shavva, a textual comparison between the first night of Pesach, which occurs on the fifteenth of Nissan and upon which one is obligated to eat matza, and the first night of Sukkot, which is celebrated on the fifteenth of Tishrei.

 

What do we learn from this comparison to the first night of Pesach? We might suggest that just as one must fulfill the mitzva of matza – that is, eating matza - on the first night of the seven days of Pesach, one similarly must fulfill the mitzva of Sukka - dwelling in a Sukka - on the first night of the seven days of Sukkot. Alternatively, the gemara may be deriving something much more specific: Just as one must fulfill a mitzva of “eating” on the first night of Pesach, so too one must fulfill a mitzva of “eating” on the first night of Sukkot. This second possibility is most intriguing. On the one hand, this obligation to eat may redefine the parameters of one’s obligation to dwell in the Sukka on the first night, and, on the other hand, may even dictate that some of the laws that pertain to eating matza on the first night of Pesach must be observed on Sukkot as well. The distinction between these readings of the gemara has a number of halakhic ramifications.

 

For example, the Ran (12b, s.v. matnitin) questions how much bread one must eat in the Sukka on the first night of Sukkot. He writes:

 

And regarding the first day of the festival of Sukkot, we also learn that one is obligated to eat an amount that obligates eating in the Sukka. For based on the law of Yom Tov, it would suffice to eat the quantity of an egg in a haphazard manner (arai) outside the Sukka. And we learn also from the festival of Pesach that one is obligated to eat an amount that obligates eating in the Sukka. It seems, therefore, that one is obligated to eat more than the amount of an egg.

 

Generally, as we shall learn, only one who eats an amount slightly more than a ke-beitza (the volume of an egg) must eat in the Sukka. The Ran suggests that the gezeira shavva teaches that one must fulfill the mitzva of Sukka on the first evening. Therefore, one must eat an amount which obligates him to eat in the Sukka -- more than a ke-beitza. The Ran then writes:

 

But there are those who say as follows: Since we learn from the festival of Pesach, we learn entirely from it. Just as in that case the size of an olive [is all that is necessary for fulfilling the mitzva], so too here the size of an olive [is all that is required]. And even though on the other days of the festival [of Sukkot] the size of an olive is regarded as haphazard [eating], and it may be eaten outside a Sukka, nevertheless on the first night, since Scripture established it as an obligation to eat in the Sukka, it is regarded as a regular meal.

 

The Ran cites those who believe that one must only eat an amount equivalent to the size of a ke-zayit, an olive, in the Sukka on the first night, similar to the amount of matza that one must eat on Pesach. He implies, however, that this gezeira shavva may also redefine the parameters of dwelling in the Sukka on the first night.

 

            Indeed, the Tur (639) explains that just as one must only eat a ke-zayit of bread in the Sukka on the first night, one may not eat a kezayit of bread outside of the Sukka.

 

Once he eats in [the Sukka] grain in the amount of an olive, he has fulfilled his obligation, even though the measure regarding [the prohibition] of eating outside a Sukka is the amount of an egg. The first night is different, because the obligation is greater, so that even if he wishes to eat only the amount of an olive, he is forbidden to do so outside the Sukka. Therefore, he fulfills therewith also the obligation of Sukka.

 

The Tur understands that not only is the mitzva the first night, fundamentally, a mitzva of “akhila” (eating), but that this itself defines eating a ke-zayit of bread as an akhilat keva, which must not be done outside of the Sukka.

 

            Interestingly, the Ritva (27a), after citing the view obligating one to eat a ke-zayit of bread in the Sukka on the first night, records the following:

 

However, I heard in the name of one of the great scholars of the generation in France, who would obligate one to sleep in the Sukka on the first night of Sukkot, even in the rain… as on the first night, the Scripture established that it is obligatory, from the gezeira shavva equated the fifteenth [of Nissan to the] fifteenth, from Chag Ha-Matzot.

 

Clearly, this stringency implies that the Torah mandated “dwelling” in one’s Sukka on the first night, and that the exemption of “falling rain” does not apply. We will return to this point, regarding whether one must eat in the Sukka on the first night in the rain, in a future shiur.

 

The Shulchan Arukh (639:3) rules that one should eat a ke-zayit of bread in the Sukka on the first night of sukkot. The Mishnah Berurah (22), however, writes that it is “proper” to eat more than a ke-beitza, in order to fulfill the view of those who are strict regarding this matter.

 

The Rishonim raise other questions that may relate to our issue. For example, the Rishonim discuss what one must eat on the first night of Sukkot. Tosafot (27a, s.v. teshvu) maintain that the Talmud Yerushalmi (2:7) questions whether one must eat bread or whether minei targima (either a cooked grain dish, or meat and fish) would suffice. Although the Shulchan Arukh rules that one must eat a ke-zayit of “pat” (bread), the Acharonim (see Sha’arei Teshuva 5) discuss whether one may even eat a ke-zayit of baked grain products upon which one usually recites the blessing “borei minei mezonot.” The Mishnah Berurah (21) rules that one must eat a ke-zayit of actual bread. Seemingly, although generally one must sit in a Sukka while eating minei targima (Sukka 27a; Shulchan Arukh 639:2), the Poskim debate whether one must fulfill the mitzva of dwelling in a Sukka on the first night, for which minei targima would suffice, or whether they must eat a meal, similar to the first night of Pesach, which would seemingly entail eating bread.

 

            The Rishonim and Acharonim even discuss whether some of the laws specific to Pesach should apply to the first night of Sukkot as well. The Hagahot Asheri (Rosh 3:20), for example, cites the comments of Rabbeinu Peretz to the Semak (93), who insists that based upon the gezeira shavva, one should not eat until it is completely dark. Similarly, R. Yaakov ben Yehuda Weil (Germany, 15th century), cites his teacher, the Maharil, who ruled that one should eat the ke-zayit of bread on the first night of Sukkot before midnight, similar to the matza, which must be eaten before midnight on the first night of Pesach. The Rema cites both of these views.

 

In addition, the Magen Avraham (11) discusses whether one may recite the kiddush of the first night before dark. He first argues that theoretically, even one who accepts this stringency and rules that one must eat after dark should still sanction making kiddush before dark and then reciting the blessing of leishev ba-Sukka and eating a kezayit of bread in the Sukka after dark. He concludes, however, that since it is customary to recite the she-hechiyanu said with the kiddush after the blessing of leishev ba-Sukka, apparently the she-hechiyanu is said upon the performance of the mitzva of Sukka, and not just upon the building of the Sukka and the festival itself. Therefore, one should not even recite kiddush until dark, when one may properly fulfill the mitzva of Sukka the first night. Some suggest that the Taz (472:2) does not believe that kiddush must be recited after dark. The Bi’ur Halakha (s.v. lo yokhal) proposes that the Rema believes that outside of Israel, one may eat during bein ha-shemashot on the second night.

 

Similarly, R. Yosef ben Meir Teomim (1727–1792), in his commentary to the Shulchan Arukh, the Peri Megadim (Mishbetzot Zahav 643 and Eshel Avraham 539:16; see also Bikkurei Yaakov 539) writes that due to the gezeira shavva comparing the first night of Sukkot and the first night of Pesach, one should not eat challot made from fruit juice, similar to the lechem oni (“poor man’s bread”) eaten on Pesach. Many Acharonim reject this extreme application of the gezeira shavva.

 

In addition, the Yerushalmi (Sukka 2:7) questions whether, just as one should refrain from eating on the day before Pesach in order to fulfill the mitzva of matza when one is hungry, one should similarly not eat on the day before Sukkot so that one enter the festival while he is hungry. Tosafot (27a, s.v. teshvu) and the Rosh (3:15) cite this Yerushalmi, and the Or Zarua (301) writes that one should act accordingly. The Maharil adds that one should not eat from the sixth hour onwards on Erev Sukkot, similar to Erev Pesach. The Leket Yosher relates that his teacher, the Terumat Ha-Deshen, would not even sleep in the Sukka on Erev Sukkot in order to ensure that he still desired sleeping in the Sukka that evening!

 

R. Moshe Isserlis, in his commentary to the Tur, the Darkhei Moshe, cites the Maharil, and writes, “This seems to me to be a stringency without reason.” In his comments to the Shluchan Arukh (Rema), however, he writes that one should not eat during the day before Sukkot from noon onwards. Some Acharonim (Magen Avraham 12; Gra; see also Shulchan Arukh Ha-Rav 20) rule that one need only refrain from eating bread from the tenth hour onwards. The Mishnah Berurah (539:27) writes that the Acharonim concur that one need only refrain from eating from the tenth hour onwards, as we learn regarding hilkhot Pesach (471).   

 

            Finally, the Rishonim also discuss whether the exemptions from the requirement to sit in a Sukka, such as mitzta’er, apply on the first night of Sukkot as well. The Rashba (Responsa 4:78) writes that the exemptions derived from teshvu ke-ein taduru apply on the first night, and in the event of rain, one is exempt from sitting in the Sukka. The Ran (12b), however, disagrees. Apparently, as we noted previously, the Ran (and Ritva, as cited above regarding sleeping in the Sukka) believes that although the mitzva of the first night is to dwell in the Sukka, this mitzva is absolute and not subject to the exemptions derived from teshvu ke-ein taduru. We will return to this point when we discuss the exemptions of mitzta’er and yardu geshamim.

 

            As we discussed previously, one should not only have in mind to fulfill the mitzva of Sukka while eating bread the first night (mitzvot tzerikhot kavana; see Shulchan Arukh 60:4); one should also keep in mind the reasons for the mitzva of Sukka -- the booths the Jewish people built for themselves in the desert and the anannei ha-kavod (Bach 625; Magen Avraham and Mishna Berura 625).

 

The Mitzva of Dwelling in the Sukka after the First Night

 

            As mentioned above, not only do the Sages disagree as to whether one must eat fourteen meals or only one meal in the Sukka, they also seem to understand the principle of teshvu ke-ein taduru differently. The Sages explain:

 

And the Sages: Like residence [in the house]. Just as [during] residence [in the house] - if he wishes, he eats, and if he wishes, he does not eat, so too in the Sukka – if he wishes, he eats, and if he wishes, he does not eat… Just as there - the first night is obligatory, from then on it is optional, so too here – the first night is obligatory, from then on it is optional.

 

The gemara implies that only the first night is obligatory, and the rest of the days are “optional.”

 

            How are we to understand this passage, which implies that just as there is no specific mitzva or eat matza after the first night of Pesach, there is no inherent mitzva to enter a Sukka during the remaining days of the festival unless one wishes to eat (an akhilat keva) or sleep (a sheinat arai)?

 

            Generally, we can distinguish between different mitzvot. There are those mitzvot which a person is under no obligation to fulfill, per se, unless he chooses to engage in a specific activity. For example, if one wishes to wear a four cornered garment, he must attach tzitzit to the corners. This type of mitzva is often referred to as a “mitzva kiyumit.” Alternatively, there are mitzvot that one must perform, in all circumstances, such as tefillin. This type of mitzva is often referred to as a “mitzva chiyuvit.” Indeed, the Minchat Chinukh (325) explains:

 

There are two kinds of positive precepts: One that is an obligation upon every man of Israel like tefillin, etrog, and the eating of matza. Such a mitzva – if a person fulfills it, he does the will of the Creator, blessed and exalted be He, because this is what the King, blessed be He, decreed. And if he neglects the mitzva and fails to don tefillin or take a lulav, he nullifies the mitzva and acts in opposition to His will, blessed be He, and he will surely be punished. And there are mitzvot that one is not obligated to perform, like tzitzit, for the Torah did not obligate a person to wear a four-cornered garment, and if he so desires, he may go about without a four-cornered garment, and this is not against the will of the Creator, blessed be He. If, however, he brings himself to obligation, intentionally wearing a four-cornered garment in order to fulfill the mitzva of tzitzit, this is the good and righteous path. The rule is that if he fulfills this mitzva, he does the will of the Creator, blessed be He, but if he fails to fulfill the mitzva, he does not violate His will, but merely does not fulfill the mitzva.

 

Regarding the mitzva of dwelling in the Sukka, he continues:

 

So too, regarding this mitzva, namely Sukka, there are two parts to the mitzva. That is to say, on the first night of Sukkot, there is a positive precept to eat the measure of an olive in a Sukka, and a person is obligated to look for a Sukka, and it does not help that he does not want to eat, because he is obligated to eat, as with matza or tefillin. And if he fails to fulfill the positive precept on the first night, he acts against God's will, blessed be His name. But on the rest of the nights and days, if he does not want [to eat], he may abstain from eating and not sit in a Sukka, and he is bound by no obligation, as with tzitzit. If, however, he eats, there is a positive precept to eat in a Sukka and he fulfills His will, blessed be He, but if he does not eat, there is no obligation to do so.

 

The Minchat Chinukh clearly views the mitzva of Sukka, after the first night, as an “optional” mitzva.

 

            Some take this a step further, and understand that fundamentally the mitzva of Sukka teaches that one may not eat outside of a Sukka, but not that there is any inherent value, per se, of sitting in the Sukka. R. Yosef Engel (1859–1920), for example, in his Atvan De-Oraita (11), initially suggests:

 

Eating in the Sukka is not pleasing and desired in itself, for were that the case, it would not be right to leave that eating to the will of the individual, so that it is optional. Perforce, then, the intention of the mitzva lies exclusively in the negation -- that when a person eats, he must not eat outside the Sukka, and eating outside the Sukka is what is not pleasing. But eating in the Sukka in itself is not at all pleasing or desired.

 

Similarly, R. Avraham Borenstein (1838–1910), the Sochachover Rebbe, writes in his Avnei Nezer (Orach Chaim 481):

 

It follows from this that regarding a Sukka, we can say that the Sukka permits eating, enjoyment, and sleep… And this is the implication of our passage that likens Sukka to matza, which all seven days is optional. It is explicit, then, that it is merely forbidden to eat outside the Sukka, just as it is forbidden to eat chametz.

 

The Avnei Nezer also understands that the Sukka merely permits a forbidden activity.

 

            This understanding is, of course, extremely difficult, especially in light of the verse, which states quite clearly that one should dwell is a Sukka for seven days and the passage cited above (Sukka 28b), which describes how one should relate to one’s Sukka.

 

Throughout the seven days [of the festival], the Sukka must be regarded as one's principal abode, and the house merely a temporary residence. How so? If a person has pretty dishes, he brings them up to the Sukka; attractive linens, he brings them up to the Sukka; he eats, drinks, and enjoys himself in the Sukka, and he studies in the Sukka.

 

This passage implies that not only must one refrain from eating outside of the Sukka, one should eat, drink, enjoy one’s self, and study Torah in the Sukka. R. Akiva Eiger (Sukka 25a) also rejects this approach, and explains that one who eats outside of the Sukka does not violate a commandment, but rather, doesn’t fulfill the mitzvat aseh of dwelling in a Sukka.

 

Therefore, we might formulate our understanding of the mitzva differently: Whenever one enters a Sukka, one fulfills the Biblical commandment of “And you shall sit in sukkot.” Furthermore, activities which imply permanence, such as eating meals and sleeping, which are generally done within one’s home, must be done in the Sukka, and one who does not eat a meal or sleep in a Sukka does not fulfill the positive commandment of dwelling in the Sukka.  However, teshvu ke-ein taduru dictates that just as activities that one normally does inside of a house, must be done inside a Sukka, so too activities normally performed outside of one’s house may be done outside of the Sukka.

 

            Some suggest an even more ambitious approach. R. Alexander Susskind of Grodno (d. 1793), for example, in his Sefer Yesod Ve-Shoresh Ha-Avoda (Sha’ar Ha-Itun, chapter 12) writes:

 

“And you shell dwell in sukkot for seven days” - like your residence. He commanded us, the holy nation, with a positive commandment that every man should eat and drink and enjoy in the Sukka - and all of these activities one is obligated, through a positive commandment from the Torah, to do in the Sukka, and not in the house within which he lives throughout the year… Therefore, one is obligated to be careful not to leave the Sukka for one’s house at all, unless it is truly necessary, for example, if he needs to leave to his house in order to bring a drink… In that case, he should not stay in the house longer than necessary…

 

Similarly, R. Engel, cited above, rejects his initial assumption, and concludes:

 

The position itself of the aforementioned Minchat Chinukh, who writes that Sukka is exclusively a negative mitzva – it seems, in my humble opinion, that this is not true. Rather, Sukka is a positive and independent mitzva, for the Torah wants us to live for seven days in a Sukka, just as we live all year long in the house. As they said: "You shall dwell" – similar to [normal] residence. The fact that if a person wishes, he does not have to eat or sit in a Sukka, that is because that is the essence of residence; occasionally, a person goes out or to the market, and only when he wishes to eat, drink, or sleep does he eat, drink and sleep exclusively in his house. This is the idea of residence in his house, and thus the Torah wanted us to live for seven days in a Sukka. Thus, when the Torah demands residence in a Sukka, it is asking for a desired and positive thing.

 

R. Engel insists that the positive commandment of dwelling in the Sukka entails transforming one’s Sukka into one’s home, and living there for the duration of the festival. However, unlike drinking, studying, and other activities, eating and sleeping are such demonstrative expressions of dwelling that these specific activities are actually prohibited to perform outside of the Sukka.

 

            These different understandings of the mitzva of dwelling in the Sukka may influence how we understand the following passage (26b – 27a):

 

But if he wishes to be strict with himself, he may do so, and it does not constitute presumption (yuhara), and so it also happened that they brought cooked food to R. Yochanan b. Zakkai to taste, and two dates and a pail of water to R. Gamliel, and they said, “Bring them up to the Sukka,” but when they gave to R. Tzadok food less than the bulk of an egg, he took it in a towel, ate it outside the Sukka, and did not say the benediction after it.

 

The Rambam (6:6) cites this halakha:

 

It is permissible to drink water and eat fruit outside the Sukka. However, a person who follows the stringency of not drinking even water outside the Sukka is worthy of praise.

 

This gemara teaches that eating an akhilat arai in the Sukka is not to be considered an act of yuhara. Based upon the approaches suggested above, we may understand this passage in different ways. One might view eating a snack in the Sukka, regarding which one is technically exempt, as a fulfillment of a mitzva (mitzva kiyumut), and therefore it is not considered to be an unnecessary or presumptuous stringency. However, one might also view eating a snack in a Sukka as a fulfillment of one's overall obligation to transform the Sukka into one’s permanent residence; therefore, one is encouraged, if not obligated, to eat all foods in the Sukka whenever possible.

 

Next week, we will discuss the difference between Pesach and Sukkot and their respective mitzvot.