The Mitzva of Sukka
The Mitzva of Sukka
The Torah teaches in two places that one must dwell in a sukka for seven days:
shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are home-born in
You shall keep the feast of Sukkot seven days, after you have gathered in from your threshing-floor and from your winepress. And you shall rejoice in your feast, you, and your son, and your daughter, and your man-servant, and your maid-servant, and the Levite, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are within your gates. Seven days shall you keep a feast unto the Lord your God in the place which the Lord shall choose; because the Lord your God shall bless you in all your increase, and in all the work of your hands, and you shall be altogether joyful. (Devarim 16:13-15)
For it has been
taught: I made the children of
R. Akiva says, They made for themselves real booths.
R. Eliezer and R. Akiva disagree as to whether this verse refers to the
ananei ha-kavod, the clouds of glory," which guided and protected the
Jewish People during their 40 years of wandering in the desert (see Nechemia
9:19), or to the booths that the Jews made for themselves during their travels.
According to R. Eliezers explanation, we commemorate the Divine
protection of the Jewish People during their wandering in the desert. Apparently,
mitzvat sukka is intended to arouse the memory of the exodus from
would like to point to three suggestions.
The Ramban (Vayikra 23:43) explains that through remembering the
sukkot that the Jewish People made for themselves in the desert, we
remember that God provided for all of the needs of the Jewish People in the
desert. According to this
explanation, R. Eliezer and R. Akiva agree, fundamentally, that
mitzvat sukka serves to commemorate the Divine protection that the
Jewish People merited in the desert.
If so, what really is the different between R. Eliezer and R. Akiva? Ostensibly,
while R. Eliezer focuses upon the miraculous and supernatural protection of the
Jewish People in the desert, R. Akiva focuses upon the day-to-day shelter that
God provided through the natural order. This protection, although not
supernatural, was no less miraculous.
One might offer a different interpretation. While R. Eliezer focuses upon
the Divine protection afforded to the Jewish People, R. Akiva notes the Jewish
Peoples active involvement in furthering the redemption - they made booths for
themselves. As the prophet Yirmiyahu
described (2:2), Go, and cry in the ears of
Finally, we might suggest that the Torah focuses upon the booths they made for themselves because the purpose of the mitzva of sukka is to recall and to re-live the experience of the Jewish People in the desert. Indeed, the Rashbam (Vayikra 23:43) writes:
generations may know, etc." (Vayikra 23:43) Its plain meaning is like
those who say in tractate Sukka: an actual sukka. And this is what it means: You shall
make for yourself a festival of booths when you gather from your threshing floor
and your wine-press, when you gather the corn of the field and your houses are
filled with every good, grain, wine and oil, that you shall remember that I made
the children of Israel dwell in booths in the wilderness for forty years without
settlement and without inheritance.
And from this you will offer thanksgiving to Him, who gave you an inheritance
and your houses filled with every good, and you will not say in your hearts, "My
power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth"
Therefore we go out
of our houses that are filled with every good at the time of the [harvest]
gathering and we dwell in sukkot as a reminder that they did not have an
inheritance in the wilderness, nor houses to dwell in. And for this reason God
established the festival of Sukkot at the time of gathering from the
threshing floor and the wine-press, so that their hearts not swell on account of
their houses that are filled with every good, lest they say, "Our hands have
gotten us this wealth."
The Rashbam explains that we celebrate Sukkot during the gathering season in
order to impress upon the Jewish farmer the goodness which God has bestowed upon
him, in contrast to the bare existence of the Jewish People as they left
In other words, we are commanded to experience the sense of transience, the exposure to the elements, and the uncertainty of nomadic life in the desert. R. Akiva challenges us to realize the truth of our existence: Even our permanent homes are really dirot arai (temporary dwellings), and that which appears secure and permanent is actually vulnerable and ephemeral. Only Gods providence secured the Jewish Peoples personal and national existence in the desert and in this day as well.
(Incidentally, the Bach and his son-in-law, the Taz, offer different, opposite interpretations of the debate between R. Eliezer and R. Akiva.)
While Rashi, the Ramban, and Onkelos (Vayikra 23:43), and
subsequently the Tur and Shulchan Arukh (625), accept R. Eliezers opinion, the
Rashbam argues for R. Akivas understanding (see also Peri Megadim, Mishbetzot
Zahav 625:1). Although seemingly
there should be no practical difference between these two views, some
Acharonim point to the following possible halakhic ramification.
Intention for the
R. Yoel Sirkis (1561-1640), in his opening comments to the laws of
Sukka (Bach, Orach Chaim 625), notes that the Tur
uncharacteristically discusses the reason behind
mitzvat sukka. The Tur observes that the Torah links the
mitzva of sukka to
yetziat Mitzrayim, the exodus from
It seems to me
that he must believe that since the verse says, that your generations may know
(Vayikra 23:42), one has not fulfilled the
mitzva in its entirety (ke-tikuna)
if he does not know the intention of the
mitzva of sukka according
to its simple understanding (kefi peshata), and therefore [the Tur]
explained, according to the peshat, that the primary intention that one
should keep in mind while fulfilling the
mitzva of Sukka is to
remember the exodus from Egypt.
R. Sirkis understands that whenever the Torah links a
mitzvas performance with its intention, lemaan yeidu
doroteikhem (in order that your generations shall know), the Torah wishes
to teach that the awareness of the
mtzvas reason is an integral part of its performance. He further
explains that the Tur seems to require one to have the proper intention when
fulfilling the mitzvot of tzitzit (Tur, Orach Chaim 8) and
tefillin (ibid. 25), as the Torah also links the performance of these
mitzvot with their reasons (Bamidbar 15:40, Shemot 13:9).
The Mishna Berura (625:1) writes that one should preferably keep in mind
the exodus from
Seemingly, lack of this awareness should not prevent the fulfillment of the mitzvaa, but rather performing these mitzvot with their proper intention constitutes a mitzva ke-tikuna- a mitzva fulfilled in its entirety. R. Yaakov Ettlinger (1798-1871), in his treatise on the laws of sukka (Bikkurei Yaakov 3), rules that if one did not keep these reasons in mind while eating in the sukka on the first night of Sukkot, he should preferably eat another ke-zayit of bread in the sukka with the proper intention. The Mishna Berura (above) rejects this understanding.
The Jewish People are obligated to construct a sukka
It seems that we can derive from his language that even though the primary mitzva is to sit [in the sukka], and the construction [of the sukka] is only preparatory, still there is a mitzva [in the building], as this preparation is written in the Torah and is more important that other preparations for mitzvot
Based upon this, many (e.g., Kitzur Shulchan Arukh 134:1; Kaf Ha-Chayyim
625:11) are accustomed to participate in the building of their own
sukka, in fulfillment of the Talmudic
dictum, mitzva bo yoter mi-be-shelucho,
which teaches that one who is obligated to fulfill a
mitzva should preferably fulfill the
mitzva himself, and not through an agent (Kiddushin 41a).
Seemingly, if we are to view the building of the
sukka, and not just dwelling in it, as
a mitzva, then it should
certainly be worthy of a berakha.
Indeed, the Yerushalmi (Sukka 1:2, Berakhot 9:3) teaches that one who builds a
sukka for oneself (le-atzmo)
should recite a birkat ha-mitzva
laasot ha-sukka (to make a sukka). The Talmud Bavli does not record this
opinion. The Or Zarua (Hilkhot
Tefillin 583) explains according to the Yerushalmi that when making of an
article to be used for a mitzva
that requires li-shmah (special intention), one recites a blessing. The
Talmud Bavli not only rejects this assumption, but also cites a debate whether
the construction of the sukka must be
li-shmah (Sukka 9a), regarding
which Beit Hillel rules leniently. Alternatively, the Yerushalmi may simply
believe that the building of ones own
sukka constitutes a mitzva
of some sort, and this mitzva
warrants a blessing.
While the Talmud Bavli does not instruct one to recite a birkat ha--mitzva upon building a sukka, the gemara (Sukka 46a) does imply that the blessing of she-hechiyanu should be said upon building a sukka.
Our Rabbis taught: One who makes a sukka for his own use shall recite the benediction, Blessed are You who has kept us in life, etc. (she-hechiyanu). When he enters to take up his abode in it, he says, Blessed are You who has sanctified us, etc. If it was already erected, he may recite the benediction if he can make some renovation in it; and if not, he recites two benedictions (i.e., the birkat ha-mitzva and she-hechiyanu) when he enters to take up his abode in it. R. Ashi stated: I observed that R. Kahana recited all of them over the cup of kiddush.
The gemara first cites a Tosefta (Berakhot 6:14) which teaches
that one who builds his own sukka
should recite she-hechiyanu, and then relates that R. Kahana would recite
both the blessing of leishev ba-sukka
and she-hechiyanu upon reciting the kiddush on the first night.
How should we understand the position of the Tosefta, that one should
recite she-hechiyanu upon building the
sukka? On the one hand, one might
assert that the actual building of ones own
sukka warrants the blessing of she-hechiyanu. Of course, then we must explain why
we recite she-hechiyanu and not a birkat ha-mitzva! On the other hand, we might suggest that the birkat
she-hechiyanu is actually recited upon the festival of Sukkot, when
encountering it in a meaningful way for the first time. Indeed, Tosafot (Sukka 46a, s.v. nikhnas) rules that one who recited
she-hechiyanu upon building ones
sukka should not repeat she-hechiyanu during kiddush on Yom
Furthermore, how are we to understand R. Kahana, who recited the birkat
she-hecheyanu over kiddush and not when building his
sukka? Some (Rambam, Hilkhot Berakhot 11:9; Ritva,
Sukka 46a; et al.) insist that one
should certainly recite the she-hechiyanu upon building ones
sukka and once again on Yom Tov. R. Kahana never intended to rule that
one should NOT recite she-hechiyanu upon building ones
sukka, but rather to teach that one can recite the blessing on Yom
Tov over both the building and the sanctity of the day. Others (see Or
Zarua 2:316, citing the Behag, for example) explain that R. Kahana believes
that one should not recite she-hechiyanu upon building a
sukka at all. The Rosh (Responsa 25:3)
writes that since erecting a sukka is
a preparation for the festival, we delay reciting the she-hechiyanu until
the festival itself. Finally, the Mordekhai (Sukka, 769) suggests that since so few people actually build their own
sukkot, it is customary for everyone to simply recite she-hechiyanu
The Shulchan Arukh (641) rules that although theoretically one should
recite she-hechiyanu upon building ones own
sukka, it is customary to recite the
she-hechiyanu during kiddush on the first night.
This entire discussion implies that many Rishonim understand that,
at least theoretically, the building of ones own
sukka warrants the blessing of she-hechiyanu,
and therefore should be viewed, on some level, as a
The Proper Time to Construct the Sukka
Rema (624:5), in the concluding laws of Yom Kippur, writes, The meticulous
should begin building the sukka
immediately after Yom Kippur, in order to go from
mitzva. In the next chapter
(625), the Rema begins the laws of Sukka
by teaching that it is a mitzva
to fix (le-taken) the sukka
immediately after Yom Kippur: mitzva ha-haba'a le-yadkha al tachmitzena
when a mitzva comes your way,
do not allow it to ferment (i.e., when the opportunity to do a
arises, do it quickly). Incidentally, the Shaarei Teshuva
(625) cites those who recommend building, or at least starting to build, ones
sukka before Yom Kippur, in order to
accumulate more mitzvot before the Day of Judgment.
does the Rema twice mention that one should build the
sukka immediately after Yom Kippur,
one chapter after another? The Magen Avraham (625:1), most likely responding to
this question, explains that the second passage refers to completing the
We might suggest that the first passage, taught in the context of Yom Kippur, teaches that after Yom Kippur one would go from mitzva to mitzva - a message appropriate for the conclusion of Yom Kippur. The second passage, however, refers to the laws of sukkot: Since building a sukka constitutes a mitzva of sorts, one should perform it without delay.