The Position of the Sages Regarding Eating in the Sukka on the First Nights of Sukkot and the Rest of the Festival

  • Rav Shmuel Shimoni

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Rabbi 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 Rabbi Eliezer's reasoning? 'You shall dwell' – similar to [normal] residence. Just as residence [in the house] – one [meal] during the day and one at night, so too in the sukka – one [meal] during the day and one at night. And the Sages: Like residence [in the house], just as 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! - Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yehotzadak: It is stated here "the fifteenth"; and it is stated regarding the festival of unleavened bread "the fifteenth." 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. 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. (Sukka 27a)

 

            Today we shall deal with the position that is more familiar to us – the position of the Sages, according to which there is no obligatory mitzva to eat in the sukka all seven days of the festival, but only a "fulfillable" mitzva (or according to a different formulation that we have already seen – an obligatory mitzva to dwell in the sukka). Only on the first night of the festival is there an obligatory mitzva to eat in the sukka. In our introductory shiur, we dealt with certain aspects of the Sages' position that relate to the nature of the mitzva all seven days of the festival. Today we shall deal with other issues arising in this context, and with the nature of the obligation on the first night.

 

Many Rishonim were troubled by a question that arises in connection with the position of the Sages. The Gemara in Berakhot 49b implies that on Yom Tov one is obligated to eat bread-based meals:

 

Rav Idi bar Avin said in the name of Rav Amram quoting Rav Nachman who had it from Shemuel: If one by mistake omitted to mention Rosh Chodesh in the [Amida] prayer, he is made to begin again; if in Birkat Ha-mazon, he is not made to begin again. Rav Idi bar Avin said to Rav Amram: Why this difference between prayer and Birkat ha-Mazon? He replied: I also had the same difficulty, and I asked Rav Nachman, and he said to me: From Mar Shemuel personally I have not heard anything on the subject, but let us see for ourselves. [I should say that] in the case of prayer, which is obligatory, he is made to begin again, but in the case of a meal, which he can eat or not eat as he pleases, he is not made to begin again. But if that is so [said the other], in the case of Shabbat and festivals, on which it is not possible for him to abstain from eating, I should also say that if he makes a mistake he must go back to the beginning? He replied: That is so.

 

            The Rishonim noted that even on Rosh Chodesh one is forbidden to fast, and so we are forced to say that the threshold for the obligation to go back to the beginning regarding Birkat Ha-mazon must be the obligation to eat bread, and thus to recite Birkat Ha-mazon. It follows then from the Gemara that on Yom Tov one is obligated to eat bread-based meals. This, as stated above, brought the Rishonim to raise an objection against the position of the Sages regarding the meals that must be eaten in the sukka. There are various formulations of the objection, all of which are directed at the same point:

 

1)         What is meant by the assertion: "if he wishes, he eats, and if he wishes, he does not eat" – surely there is an obligation to eat based on the law of Yom Tov meals?

 

2)         Why is a special derivation necessary for the obligation to eat in a sukka on the first night of Sukkot? Surely there is an obligation to eat a Yom Tov meal on the first night of the festival, and perforce it must be eaten in the sukka, in the framework of the "fulfillable" mitzva to eat in a sukka all seven days of the festival!

 

To resolve these difficulties, the Rishonim adopted various approaches, which provide important new understandings in a number of areas.

 

THE POSITION OF TOSAFOT IN SUKKA

 

            Let us open with the resolution put forward by the Tosafot on our passage (s.v. iy), who suggest an exceedingly novel position, not regarding the mitzva of sukka, but regarding the general obligation of a Yom Tov meal:

 

"If he wishes, he eats, and if he wishes, he does not eat" – at all, for if he eats, he is obligated to eat in a sukka, as was stated above. This implies that on Yom Tov, there is no obligation [to eat], and if a person wishes, he does not eat at all, except for the first night of the festival. According to this, if by mistake one omitted to mention Yom Tov in Birkat Ha-mazon, he is not made to begin again. And that which is stated in chapter "Shelosha she-akhlu" (Berakhot 49b): "In the case of Shabbat and festivals, on which it is not possible for him to abstain from eating, I should also say that if he makes a mistake he must go back to the beginning" – this refers only to the first night of the festival of Pesach and the first night of the festival of Sukkot.

 

            According to the Tosafot, there is no obligation whatsoever to eat a bread-based meal on Yom Tov, and the aforementioned words of the Gemara must be limited to the first night of Pesach and Sukkot. What is the basis for this difference between Shabbat, which requires bread-based meals, and Yom Tov, which does not? The Rashba in Berakhot, who shares the view of our Tosafot, related to this question, writing:

 

All other Yom Tov meals, even on the first day of the festival, he is not made to begin again [in Birkat Ha-mazon], for if he wishes, he does not eat bread, as it is also stated in tractate Sukka… From this we also learn that on Shabbat he perforce eats bread, and this is because it says "delight" ["oneg"], and there is no delight without eating bread.

 

            In other words, the obligation of "honor" [kavod] applies on Yom Tov as on Shabbat, but the obligation of "delight" is unique to Shabbat, and that is what obligates bread-based meals. Against this, stand the words of the Rambam (Hilkhot Yom Tov 6:15):

 

The commandment to honor Shabbat and make it a delight applies equally to all the festivals. For Scripture says: "And call … the holy of the Lord clothed with honor" (Yeshayahu 58:13), and to each of the festivals it applies the term, "a holy convocation" (Vayikra 23:2, passim; Bamidbar 28:18, passim). We have explained the meaning of "honor" and "delight" in the laws concerning Shabbat.

 

THE POSITION OF THE BAAL HA-MAOR

 

            The Baal ha-Maor in Pesachim adopted a different approach:

 

If he wishes, he eats nothing at all during the day, for the Yom Tov of Sukkot is different than other Yomim Tovim. For the Torah likens it to residence: If he wishes, he eats, and if he wishes, he does not eat. And just as Rabbi Eliezer made it different to be stringent, so too the Sages make it different to be lenient. (18b in Alfasi, s.v. ve-rabbi)

 

            This position assumes that the Tosafot's general understanding of Yom Tov is mistaken – it goes without saying that Yom Tov requires two bread-based meals. They are right, however, specifically about Sukkot, for there is a special scriptural decree that exempts Sukkot from the general obligation of Yom Tov meals.

 

            The scriptural decree, as the Baal ha-Maor understands it, is exceedingly interesting. He draws an analogy between Rabbi Eliezer, who learns from the rule of "'You shall dwell' – similar to [normal] residence," an obligation to eat fourteen meals over the seven days of the festival – a clear obligation of dwelling in the sukka, and the Sages, who from the same rule derive an exemption from the Yom Tov meal. In other words, in order to give the mitzva of sukka the proper character, according to the Sages, the meals must be defined as optional, for only then would the sukka have the defining characteristic of a house, and the need to give the mitzva of sukka the proper character supersedes the general obligation of Yom Tov. Now, we must ask: Is it possible that according to the Baal ha-Maor, on the Shabbat of Sukkot there is no obligation to eat three meals? If we answer in the affirmative, we must understand that despite the fact that there is a conflict here, the mitzva of sukka supersedes the obligations of Yom Tov and Shabbat. Assuming, however, that this conclusion regarding Shabbat is unreasonable, and in the words of the Baal ha-Maor there is no hint to this halakhic novelty regarding Shabbat, but only with respect to the Yom Tov of Sukkot, we must accept one of the following alternatives:

 

1)         The mitzva of sukka is strong enough to cancel the laws of Yom Tov, but the laws of Shabbat are more important and not so easily canceled. This understanding is difficult – from where do we derive such a distinction?

 

2)         We are not dealing here with one halakhic realm superseding another. The Shabbat of Sukkot has a certain sanctity of its own, and this sanctity obligates certain laws that are not related in any way to the sanctity of the festival of Sukkot. The Yom Tov of Sukkot, in contrast, is a day the entire sanctity of which is the sanctity of the festival of Sukkot, and therefore its laws are determined in light of the nature of the mitzva of sukka. Thus, there is room to say that its laws are different from those of the other Yomim Tovim. It is, of course, possible that the Rishonim who disagree with the Baal ha-Maor reject this understanding, and think that the sanctity of Yom Tov is an independent factor, and while in this case we are dealing with the Yom Tov of Sukkot, the sanctity of the day does not rest on its being Sukkot.

 

THE POSITION OF THE RAN AND OTHER RISHONIM

 

            The prevalent position among the Rishonim assumes that there is an obligation to eat a bread-based meal on the night of Yom Tov and during the day, and this includes Sukkot. The expression, "if he wishes, he eats," does not relate to other halakhic obligations such as the obligation to eat a Yom Tov meal. When the Torah commands that one must eat in the sukka on the first night of Sukka, it has ramifications beyond the obligation to eat a Yom Tov meal together with the law that a regular meal on Sukkot must be eaten in a sukka.

 

            These ramifications require examination, but before doing so, let us consider a question, or more precisely two questions, that arise regarding the basic nature of the obligation of eating a meal on the first night of Sukkot. In the previous shiur we dealt with the obligation of meals (fourteen or one) according to Rabbi Eliezer. We saw various approaches regarding the question whether we are dealing with an obligation stemming from the mitzva of sukka, or perhaps with an obligation of a meal, which because it is eaten on the festival of Sukkot, must be eaten in a sukka. The second possibility seems difficult, but since we saw that it has broad support in the context of Rabbi Eliezer, there is room to consider the issue also in the context of the obligation to eat a meal on the first night of the festival according to the Sages. Are we dealing merely with an obligation to eat a meal, which by chance must be eaten in the sukka, or with an obligation that is connected in its very essence to the mitzva of sukka?

 

1)         As we have emphasized on numerous occasions, the mitzva on the seven days of the festival is not to eat and sleep in the sukka, but to dwell in the sukka, that is, to reside in it, the primary practical expressions of which are eating and sleeping. It is, therefore, reasonable to understand that even when we encounter the obligatory mitzva to eat on the first night of the festival, it is not essentially an obligation of eating, as in the case of matza, but rather an obligation to fulfill in a practical manner one of the primary expressions of dwelling – eating a regular meal in the sukka. (We saw in the introductory shiur that, according to some views, eating is the primary expression of dwelling, and not sleeping).

 

2)         The obligation to eat a meal on the first night of the festival is different in its very essence, and not only in the level of obligation, from the obligation of eating on the other days. On the first night, we are not dealing with an obligation of dwelling, but with an obligation analogous to that of matza, which imposes a special duty of eating on the first night in the sukka.

 

Of course, if we understand that we are not dealing with an obligation that stems from the mitzva of sukka, but rather with an obligation to eat a meal, which by chance must be eaten in the sukka, it is then clear that the nature of the obligation is not one of dwelling, but rather of eating.

 

Let us now examine the first direction taken by the Ran to explain the contribution of the first derivation that obligates us in a meal on the first night of Sukkot:

 

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 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. (Ran, 12b in Alfasi, s.v. matni)

 

            According to this approach, it stands to reason that on the first night of Sukkot there is an obligatory mitzva to dwell in a sukka, which is expressed through eating. In order to fulfill the mitzva of eating, it suffices to eat the amount of an olive, as in the case of matza, for eating the amount of an olive is regarded as eating. Since, however, the mitzva is dwelling in a sukka, it is necessary to partake of a regular meal, and therefore one must eat more than the amount of an egg (the precise amount is discussed later in the tractate, pp. 26a-27a).

 

            In the continuation, the Ran changes direction:

 

But there are those who say as follows: Since we learn from the festival of Pesach, we learn entirely from it: Just as there the size of an olive, so too here the size of an olive. 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.

 

            It is possible to understand that this opinion radically disagrees with the previous view. There is no obligation to eat in the amount of a regular meal, and so this is not an obligation of dwelling, but rather of eating. Moreover, this is not an obligation stemming from the mitzva of sukka, but rather an obligation to eat a meal on the fifteenth of Tishrei. But since Scripture established it as obligatory, it is regarded as a regular meal, and thus it must be eaten in a sukka, based on the "fulfillable" mitzva of eating in a sukka all seven days of the festival.

 

            Upon careful examination of the Ran's wording, however, we see that the obligation is to eat in the sukka: "since Scripture established it as an obligation to eat in the sukka." Thus, we are dealing with an obligation that stems from the mitzva of sukka; and this is not a mitzva of eating, but rather of dwelling, for it is necessary to note that because Scripture established it as obligatory, this turns the eating into a regular meal. This being the case, it seems that even according to this view, we are dealing with the obligatory mitzva of dwelling in a sukka. A certain lack of clarity remains, however, for if Scripture established it as obligatory to eat in the sukka, why do we need the added element that therefore it is regarded as a regular meal; in any event, Scripture required that the meal be eaten in a sukka!

 

Practically speaking, according to the prevalent opinion, eating the amount of an olive suffices.[1] Thus rules also the Rambam: "Eating on the first night of the festival in a sukka is obligatory. Even if he eats the amount of an olive, he has fulfilled his obligation. From then on, it is optional" (Hilkhot Sukka 6:7). We are still left with an open question. The wording of the Rambam suggests that just as on the other days of the festival one is permitted to eat food in the amount of an olive outside the sukka, so too on the first night of the festival, but on that night, one is obligated to eat the size of an olive inside a sukka. The Tur, however, states otherwise:

 

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. (Tur, 639)

 

            There are two novelties in the Tur's position:

 

1)         In addition to the obligatory mitzva of the first night, the regulations of the "fulfillable" mitzva are different on the first night than on the other days of the festival, so that on the first night one is forbidden to eat bread in the amount of an olive outside the sukka.

 

2)         This itself bestows importance upon eating in the amount of an olive on the first night, so that it is regarded as a regular meal, with which one can fulfill the obligatory mitzva. It is clear that even according to the Tur, the mitzva is dwelling, but the parameters of dwelling are different on the first night than on the other days of the festival, both regarding the "fulfillable" mitzva and the obligatory mitzva.

 

            The Ran in the continuation cites another opinion:

 

Others say that for this reason we learn the first night of the festival of Sukkot from the festival of Pesach, to teach us that even if it is raining, one is obligated to eat in the sukka, even though he is exempt on the other days.

 

            Here it seems we are dealing with a clear expression of the understanding that the obligation on the first night of Sukkot is not one of dwelling, but rather of eating. The exemption from sukka granted to one who would suffer distress there from is derived from the rule of "'You shall dwell' – similar to [normal] residence," this not being the type of dwelling that the Torah commanded about. On the first night of the festival, the obligation is one of eating, and not of dwelling, and this obligation is not impaired if it is accompanied by distress. This, of course, assumes that the sukka is a sukka that is fit for the mitzva in all ways, and the deficiency in the law of distress is in the act of dwelling, so that if we are not dealing with an act of dwelling, but rather an act of eating, the obligation remains in place.

 

            A more moderate position in this context is found in the Tosafot in Berakhot:

 

If you say: What is the difference whether he is required to eat because of Yom Tov or because of Sukkot? Rabbenu Yehuda says that there is a practical ramification in a case where it was raining and he ate outside the sukka. Now if because of the honor of Yom Tov, this is good. But if for sukka on the first day of the festival, he must eat again in the sukka after it stops raining, for we learn "fifteenth" - "fifteenth" from Pesach. But on the other days this is not necessary. (Tosafot, Berakhot 49b, s.v. iy)

 

            According to this view, there is no reason to eat in the sukka while it is raining, for this is not considered dwelling in a sukka. But the exemption of mitzta'er regarding excessive effort that need not be invested in order to reach a sukka does not apply on the first night of Sukkot. According to this, it is clear that we are dealing with an obligation of dwelling, to which some of the leniencies applying the rest of the week do not apply. The Rashba in a responsum (IV, no. 78) disagrees with both of these views. He understands that we are dealing with dwelling that is no different than the dwelling of the rest of the week, except for the fact that on the first night it is obligatory, while on the other days it is optional:

 

It seems to me that regarding one who suffers distress and upon whom it is raining, he is not required to eat in a sukka once it has reached the stage that "a stiff dish is spoiled." For we say "'You shall dwell' – similar to [normal] residence." And the Torah only obligated one to eat in a sukka in the manner that he eats in his house. For were this the case, it is impossible that the Gemara would not say so. And that which the Sages learned "fifteenth" - "fifteenth" from the festival of Sukkot, this is not to teach you that he is obligated in any event to eat in a sukka on the first night, even in a situation of distress, for one who suffers distress is exempt. But only that where he does not suffer distress, he is obligated to eat [in a sukka] on the first night, but more than that he is not obligated, against Rabbi Eliezer. Know that this is true, for according to Rabbi Eliezer, a person is obligated to eat fourteen meals in the sukka. And both according to him and according to the Sages, day-time travelers are exempt during the day, and night-time travelers are exempt at night. And we do not find that they distinguish between the first night and the rest of the days and nights. And were this the case, they would surely say: When does this apply? On the other days. But on the first night he is obligated, for Scripture has established it as an obligation. Rather, he is certainly not obligated at all, for Scripture exempted him, from that which it states: "You shall dwell," from which we derive: "'You shall dwell' – similar to [normal] residence." And even night-watchmen over gardens and orchards are exempt from sukka at night. He who says they are obligated must bring proof. We have not heard or seen anything.

 

 

            In next week's shiur we shall deal with the controversy between Rabbi Eliezer and the Sages regarding a stolen or borrowed sukka.

 

1)          27b, "Tanya Rabbi Eliezer omer keshem… she'ula ketiv kol ha-ezrach," and Rashi; 31a, Tanu rabbanan: Sukka gezula… lav karka didei hu."

2)          Regarding the passage on 31a – Rashi; Tosafot, s.v. aval (Gilyon ha-Shas).

3)          On our sugya – [Background: Bava Batra 137b, "Ha-Achin shekanu etrog… o rimon lo"; Chullin 136a, "Tzitzit af al gav… kol lamed yom"]; Tosafot s.v. kol; Ran,12b in Alfasi, s.v. dikhtiv, u-ma; [Responsa Rivash, no. 347].

 

What are the positions of the Rishonim regarding the law of joint ownership with respect to the various mitzvot? What do they teach us about the requirement of ownership regarding these mitzvot?

 

(Translated by David Strauss)