The next SALT follows this one.
Yesterday, we noted the question raised by the Magen Avraham (651:6) regarding the Gemara’s discussion of the requirement to hold the lulav in the right hand and the etrog in the left. The Gemara (Sukka 37b) explained that since the right hand is considered more prominent, it is appropriate to use the right hand to hold the lulav, to which the hadasim and aravot are bound, so that the right hand holds three mitzvot, whereas the left hand holds just the etrog. The Magen Avraham noted that seemingly, this should be required irrespective of this consideration, due to the fact that the text of the berakha recited over the arba minim specifies the lulav (“al netilat lulav”). Just as Halakha requires holding in one’s right hand the piece of food over which he recites a berakha, it should, presumably, require holding the lulav in one’s right hand while reciting the berakha over the lulav. Why, then, does the Gemara present a different reason for this halakha?
Rav Shlomo Kluger, in his Chokhmat Shelomo, noted that this question hinges on the debate among the Rishonim as to how a left-handed individual should hold the four species. The Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 651:3) follows the ruling of the Ba’al Ha-itur that Halakha draws no distinction in this regard between right-handed and left-handed people, and even those who are left-handed hold the lulav in their right hand. The Rama, however, notes the Ashkenazic practice, which is based on the position of the Rosh and Rabbeinu Yerucham, that left-handed individuals should hold the lulav in their left hand. The Chokhmat Shelomo observes that according to all views, a left-handed person who recites a berakha over a piece of food should hold the food in his left hand. Therefore, according to the view of the Shulchan Arukh, the Gemara needed a different reason for holding the lulav in the right hand in order to explain why even a left-handed person should do so. The standard guidelines governing the recitation of berakhot would dictate holding the lulav in the left hand, and so the Gemara clarifies that the more prominent hand should hold three mitzvot, rather than just one, thus explaining why even a left-handed person holds the lulav in his right hand.
The Chokhmat Shelomo adds that regardless, we can answer the Magen Avraham’s question based on the fact that the etrog is the species which the Torah lists first in issuing the command of arba minim (Vayikra 23:40). As the Torah itself seems to ascribe to the etrog a degree of prominence over the other three species, one might have assumed that it should be held in the right hand when we recite the berakha and fulfill the mitzva. The Gemara therefore established that the lulav, which is held together with two other species, is more prominent by virtue of its consisting of three mitzvot, and thus it is held in the right hand.
The opening Mishna of Masekhet Sukka establishes that – according to the majority view among the Tanna’im – a sukka which is higher than twenty amot (approximately 30-40 feet) is disqualified for use for the mitzva. The Gemara cites numerous different explanations of this ruling, including Rabbi Zeira’s remark that “until twenty amot, a person dwells in the shade of the sukka; beyond twenty amot, a person dwells not in the shade of the sukka, but rather in the shade of the walls.” This means that the sukka obligation requires a structure whose sekhakh – covering – provides shade, and this is not possible if the sekhakh is too high. If the sekhakh is higher than twenty amot, it hardly provides any shade to those inside the sukka, as the vast majority of the shade is provided by the walls. Since the sekhakh is situated very high in the air, the amount of sunlight it blocks is negligible, and thus this sukka cannot be defined as a halakhic sukka. Later (2b), the Gemara cites Rav as commenting that Rabbi Zeira would allow a sukka that is higher than twenty amot if it covers an area larger than four square amot. When the surface area of the sekhakh is this large, it provides shade even from a height of higher than twenty amot, and so such as sukka is acceptable. (For a discussion of Rabbi Zeira’s view from a mathematical standpoint, see Dr. Shimon Bolag’s article in Ha-ma’ayan, vol. 20, pp. 71-75.)
Rav Yaakov Ettlinger, in his Arukh La-ner (siyum printed after commentary to Masekhet Sukka), suggests that this halakha, as understood by Rabbi Zeira, symbolically reflects one of the central themes of the mitzva of sukka. The sekhakh, Rav Ettlinger writes, which is situated above us as we reside in the sukka, represents divine providence, the care and protection which God constantly and graciously provides. This why the sekhakh must be raw vegetation that has not been processed in any way, as it symbolizes the absence of human initiative. The walls of the sukka, by contrast, represent human effort, the work we invest in order to help ourselves. A sukka requires both sekhakh and walls, because we believe that we are to both invest effort to care for ourselves, and trust that the outcome ultimately depends solely on Providence. Both elements are indispensable to the sukka, because both elements are indispensable to a proper religious life. However, Rav Ettlinger writes, the mitzva of sukka is meant to draw our attention primarily to the sekhakh, to our reliance on the Almighty. We reside in the sukka to commemorate the period our ancestors spent journeying through the uninhabitable wilderness, miraculously cared for by God, to remind us that even now, when we build our own “walls,” and work to earn a sustenance, ultimately, it is God who provides us with our needs. The mitzva of sukka can be fulfilled only if we dwell in the shade of the sekhakh, if we recognize that we live under God’s constant care and rely at all times on His beneficence – because this is precisely the message (or at least one of the messages) conveyed by this mitzva. If the shade of the sukka is supplied mainly by the walls, the sukka is unfit for use because it represents the mistaken notion that our needs are cared for primarily through our own work and initiative. The mitzva of sukka reminds us that no less now than during the period when our ancestors traveled the desert, we are dependent solely on the “sekhakh” – on God’s never-ending care and blessings, that notwithstanding the need to do everything we can to care for ourselves, ultimately, the results depend exclusively on the Almighty.