S.A.L.T. - Sukkot 5779

  • Rav David Silverberg
Motzaei Shabbat
            The Gemara in Masekhet Sukka (38a) tells that Rav Acha bar Yaakov had the practice on Sukkot to wave the four species forward and backward, and declare, “This is an arrow in the eye of the Satan!”  Rav Acha perceived the long, straight, pointy lulav as a symbol of a spear with which we pierce “Satan’s eye.”  How might we explain this symbolic image of the lulav?
            Chatam Sofer (Derashot, p. 67) suggested that the message of Rav Acha’s practice lies in the fact that he perceived the Satan – an allegorical reference to the yetzer ha-ra, our weaknesses and vices – as standing in front of him, facing him.  Rav Acha sought to instruct that even after the intensive period of the Yamim Noraim, when we underwent a process of introspection and repentance, “Satan” is still in front of us, poised to “attack.”  We might make the mistake of believing that after having gone through the process of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, confessing our wrongdoing, acknowledging our failings, begging God for forgiveness, and genuinely resolving to improve henceforth, we have essentially conquered “Satan,” and no longer need to struggle with our faults and our negative tendencies.  We might think that once the Days of Awe have come to a close, we can rest assured that our goals and aspirations for the coming year will be easily realized without much effort.  Rav Acha therefore specifically announced that “Satan” remained in front of him and continued to pose a grave threat.  Even on Sukkot, which comes on the heels of the uplifting experience of the Yamim Noraim, we must continue to struggle against our vices and make a concentrated effort to steer ourselves in the direction we need and so very much want to follow.
            Interestingly, the Gemara expresses its disapproval of Rav Acha’s practice, advising that such statements should not be made “de-ati l-igeruyei bei” – we might end up “provoking” Satan.  What this might mean is that we must never take a “triumphalist” attitude towards our weaknesses and faults.  The Gemara felt that Rav Acha’s statement expressed inappropriate confidence and self-assurance in his ability to withstand temptation and conquer his base instincts.  We are warned never to let our guard down, never to think to ourselves that we are safely protected from “Satan,” from our negative tendencies.  Religious life demands constant effort and struggle, and at no point can we assume that we have entirely divested ourselves of spiritual challenges that we need to work to overcome.
            The arba minim – the four species which we are obligated to hold and wave each day of Sukkot – are arranged with the hadasim and aravot bound to the lulav branch, while the etrog is held separately from those three species.  The Gemara in Masekhet Sukka (37b) establishes that one should hold the lulav – together, of course, with the hadasim and the aravot – in his right hand, and the etrog in his left.  The reason, the Gemara explains, is that the more prominent hand – the right hand – should be used for three mitzvot – the lulav, the hadasim and the aravot – whereas the left, which is less prominent, for the single mitzva of the etrog.
            The Magen Avraham (651:6) raises the question of why the Gemara found it necessary to explain why the lulav should be held in the right hand.  When fulfilling the mitzva of arba minim, we recite the berakha of “al netilat lulav” – specifying the lulav.  And the Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 206:4) rules that whenever one recites a berakha over a piece of food, a beverage, or something fragrant which he smells, he must hold the item in his right hand.  Seemingly, this halakha should extend to the berakha over the lulav.  Since – for reasons which lie beyond the scope of our discussion – we recite the berakha specifically over the lulav, it should naturally follow that we must hold the lulav in our right hand as we recite the berakha over this mitzva.  Why, then, did the Gemara find it necessary to resort to the reason that the lulav includes three mitzvot, whereas the etrog is just one mitzva?
            The Magen Avraham offers two answers to this question.  First, he suggests that the Gemara here also addresses the more basic question of why we hold the lulav and etrog in separate hands, rather than holding them both in the same hand.  Since all four species are included in the mitzva, it would seem appropriate to hold all of them together, in the more prominent hand.  The answer is that the Torah, in formulating this command, appears to set the etrog apart from the other three species, as it links the other three species with the conjunction “ve-” (“and”; “kapot temarim va-anaf eitz avot ve-arvei nachal”).  Once the Torah indicates that the etrog should be held separately from the other three, it stands to reason that the other three should be held in the right hand, given the prominence associated with the right side.
            The Magen Avraham then proceeds to offer what appears to be a far simpler and more convincing answer, noting that Halakha requires holding the three other species in the right hand even when no berakha is recited.  If one takes the four species later in the day, after having already fulfilled the mitzva (such as when one takes the four species for the hoshanot prayer), he does not recite the berakha, since the mitzva had already been fulfilled.  If the reason for holding the lulav in the right hand was due solely to the requirement regarding the recitation of berakhot, then it would not apply in cases when no berakha is recited.  The Gemara therefore presented an additional reason to explain why the lulav is always held in the right hand, even when no berakha is recited.
            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.
            The Mishna in the second chapter of Masekhet Sukka (25a) establishes the well-known rule that it is permissible on Sukkot to eat “arai” – a small amount – outside the sukka.  The Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 639:2) rules that this refers to a quantity of bread up to a ke-beitza (the volume of an egg).
            The Shibolei Ha-leket (344) cites a fascinating ruling in the name of Rabbeinu Avigor, imposing a very significant qualification on this exemption, namely, that it does not apply on Shabbat or Yom Tov.  If one eats even small amounts on the first day of Sukkot (or first two days in the Diaspora), or on Shabbat during Sukkot, then the food must be eaten in the sukka.  This ruling is based upon the principle established by the Gemara in Masekhet Beitza (34b) that even a small snack eaten on Shabbat is treated as a meal with respect to the laws of ma’aser (tithing).  As the Gemara there discusses, if one has produce which he plans on bringing into his home, he may eat small amounts before bringing it into his home without separating the required tithes.  Although he may not eat a meal from this produce, he is allowed to eat small amounts at this point.  However, the Gemara states that on Shabbat, the consumption of even small amounts constitutes a “meal,” insofar as it fulfills one’s obligation of oneg Shabbat (enjoying oneself on Shabbat), and thus such produce may not be eaten in any amounts on Shabbat if the tithes have not been separated.  Rabbeinu Avigdor contended that this provision is relevant to the obligation of sukka, as well.  The consumption of even small amounts of food on Shabbat – and Yom Tov – qualifies as “akhilat keva” – eating a “meal” – and thus requires a sukka.  Therefore, in his view, it is only on the weekdays of Sukkot that Halakha permits eating small amounts outside the sukka.
            Several later writers challenged Rabbeinu Avigdor’s theory in light of the next Mishna in Masekhet Sukka (26b), which tells of two rabbis who were once brought small amounts of food and made a point of eating the food in the sukka.  The Gemara explains that this story was told to instruct that although one is permitted to eat small amounts of food outside the sukka, it is legitimate for a person to act stringently and avoid eating any quantity of food outside the sukka.  (Meaning, adopting such a measure is deemed appropriate and admirable, and not an arrogant display of misplaced piety.)  According to Rabbeinu Avigdor, we might wonder how the Gemara reached such a conclusion.  After all, it is possible that this incident occurred on Shabbat, or on Yom Tov, and it was for this reason that these sages insisted on eating the small amounts of food in the sukka.  The fact that the Gemara did not consider this possibility would seem to prove that no distinction exists in this regard between the different days of Sukkot, and even on Shabbat and Yom Tov, small amounts of food may be eaten outside the sukka.  Indeed, the Elya Rabba (639:1) contends that the halakhic authorities generally ignored Rabbeinu Avigdor’s ruling because it is disproved by the Gemara’s discussion.  (Others, however, suggested ways of defending Rabbeinu Avigdor’s position.  See, for example, the Chida’s discussion in Birkei Yosef, 639:5.)
            Yesterday, we noted the surprising and novel ruling of Rabbeinu Avigdor, cited by the Shibolei Ha-leket (344), qualifying the principle allowing the consumption of small amounts of food outside the sukka on Sukkot.  As the Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 639:2) rules, this refers to amounts up to a ke-beitza (the volume of an egg).  This exemption is mentioned explicitly by the Mishna (Sukka 25a), but Rabbeinu Avigdor asserted that it applies only on the weekdays during Sukkot.  On the first day of Sukkot (or first two days outside Eretz Yisrael), and on Shabbat of Sukkot, the consumption of even small amounts of food is considered significant given the requirement to feast on Shabbat and Yom Tov.  Just as Halakha regards eating small amounts on Shabbat and Yom Tov as significant with respect to tithing (as explained yesterday), with respect to the sukka obligation, too, even small amounts are significant on Shabbat and Yom Tov, and must be eaten in the sukka.
            Rav Yitzchak Nunez Belmonte, in his Sha’ar Ha-melekh commentary to the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah (Hilkhot Sukka 6:7), notes that this view appears to have been taken also by Tosefot, commenting to Masekhet Berakhot (49b).  Tosefot there address the Gemara’s ruling in Masekhet Sukka (27a) that the first night of Sukkot differs from the rest of the festival in that one is required to eat a meal in the sukka on the first night.  During the rest of Sukkot, when we wish to eat a meal we must do so in the sukka; on the first night, however, we are obligated to eat a meal in the sukka.  The Gemara establishes the unique requirement of the first night of Sukkot based on the association between Sukkot and Pesach: just as the Torah requires eating matza on the first night of Pesach, similarly, the Torah requires eating a meal in the sukka on the first night of Sukkot.  Tosefot (among others) raise the question of why the Gemara ignores in this context the general halakhic obligation to eat a meal on Yom Tov.  Irrespective of the association between Sukkot and Pesach, there is a mitzva to eat a meal on Yom Tov, and thus on Sukkot, when all meals must be eaten in the sukka, we are naturally required to eat a meal in the sukkaTosefot answer that indeed, we are in any event required to eat a meal in the sukka on the first day of Sukkot because it is a Yom Tov, but the Gemara establishes that additionally, the association between Sukkot and Pesach imposes the separate requirement to eat a meal on the first night of Sukkot that is independent of the general obligation to eat a meal on Yom Tov.  However, Tosefot then raise the question as to the practical difference between these two requirements.  Why did the Gemara bother establishing the special obligation to eat a meal in the sukka on the first night of Sukkot, when in any event there is an obligation to eat a meal on Yom Tov?
            Seemingly, the Sha’ar Ha-melekh notes, the answer to Tosefot’s question should be obvious.  The obligation to eat a Yom Tov meal can be fulfilled with the quantity of a ke-zayit (the volume of an olive) of a bread, whereas the special obligation to eat a meal in the sukka on the first night of Sukkot requires eating considerably more – an amount exceeding a ke-beitza.  As mentioned, the sukka obligation requires eating in the sukka only meals consisting of this large amount of bread.  Thus, if the Torah requires eating a meal in the sukka on the first night of the holiday, it stands to reason that it requires eating an amount that throughout Sukkot must be eaten in the sukka.  Hence, the special requirement that applies on the first night of Sukkot requires eating more than a ke-beitza on this night, beyond the ke-zayit amount required on every Shabbat and Yom Tov.
            Notably, Tosefot do not present this answer.  Instead, they explain that the difference between the two obligations surfaces in a case where rain fell on the first night of Sukkot, and one ate his meal indoors, after which the rain stopped.  In such a case, one has fulfilled his obligation to eat a Yom Tov meal, but he did not eat a meal in the sukka, and so he would be required to eat a second time, in the sukka.
            Apparently, the Sha’ar Ha-melekh writes, Tosefot felt that both obligations on the first night of Sukkot require eating only a ke-zayit.  Although in general a sukka is required only when eating a larger amount, Tosefot appear to have felt – like Rabbeinu Avigdor – that even the amount of a ke-zayit requires a sukka on Yom Tov (and, presumably, on Shabbat).  Given the special importance of eating on Yom Tov, even smaller amounts are deemed halakhically significant and thus require a sukka.
            The Sha’ar Ha-melekh concedes, however, that this stringency is not mentioned by the halakhic authorities, and thus does not seem to represent the consensus view.
            In describing the procedure for fulfilling the mitzva of the four species on Sukkot, the Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 651:2) writes that one takes the three species in his right hand, and the fourth – the etrog – in his left.  This presentation might perhaps be intended to clarify not only with which hands the different species are to be held, but also the sequence.  Meaning, as several commentators asserted, the Shulchan Arukh here might be intending to establish that one should first take hold of the bundle with the lulav, hadasim and aravot with his right hand, and only thereafter take hold of the etrog in his left hand.
            The Magen Avraham (651:8), however, citing earlier writers, contends that to the contrary, one should first take hold of the etrog before taking hold of the other three species.  Furthermore, the Magen Avraham rules that when one finishes using the four species, he should first put down the lulav, and only then put down the etrog.  In other words, according to the Magen Avraham, when fulfilling the mitzva of arba minim, one must be holding the etrog whenever he holds the lulav (with the hadasim and aravot bound to it).  The basis for this ruling, as the Magen Avraham writes, is the procedure for putting on tefillin.  The Machatzit Ha-shekel explains that when we put on tefillin, we first place the tefillin shel yad on our arms before placing the tefillin shel rosh on our heads, and when we remove our tefillin, we first remove the tefillin shel rosh before removing the tefillin shel yad.  Since the Torah first mentions the requirement of the tefillin shel yad before the tefillin shel rosh, the Sages inferred that the tefillin shel yad must always be worn whenever the tefillin shel rosh is worn.  Hence, we must put on the tefillin shel yad first, and remove it last.  By the same token, the Magen Avraham felt that as the Torah mentions the etrog first when listing the four species (“u-lkachtem lakhem…peri eitz hadar” – Vayikra 23:40), we must take hold of the etrog first and put it down last.
            Interestingly, the Magen Avraham proceeds to note how this ruling affects the case of somebody who wishes to give his arba minim after fulfilling the mitzva to somebody else so he can also fulfill the mitzva.  The first person, the Magen Avraham writes, cannot first hand his fellow the lulav, because his fellow will then be taking hold of the lulav before the etrog, but he also cannot hand his fellow the etrog first, because he must hold the etrog as long as he is holding the lulav.  The Magen Avraham therefore writes that in such a case, the first person must place the four species on a table or other surface (placing first the lulav and then the etrog), from where his fellow will then take them, rather than hand them to his fellow directly.  Later (651:12), the Magen Avraham proposes an alternative option, suggesting that the first person transfer the lulav to his fellow’s left hand, and then the etrog to that same hand.  The second person then transfers the lulav to his right hand.  Since the lulav must be held in the right hand and the etrog in the left, the second person is considered as having first taken hold of the etrog, because taking hold of the lulav with his right hand is halakhically insignificant.
            Rav Yechezkel Landau (author of Noda Bi-yehuda), in his Dagul Mei-revava, dismisses the Magen Avraham’s ruling, rejecting the comparison between arba minim and tefillin.  In his view, one should first pick up the lulav, and after completing the mitzva, one may put the four species down in whichever sequence he chooses.