Three Divrei Torah for Sukkot - Chag Sameach!
The Gemara in Masekhet Sukka (27b) brings the minority position of Rabbi Eliezer that one fulfills the mitzva of sukka on Sukkot only in a sukka which he legally owns. In Rabbi Eliezer’s view, one who is invited to eat or sleep in his fellow’s sukka does not fulfill the mitzva, as one must reside specifically in his own sukka. This ruling is based on the Torah’s formulation in reference to the sukka – “ta’aseh lekha” (“you shall make for yourself” – Devarim 16:13). The word “lekha,” according to Rabbi Eliezer, indicates that one must own the sukka he uses for the mitzva. Rabbi Eliezer compares the mitzva of sukka in this regard to the mitzva of the four species, which the Torah introduces with the formulation, “u-lkachtem lakhem” – “you shall take for yourselves” (Vayikra 23:40), from which the Sages inferred that one fulfills the obligation (on the first day of Sukkot) only with four species which he legally owns. By the same token, according to Rabbi Eliezer, one must own the sukka he uses for the sukka obligation, which the Torah introduces with the term “lekha.”
Of course, Halakha does not follow this opinion, as the majority of the Tanna’im disagreed, and maintained that one may fulfill the mitzva of sukka in somebody else’s sukka. This ruling is inferred from the verse in Sefer Vayikra (23:42), “Kol ha-ezrach be-Yisrael yeishevu ba-sukkot” – “All citizens of Yisrael shall reside in sukkot.” The word “sukkot” in this verse is spelled without the letter vav, such that the word could be read in the singular form (“sukkat”). The Gemara thus understands this verse as alluding to the fact that “all Yisrael are able to reside in a single sukka” – meaning, that all Jews in the world could, theoretically, share a single sukka. On this basis, the Sages concluded that one can fulfill the mitzva even with a sukka that he does not own.
It is not clear, at first glance, how this reading of the verse proves that one does not need to own the sukka he uses to fulfill the mitzva. After all, if all Jews share a single sukka, then each person partially owns the sukka. How, then, does this prove that one is not required to own the sukka he uses for the mitzva?
Rashi explains that if all Jews in the world share ownership over a single sukka, then necessarily, no single individual owns a legally significant value of the sukka. Each Jew’s portion is worth a minuscule amount (far less than a “shava peruta” – the lowest unit of Talmudic currency), and thus no Jew can be said to own the sukka in a legally meaningful sense. This hypothetical scenario to which the Torah alludes thus demonstrates that ownership is not required for the fulfillment of the mitzva of sukka.
Tosafot disagree, arguing that this conclusion was reached by the simple fact that the Torah envisions Jews fulfilling the mitzva with a sukka which they jointly own. According to Rabbi Eliezer, who requires using a sukka which one owns, one cannot fulfill the mitzva with a sukka over which he shares ownership with somebody else. As mentioned, Rabbi Eliezer compares the mitzva of sukka to the mitzva of four species, which one must personally own, and Tosafot note (citing the Gemara in Masekhet Bava Batra 137b) that partners who jointly own the four species cannot fulfill the mitzva with those plants. Necessarily, then, Rabbi Eliezer likewise does not allow using for the mitzva a sukka over which one shares ownership. As such, it suffices for the majority view to note the Torah’s allusion to a sukka jointly owned by all Jews to disprove Rabbi Eliezer’s position. The critical point, according to Tosafot, is not that no Jew owns a significant value of the sukka, but rather than no Jew owns the sukka exclusively.
In defense of Rashi’s explanation, the Ritva asserts that according to Rashi, although partners who jointly own the four species cannot use them for the mitzva, Rabbi Eliezer would allow partners who jointly own a sukka to use that sukka for the mitzva. The difference, the Ritva explains, lies in the fact that when one partner takes the four species, he takes them in their entirety, and necessarily uses the other partner’s share in the species. As the Torah requires using species which one owns, the mitzva cannot be fulfilled in this fashion. When one uses a sukka, however, he uses only the space which he occupies, which can be determined to be his share in the sukka (based on the halakhic concept of bereira). Since a partner can use the sukka without making use of the other partner’s share in the sukka, he is considered to be using his own sukka, and thus even according to Rabbi Eliezer, this would be acceptable.
A much simpler and more straightforward reading of the Gemara is suggested by Rav Elazar Moshe Horowitz of Pinsk, in his notes to Masekhet Sukka (printed in the back of standard editions of the Talmud). He explains that when the Gemara interprets the verse as alluding to a scenario of all Jews using a single sukka, it refers to a single Jew’s sukka. In other words, this hypothetical situation is not one of a sukka jointly owned by the entire Jewish Nation, but rather of one Jew’s sukka which all other Jews can, theoretically, use for the fulfillment of the mitzva. According to this reading, the verse alludes to precisely the case under debate by Rabbi Eliezer and the other Sages – whether one may use his fellow’s sukka for the mitzva, and thus the other Sages prove from this verse that one may fulfill the mitzva using his fellow’s sukka.
The Gemara in Masekhet Sukka (31a) brings a debate between Rabbi Yehuda and the other Tanna’im as to whether a dried lulav is suitable for the mitzva of the arba minim on Sukkot. Rabbi Yehuda maintained that a dried lulav may be used, because it is only the etrog, and not the other three species, which is referred to as “hadar” (“beautiful” – Vayikra 23:40). In Rabbi Yehuda’s view, the etrog is the only one of the four species which has a special requirement of “hadar” – that it must be aesthetically pleasing – and so a dried lulav is acceptable. The other Tanna’im, however, maintain that although only the etrog is described as “hadar,” the “hadar” requirement nevertheless applies to all four species.
Halakha follows the majority opinion, that all four species must maintain the standards implied by the term “hadar.” However, according to one view among the Rishonim, a distinction between the etrog and the other species exists even within the majority opinion. The Gemara (31a-b) establishes that if the only available lulav is withered, it may be used for the fulfillment of the mitzva, because the “hadar” requirement is not indispensable for the mitzva’s fulfillment when no other options are available. The Ritva asserts that this is true of the three other species, but not of the etrog. Since the Torah explicitly required the standard of “hadar” for the etrog, one cannot fulfill the mitzva with a dried etrog. This is in contrast to the view of Tosafot, who maintained that all four species are equivalent in this respect.
Regardless, it is clear that the element of “hadar” is uniquely associated with the etrog, more so than with the other three species. This close connection is particularly pronounced in the view of the Ritva, but even according to Tosafot, it is significant that the Torah introduced the “hadar” requirement specifically in reference to the etrog, even though it applies equally to all four species.
Some have suggested a symbolic explanation for the special connection between the etrog and the quality of “hadar.” Rav Naftali of Ropshitz is cited as explaining the notion of “hadar” based on the Midrash’s comment (Vayikra Rabba 30:14) that the four species represent different parts of the body, with the etrog symbolizing the heart (the lulav symbolizing the spine, the hadas the eye, and the arava the mouth). The emphasis of “hadar” in reference to the etrog, Rav Naftali of Ropshitz suggested, teaches of the unique importance of ensuring that our heart is “beautiful,” directed towards the proper priorities and ambitions, as the heart, to a large extent, is what controls the rest of the body and determines our conduct.
A more famous passage in the Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 30:12) explains the four species as symbols of different kinds of Jews, with the etrog symbolizing the most righteous members of the nation, who excel both in Torah knowledge and in mitzva performance. Accordingly, it has been suggested that the special emphasis on “hadar” in regard to the etrog teaches that the righteous scholars are required to maintain uniquely high standards of “beauty” in their conduct and appearance. While we all are, of course, to conduct ourselves in an ethical, dignified and becoming manner, the “etrogim” of the nation, the spiritual leaders, bear a special obligation of “hadar.” As the Rambam discusses at length in Hilkhot Dei’ot (chapter 5), Torah scholars are strictly required to act in a way that brings respect and honor to the Torah which they represent. Therefore, even though the “hadar” obligation applies to all four species, it is especially pronounced in reference to the etrog, emphasizing the unique responsibility that rests upon the spiritual leaders of Am Yisrael to conduct themselves in a “beautiful” manner.
The Gemara in Masekhet Beitza (30b) brings a berayta establishing that anything placed in the sukka for decoration is forbidden for personal use throughout the entirety of the holiday. The berayta gives the example of various kinds of foods – such as fruits and nuts – that were hung in the sukka for decorative purposes, and it states that these foods are forbidden to be eaten throughout Sukkot. This halakha is codified in the Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 638:2), who adds that even if a food hung for decoration falls at some point during Sukkot, it may not be eaten, since it had been earmarked for the purpose of decorating the sukka.
The Rama writes that on Yom Tov and Shabbat, the decorations are considered muktzeh and may not even be moved. Later, the Rama distinguishes in this regard between decorations hung from the sekhakh and those hung on the walls. The Rosh (cited by the Tur and Mishna Berura, beginning of 638) was of the opinion that whereas the sekhakh is forbidden for use during Sukkot, the wood of the walls is permissible for use (such as if, for example, one wishes to chip some wood from the walls to use for a fire). Although the Shulchan Arukh does not follow this opinion, the Rama writes that this view allows us room for leniency at least with regard to the posters and other decorative items placed on the walls. The Rama thus writes that it is permissible to move the wall decorations inside on Shabbat and Yom Tov if rain begins to fall, in order to protect them.
The Mishna Berura notes that many later poskim took issue with the Rama’s leniency, asserting that no distinction exists between the decorations hung from the sekhakh and those placed on the walls. Some – including the Magen Avraham – noted the Gemara’s discussion in Masekhet Sukka (10a-b) where it suggests that the berayta establishing the prohibition against benefitting from the decorations refers to decorative sheets hung “from the side,” which Rashi explains to mean along the walls. This clearly indicates that even the decorations on the walls are included in the prohibition – even according to the Rosh, who permits deriving benefit from the wood of the sukka’s walls.
In defense of the Rama’s ruling, the Mishna Berura notes in his Sha’ar Ha-tziyun that the Sefer Ha-ittur – which, he writes, was not in print in the times of earlier Acharonim – explained the Gemara’s remark differently, as referring to decorations hung to the side of the sekhakh, and not along the walls. While it is not entirely clear what this means, the Gemara does not, according to this interpretation, speak of decorations on the walls, and thus it does not necessarily refute the Rama’s lenient ruling.
In any event, even the Rama writes that one should preferably stipulate before Sukkot that he does not confer the sanctity of the sukka on decorations which he might need to move inside during Sukkot. Although the Rama earlier cited the Maharil as stating that the custom nowadays is not to make a stipulation before Sukkot to permit use of the wood of the sukka or the decorations, he permits making such a stipulation with regard to the wall decorations which might need to be moved inside during Sukkot due to rain and the like.