Those Who are Exempt from Mitzvat Sukka (2)

  • Rav David Brofsky



Last week, we discussed those who are exempt from themitzva of sukka due to the principle of “teshvu ke-ein taduru,” which teaches that one’s dwelling in the sukka should be similar to the manner in which one lives in his home. Therefore, as we saw last week, those who are traveling, as well as those who are guarding the city or even gardens or orchards, are exempt from the sukka.


This week, we will continue our study of those who are exempt from eating and sleeping in the sukka, as we study the laws of one who is sick and one who experiences discomfort in the sukka. We will also discuss the impact of rain upon the mitzva to sit in the sukka, and conclude with a universal exemption taught in the context of sukka – one who is engaged in the fulfillment of a mitzva (osek be-mitzva).


Cholim – The Exemption of the Sick


            The mishna (Sukka 25a) teaches that “the sick and their attendants are free from the obligation of sukka.” The Tosefta, cited by the gemara (Sukka 26a), explains:


Our Rabbis taught: The sick spoken of here is not [only] an sick person who is in danger, but also one who is not in danger, even one who suffers from eye ache or headache. R. Shimon b. Gamliel said: On one occasion, I was suffering with my eyes in Caesarea and R. Yose be-Rivi permitted me and my attendants to sleep outside the sukka.


The Rishonim (see Tosafot 26a, s.v. holkhei, for example) explain that the sick are exempt from dwelling in the sukka because of “teshvu ke’ein taduru” – as a sick person might even leave his own home in order to find a more comfortable place. Therefore, many Acharonim (Levush 640:3; see also Mishna Berura 640:9 and Arukh Ha-shulchan 640:3) assume that this exemption only applies to one who can seek relief outside of the sukka.


            Some Acharonim offer another reason. The Taz (640:8; see also Maharik 178 and Teshuvot Ha-Geonim, Musafie 51) maintains that the exemption for the sick and of the “mitzta'er” in the sukka is due to one’s inability to properly concentrate on the mitzva of sukka while experiencing discomfort. Therefore, regardless of whether one’s discomfort will be alleviated upon leaving the sukka, such a person is exempt from the mitzva of sukka.


            The Acharonim disagree as to the reason for the exemption of the “attendants” (meshamsheihen). Some (Levush 640:3; see also Shulchan ArukhHa-Rav 640:7 and Mishna Berura 640:7) explain that the attendants are exempt due to the principle of “ha-osek ba-mitzva patur min ha-mitzva,” one who is engaged in the performance of one mitzva is exempt from another. The Arukh Ha-Shulchan (640:3-4) argues that the exemption of the attendants is also based upon teshvu ke-ein taduru, as one who serves a sick person will also leave one’s house when necessary. R. Yaakov Reischer (1661-1733) argues in his Shevut Ya’akov (3:51) that the attendants are exempt because they are “mitztaer,” as they feel the pain the sick to whom they are attending.


The Shulchan Arukh (640:3) rules that those who are sick, even those who suffer from a headache, are exempt from the sukka, while their attendants are only excused when they are needed. 


Mitzta'er – One who Experiences Discomfort in the Sukka


The gemara (Sukka 26b) teaches:


Rav permitted R. Acha Bardela to sleep in an enclosed bed in a sukka in order [to shut out] the gnats. Rava permitted R. Acha b. Adda to sleep outside the sukka on account of the odor of the day. Rava is here consistent, since Rava said: He who is in discomfort is free from the obligation of sukka.


One who suffers discomfort, according to the gemara, is exempt from the sukka. The Rishonim debate the halakhic significance of this discomfort, as well as the type of discomfort that may exempt one from the sukka.


As mentioned above, most Rishonim view teshvu ke-ein taduru as the source of this exemption – just as one would not remain in one’s house when feeling discomfort, so too one may leave the sukka upon experiencing discomfort. Some, however, exempt one experiencing discomfort for different reasons. The Ramban (cited by Ritva 28b; see alsoRamban, Vayikra 23:42), for example, which we discussed last week, understands that “the obligation of sukka applies only to one who is 'like a green tree (ezrach ra’anan) in its native soil' (Tehillim 37:35) – to the exclusion of wayfarers, produce watchmen, and one who suffers discomfort.” Similarly, the Taz (640:8) maintains that the exemption of the “mitztaer” is due to his inability to properly concentrate on the mitzva of sukka while experiencing discomfort. This is consistent with the position of the Bach (625), the Taz’s father-in-law, who rules that one must keep in mind the intention of the mitzva of sukka, as the verse (Vayikra 23:42) says, “that your generations may know …” Therefore, regardless of whether one’s discomfort will be alleviated upon leaving the sukka, such a person is exempt from the mitzva of sukka.


            The Rema (640:4) rules that one is only exempt if leaving the sukka will relieve his discomfort.


            What are considered legitimate sources of discomfort? In addition to gnats and foul odors, the gemara (Sukka 29a) relates that if strong winds cause small pieces of sekhakh to fall into the sukka, causing discomfort, one is exempt. The Yerushalmi (Sukka 2:10) mentions extreme heat and mosquitoes as cause to leave the sukka as well.


The Terumat Ha-Deshen (Teshuvot 93) rules that if one’s light is extinguished during the Shabbat meal and there is light in the house, one may leave the sukka and eat in the house. Furthermore, one need not exert much effort to bring one’s meal to another’s sukka, as this is also considered to be “uncomfortable.” The Shulchan Arukh (640:4) mentions winds, flies, and foul odors. The Rema cites the Terumat Ha-Deshen.


            Is there an objective level of discomfort, at which point one is exempt from the sukka? The Tur (640) writes:


It seems that an individual person cannot say “I am uncomfortable” in order to be exempt from the sukka. Rather, [one is only exempt] with a situation which people ordinarily find uncomfortable.


In other words, the Tur maintains that there must be some sort of “objective” criterion for mitzta'er. The Bi’ur Halakha (640) notes that the Ran (Sukka 12a, s.v. chatan) most likely disagrees, but the Rema (640:4) rules in accordance with the Tur.


            The Acharonim question the validity of this ruling, as the gemara (Sukka 29a) brings the case of R. Yosef, who wished to leave the sukka when it began to rain, before his “porridge spoiled,” as the mishna (Sukka 28b) prescribes. He said, “For me, as I am fastidious, this is like the porridge becoming spoiled.” R. Yosef apparently maintains that an istinus, an especially sensitive person (aninei ha-da’at), may be exempted before others. This seems to imply that the standards of mitztaer are subjective, and not objective. The Taz (640:6) explains that since all istinuses would experience discomfort in such a situation, as this constitutes and objective level of discomfort for them.


Building a Sukka in a Place of Discomfort


The Yerushalmi cited above mentions excessive heat as a reason to deem one mitzta’er, and it would seem that extreme cold should also be reason to exempt one from sitting in the sukka. Rashi (Sukka 25b, s.v. tza’ara) in fact mentions cold as a source of discomfort, and the Rema (639:2), for example, writes that “people do not sleep in the sukka, except for those who are careful about mitzvot, because of the extreme cold, since it is uncomfortable to sleep in cold places.”


The Rema (660:4), citing the Yerei’im (421), raises a new and serious concern, however:


If one made [the sukka] in a place in which one would be uncomfortable to eat, drink, or sleep or where he cannot perform one of the above acts because of the fear of robbers, one does not fulfill [the mitzva] with that sukka at all, even when those actions that are not uncomfortable, because it is not similar to living-dwelling [in a house] where one can perform all his needs.


According to this position, if one cannot sleep in the sukka due to the cold, then the sukka may be invalid, and one may not even eat in the sukka during the day!


R. Tzvi Hirsch b. Yaakov Ashkenazi (1656–1718) disagrees with the Yerei’im in his Responsa (Chakham Tzvi 94; see also Sha’are Teshuva 640:5, Mishna Berura 640:20 and in the Sha’ar Ha-Tziyun 25), ruling that one may erect one sukka intended for eating and another for sleeping.


            What is the basis of this debate? The Yerei’im must maintain that a sukka in which one cannot sleep in simply not considered to be a sukka; in other words, the sukka itself is disqualified. The Chakham Tzvi argues, on the other hand, that the principle of teshvu ke-ein taduru, from which the exemption of mitzta’er is derived, relates to the person’s personal obligation, and not to the validity of the sukka. (The Gra, Be’ur Ha-Gra 640:4, offers numerous examples in which discomfort may indeed invalidate the sukka- see Shulchan Arukh 634:1, 633:9, 628:1.)


            Assuming that we accept the position of the Yerei’im, the Acharonim question how one may ever build a sukka in a cold or hot climate, or in any place in which one cannot reside in the sukka both day and night. They offer numerous justifications. The Mishna Berura (640:18), for example, cites those who explain that even a sukka built in a cold place may be considered “fit for sleeping” if one has sufficient blankets and sheets.


However, we might suggest an entirely different understanding of the Yerei’im. While the Chakham Tzvi understands that only a sukka that is unfit for both sleeping and eating is invalid, the Yerei’im may maintain that one’s obligation to “dwell” in a sukka entails ensuring that one can eat and sleep in a sukka, just as one ensures that one can both eat and sleep in one’s house. If, however, one were to build one sukka for eating and another for sleeping, that would seemingly also suffice.


Furthermore, if one is simply unable to construct a sukka in which he can sleep, this is possibly also sufficient, as one has ensured that he may live in a sukka to the best of his abilities, and thus fulfilled “and you shall dwell…” Similarly, the Peri Megadim (Eshel Avraham 640:6) writes that if it is impossible to build a sukka in a place where one can sleep, “this is considered to be ke-ein taduru.”


The Acharonim (Mishna Berura 640:20, Arukh Ha-Shulkhan 640:9) write that be-di’avad, one may eat in a sukka constructed in a place in which one cannot sleep.


Finally, as mentioned above, the Rishonim debate whether a mitzta’er is exempt from the sukka on the first night as well. The Rema (ibid.) writes that on the first night of Sukkot, a mitzta’er is obligated to eat in the sukka. The Mishna Berura (640:25 and 639:39) rules that since one sits in the sukka out of doubt in this case, one should not say the blessing “leishev ba-sukka.


Rain – The Exemption of Yardu Geshamim


            The Talmud (Sukka 28b) teaches that one who is sitting in the sukka when it begins to rain, may leave the sukka:


All the seven days [of the festival], a man must make the sukka his permanent abode and his house his temporary abode. If rain fell, when may one be permitted to leave it? When the porridge would become spoiled. They propounded a parable. To what can this be compared? To a slave who comes to fill the cup for his master, and he poured a pitcher over his face.


The gemara explains the parable: “The master poured the pitcher over his face and said, ‘I have no desire for your service.” As the Rema (639:7) writes, “One who leaves the sukka because of rain should not leave in a contemptuous manner, but rather he should humbly leave like a servant who poured a drink for his master, who then poured it on his head.”


            The mishna implies that the ideal fulfillment of the mitzva of sukka – “teshvu” – entails “making the sukka his permanent abode.” Most Rishonim assume that one may therefore leave the sukka when it rains, just as anyone who experiences discomfort in the sukka may seek relief in one’s house (Rosh Berakhot 7:23; Rashba, Responsa 4:75), as we discussed last week. If so, then we must understand why the mishna specifies an objective “shiur,” at which point one may leave the sukka.


            According to the Tur (640), who maintains that there must be a somewhat objective level of discomfort in order to leave the sukka, the mishna simply spells out this objective level. Interestingly, the Ran (Sukka 13a, s.v. matnitin), who, as we saw, may maintain that the level of discomfort that frees one from the obligation of sukka is subjective, offers a different interpretation of our mishna. He explains that one who experiences discomfort from the rain certainly does not need to enter the sukka. The mishna, however, relates to an additional concern – one who leaves the sukka in the middle of his meal may appear to be “rejecting the sukka” (ke-meva’et be-sukka), and therefore may only leave the sukka after his food has spoiled. He concludes, however, that he personally does not rely upon this leniency, as it cannot be supported by other sources.


            Must one start a meal in the sukka when it appears that it will begin raining shortly? The Ritva (Sukka 29a, s.v. tannu rabannan) writes that if one sees that it is about to rain, one is already exempt from the sukka. Seemingly, one would not begin eating a meal in one’s house, with all the necessary preparations, if he knows that he will have to stop in the middle and continue eating elsewhere (teshvu ke-ein taduru). The Radbaz (6:320) disagrees, and the Shulchan Arukh (639:6) implies that this exemption only applies once one has begun to eat in the sukka.


            Some understand the exemption due to rain in a completely different manner. They suggest that while one who experiences discomfort may be not be required to remain in the sukka, a sukka which cannot protect those sitting in it from rain cannot be considered a home at all! Indeed, the verse says (Yeshayahu 4:6), “And there shall be a pavilion (sukka) for a shadow in the day-time from the heat, and for a refuge and for a covert from storm and from rain.” A sukka that cannot provide shelter from the rain cannot be considered a sukka (see Sukka 2b).


            Whether we view this halakha as a “petur gavra” (a personal exemption) or a “pesul be-cheftza” (a disqualification of the sukka) may yield numerous differences. For example, as we discussed previously, the Rishonim debate whether teshvu ke-ein taduru and the exemption of one who experiences discomfort applies on the first night of Sukkot. Some Rishonim (see Tosafot, Berakhot 49b, s.v. iy; Rosh, Berakhot 7:23; Hagahot Asheri, Sukka 2:20) cite a view which maintains that even if it rains one must eat in the sukka. (See also Meiri, Sukka 26a who reports that often, if it would rain on the first night of Sukkot, his teaches would “put their hats on their heads and eat in the sukka.”) Others (Rashba, Responsa 4:78; Ritva Sukka 26a, s,v, ha de-amrinan) insist that the gemara (Sukka 28b) did not distinguish between the first night and other nights; one may always leave the sukka when it begins to rain.


The Rema (639:5) rules that on the first night, one should eat at least a ke-zayit in the sukka, even if it is raining. The Acharonim debate whether, in this case, one should eat without the blessing of “leshev ba-sukka,” as the Rema may only requires on to eat in the sukka as a stringency (see, for example, Hagahot R. Akiva Eiger, 639:7, who cites the Tzalach; see also Mishna Berura 639:35, who also discusses whether on should wait until midnight, lest it stop raining), or whether one should say the berakha, in accordance with those Rishonim who maintain that one must eat in the sukka on the first night, even in the rain (Taz 639:17). Practically, if it rains on the first night of Sukkot, it is customary to eat a ke-zayit of bread in the sukka without the berakha, and if the rain stops, to return to the sukka and eat a ke-beitza of bread with the blessing.


            The Gra (Bi’ur Ha-Gra 639:7) writes that those who maintain that one is exempt from eating in the sukka on the first night in the rain believe that “ein shem sukka alav” – the sukka is not considered to be a valid sukka. The Sefer Ma’ase Rav (217) records that the Gra ruled that one should not eat in the sukka in the rain on the first night, because the sukka is not considered to be a sukka at all. However, he held that one should stay up all night, waiting for the rain to stop, in order to eat in the sukka. The Gra apparently agreed that teshvu ke-ein taduru does not exempt one from eating in the sukka on the first night, but until it stops raining, there is no sukka to eat in!


            The Acharonim debate whether one may rely upon the lenient opinion and eat in one’s home if it rains on the second night of Yom Tov outside of Israel or whether one must recite kiddush and eat a ke-zayit in the sukka, and then conclude in it one’s home (see Terumat Ha-Deshen 95, who concludes that one who wishes to be stringent may eat a ke-zayit of bread in the sukka before concluding the meal; see Radbaz, Responsa 6:320). The Mishna Berura (639:36) writes that one may recite kiddush and she-hechiyanu and eat the entire meal in one’s home, and afterwards eat a kezayit of bread in the sukka and then recite Birkat Ha-Mazon in the house.


            What should one do when the rain stops after leaving the sukka? The gemara (Sukka 29a) cites a Tosefta, which teaches:


Our Rabbis taught: If he was eating in the sukka and rain fell and he left [the sukka], he need not trouble to return there until he has finished his meal.


The Acharonim explain that the effort expended to return to the sukka may constitute a sort of mitzta’er (Levush 639:6), and changing location in the middle of a meal is certainly not “ke-ein taduru” (Arukh Ha-Shulchan 639:24).


            Similarly, one who is sleeping is the sukka when it begins to rain, may leave the sukka, and does not need to return after the rain stops. (See Rema 639:7, who writes that even a bit of rain may justify one who is sleeping in the sukka to return to his house.)


If he was sleeping in the sukka and rain fell and he left, he need not trouble to return until it is dawn. They asked them: [Is the reading] “she-ye'or” (until he awakens) or “sheye'or” (until it is dawn)? Come and hear: [It has been taught]: Until he awakens and the morning star appear.


One does not need to return to the sukka until one awakens, the next morning.


One Who is Fulfilling a Different Mitzva – Osek Be-Mitzva Patur min Ha-Mitzva


            We discussed above those who are exempt due to the principle of teshvu ke-ein taduru. As we saw, travelers, guards and watchmen, the sick, and those experiencing discomfort are not obligated to dwell in the sukka, as each of them would not normally hesitate to leave his home in the given situation. Interestingly, the mishna (Sukka 25b) begins its discussion of those who are released from the mitzva of sukka with a universal exemption: osek be-mitzva patur min ha-mitzva. The gemara teaches:


Those who are engaged on a religious errand (sheluchei mitzva) are free from [the obligations of] sukka.

It has been taught: R. Chanania b. Akabya said: Scribes of books of the Law, tefillin and mezuzot, their agents and their agents’ agents, and all who are engaged in holy work, including sellers of tekhelet, are free from the obligation of prayer and tefillin and all the commandments mentioned in the Torah. This confirms the words of R. Yose the Galilean, who laid down: One who is occupied with the performance of a religious duty is [at that time] free from the fulfillment of other religious duties.


The gemara relates a story about “R. Chisda and Rabba son of R. Huna, who, when visiting on the Sabbath of the Festival the house of the Exilarch, slept on the river bank of Sura, saying: We are engaged on a religious errand and are [therefore] free [from the obligation of Sukka].” Traveling to greet the Exilarch constitutes a religious duty (see Rosh Ha-Shana 16b), a mitzva, which would suffice to exempt one from sitting in the sukka.


            The Rishonim debate whether one is only exempt from the second mitzva if its performance would hinder the fulfillment of the first (Tosafot, Sukka 25a, s.v. sheluchei), or whether even one who can fulfill both mitzvot is exempt as long as he is actively engaged in the fulfillment of the first (Ra’avad, Rif, Sukka 11b; see also Ran, Sukka 11a, s.v. ve-ika). Apparently, these Rishonim disagree as to whether one is essentially obligated in both mitzvot, but excused from one if its performance will hinder the fulfillment of the first, or whether fundamentally one cannot be obligated to actively fulfill two mitzvot concurrently. These approaches may yield different halakhic conclusions.


For example, in general, one who misses one of the three obligatory daily prayers should recite the next prayer twice; one who did not recite the morning Shemoneh Esrei should recite the Shemoneh Esrei of Mincha a second time, known as a tefillat tashlumin (a “make-up” prayer). The Acharonim debate whether one who missed a prayer because he was involved in the performance of another mitzva, such as one who was involved in communal needs (tzarkhei tzibbur), should recite a tefilla tashlumin. The Derisha (Yoreh De’ah 341) writes that since he was exempt from prayer at the time, as he was osek be-mitzva, he does not need to recite a tefillat tashlumin. The Taz (Orach Chaim 108:1) disagrees, and writes that one who is involved in the performance of a mitzva is no different than one who is sick, and unintentionally, or because of reasons beyond his control, could not pray, in which case one prays the next Shemoneh Esrei twice.


The Derisha and the Taz clearly disagree as to whether one who is engaged in the fulfillment of a mitzva is completely exempt from the second mitzva or simply excused from it. Similarly, the Acharonim question whether one who does fulfill both mitzvot should recite a blessing on the second mitzva (see Sha’ar Ha-Tziun 475:39).


The Rema (38:8) rules in accordance with the Tosafot, and the Shulchan Arukh (640:7) rules that sheluchei mitzva, including those traveling to great their teacher on the festival, to learn Torah, or to redeem captives are exempt from the sukka (Mishna Berura 640:35). Some (see Sefer Sukka Ke-Hilkhata, pg. 130, ftnt. 25) suggest that one may visit one’s parents on the festival, a fulfillment of the mitzva of kibbud av ve-em (honoring one’s parents), even if he will not have a sukka within which to sleep.


            Next week we will begin our study of the arba minim.