Travelling and the Mitzva of Sukka
Special Holiday Shiur by the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion
Travelers and the Mitzva of Sukka
by Harav Aharon Lichtenstein
Translated by Rav Eliezer Kwass
[Rav Lichtenstein opened this article with the following footnote: "Because of time constraints, this article did not merit the polish and precision deserving of the written word. However, I have no doubts with regards to its basic content; as for the rest, the article should be taken as an oral presentation put into writing."]
This article will treat the permissibility of eating and sleeping outside the sukka during trips taken during Chol Ha-mo'ed - specifically those organized, as is customary, by youth groups.
The primary source on this issue is the passage in Sukka (26a):
The Rabbis taught: Those travelling during the day are exempt from sukka during the day and obligated at night; those travelling during the night are exempt during the night and obligated during the day; those travelling during both the day and night are exempt both during the day and at night.
The Rif quotes this gemara as halakha, although he leaves out the last case, apparently because it did not appear in his text of the gemara (despite the fact that it flows from the other two). It is cited, almost verbatim, by the Rambam (Hilkhot Sukka 6:4), as well as by the Shulchan Arukh (OC 640:8 - following the Rif's version). As far as I know, no halakhic authority disagrees.
The basis of the exemption for travelers is the principle of "teishvu ke-ein taduru" - that living in the sukka demands no more (and no less, as in Sukka 28b) than living in one's house does. As Rashi explains (Sukka 26a, s.v. Holkhei):
"For it is written, 'Live in sukkot,' as one lives in his home. Just as during the rest of the year one would not refrain from going on a business trip, so during the chol ha-mo'ed the Torah did not require that one refrain from travelling."
The intensity of a person's relationship to his sukka must parallel his relationship to his home, but need not exceed it. There is no obligation that a person suffer discomfort in order to live in his sukka any more than he would to live at home. Neither is there any demand that a person be confined to a sukka to the degree that it inhibits his normal activities, any more than one's movements would be limited by his connection to his home.
It would seem obvious, then, that one is permitted to arrange a trip during Sukkot, even if it involves neglecting the mitzva of dwelling in a sukka - just as one would not refrain from going on a trip merely because it would involve eating, drinking, and sleeping outside his home, or outside any home. Rashi's mention of a business trip seems to only be an example, although his formulation might lead one to think that he permits only traveling out of financial need. The Rishonim do not qualify the reasons it is permitted to travel; and when the Tosafot (s.v. Holkhei) summarize Rashi, they likewise do not mention the reason for the trip. [In Iggerot Moshe OC II:93, Harav Moshe Feinstein zt"l suggests that a pleasure trip would not be included in the traveler's exemption from a sukka. This inference seems difficult to me. It also seems that Rav Moshe would agree in the case under discussion: an educational trip organized for a youth group is surely no less permissible than a business trip.]
One should not, either, build on Tosafot's juxtaposition of the exemption for travelers with that of people suffering discomfort ("mitzta'er"). The travelling exemption is not based on the discomfort caused by not being able to travel, but rather on the similarity between how one relates to his house and how he relates to his sukka. It thus seems, at first glance, that the solution to our problem is a simple one.
B. SELF-INDUCED DISCOMFORT
However, these trips might be problematic on Sukkot for another reason. The Or Zaru'a (Hilkhot Sukka #299) speaks of blood-letting (a common medical practice until relatively recent times) during Sukkot:
"There are some who, after they let blood during the holiday, eat outside the sukka. They say they are no different than those who feel pain in their eyes or have headaches [and, as sick people, are exempt from eating in the sukka]. They are mistaken, for one who lets blood is not sick; on the contrary, he is happy and eats and drinks much. Furthermore, he did not have to choose to let blood during the holiday. Even with regard to a mourner, whose suffering is due to causes outside his control, we say that he must calm himself and fulfill the mitzva [of sukka]. Certainly, the same should apply to these [who let blood], for they should not have chosen to let during the holiday."
The Or Zaru'a thus offers two reasons why one who lets blood is nevertheless obligated to fulfill the mitzva of sukka: he is not really sick, and he should have scheduled the bloodletting for another time. It seems from his second reason that the exemption of a "mitzta'er" does not apply where the source of the sickness is within the person's control (even though it stemmed out of a non-ideal situation). If one creates pain for oneself during the holiday, he is still obligated to live in the sukka, unless he is in physical danger. The Magen Avraham (OC 640:4) already commented:
"According to this reason one who drinks a laxative is still obligated in sukka, even though he is great pain, for he should have done this before the holiday or afterwards. Therefore he should not time this for the holiday."
In the spirit of the Or Zaru'a and the Magen Avraham, an educational trip that could have been scheduled for before or after the holiday would not exempt its participants from sukka.
However, there are three reasons why this approach would not lead us to adopt stringent conclusions in the case under discussion:
- Most Rishonim do not rule in accordance with the Or Zaru'a.
- Even the Or Zarua himself offered two reasons - bloodletting is not a sickness and even if it is, a scheduled sickness (or, we extrapolated - trip) does not create an exemption. According to the first reason, the tiyul might still be exempt. [The proof from the mourner is not ironclad. The gemara (Sukka 25b) explains that he is not included within the pain exemption because, it applies to "pain that comes to him; here he makes himself feel pain." The mourner is obligated, through inner effort, to assuage his pain and is therefore not exempt in the eyes of the halakha. The blood-letter's pain is genuine and objective; he just should not have caused it.
- Most organized youth group's trips are practically difficult to schedule before or after the holiday.
- FULFILLING BOTH NEEDS
There is still one point that demands clarification. It is obvious that the exemption for travelers only applies when it clashes with fulfilling the mitzva. In other words, when the traveller only has two options before him - either staying at home and fulfilling the mitzva of sukka, or travelling and forgoing it. If, however, one is able to achieve both, travelling and living in the sukka, one obviously should. For example, if one travelled to a city where there is a restaurant or hotel which has a sukka, one would definitely have to avail himself of it. Similarly, if one travelled to a place close enough to home that he would normally return to eat and sleep after travelling, he would certainly have to return home to his sukka. This seems to be the basis for the halakha that day travelers are obligated in sukka during the night.
However, this halakha can be understood in two ways:
- At night the traveller ceases to be defined as a traveller in the eyes of the halakha and is obligated in sukka as one who, albeit for one night, dwells where he finds himself.
- Even though he is still defined as a traveller, the traveler's exemption does not apply to him. Because at night the mitzva of sukka does not clash with his carrying his project, he is obligated to live in a sukka.
The Sefer HaMikhtam (Sukka 26a, followed by the Orchot Chaim Hilkhot Sukka #33), in line with the second understanding, writes:
"Since day travelers are obligated in sukka at night, we suggest that those who travel to villages collecting debts on Chol Ha-mo'ed must return home at night to eat in the sukka if the village does not have one. Even though one can maintain otherwise, one who follows this stringency will be blessed."
Even though he leaves room for another approach - apparently considering the first understanding of the night-time obligation - he is inclined to rule like the second understanding. This is apparently not just a stringency but the appropriate ruling.
Based on this, shouldn't travelers make the effort to fulfill the mitzva of sukka? There are two options:
- Looking for an existing sukka to eat and sleep in;
- To build a sukka where they stay for the night.
The Tosafot (Sukka 26a s.v. Ve-chayavin) refer to the travelers' night obligation as "when a man stays over in an inhabited area." Apparently, he is only obligated when there already is a sukka in the place he stays for the night, but would not have to travel to another village to make sure he would have a sukka.
- HOW MUCH EFFORT
I have always had my doubts about how, now, in times of rapid transportation, we define a "place" for this halakha. The halakha generally places limits on how much we must exert ourselves to perform mitzvot. One must travel four "mil" (about four kilometers) for netilat yadayim or, according to Rashi, for communal prayer (Pesachim 46a - both are rabbinic obligations); one must give rebuke until the recipient is ready to hit of curse him; and - the paradigm - one should spend up to a fifth of his earnings on tzedaka (Ketubot 50a) or on mitzvot in general. Here, with regards to sukka, an extra factor comes into play - "mitzta'er," discomfort. This discomfort, based on the analogy to one's home, refers not only to that entailed by living in the sukka - cold, rain, bugs, etc. - but even to how much effort is required to reach a sukka.
The Rama (OC 640:4), based on the Terumat Ha-deshen, rules that:
"One whose Shabbat candles in his sukka went out, is permitted to go into the house where a candle is lit. He is not obligated to go to his friend's sukka if that involves a lot of trouble."
This halakha seems to be based on the discomfort exemption, as Rabbi Akiva Eiger comments in his glosses on the Shulchan Arukh. The Magen Avraham (at the beginning of OC 639), seems to see this as based on the general limits the halakha places on how much one must extend himself in order to perform any mitzvot.
[This might provide an answer to a question on Rabbi Akiva Eiger's approach. According to the Magen Avraham, this halakha even applies on the first night of Sukkot. Do we not follow the Rishonim who hold that discomfort is not an exemption on the first night of Sukkot (because on the first night of Sukkot there is an additional obligation to eat an olive sized piece of bread in the sukka based on a derivation from the first night of Pesach)? He can answer that it is not the discomfort clause that furnishes the exemption, but a general limit on how much to exert oneself for any mitzvot.]
The Rama's ruling, be the rationale what it may, absolves one from sukka if it involves "excessive effort." I find it difficult to judge what "excessive effort" is defined as, especially for someone with a car. Tosafot referred to one who reaches a small village and need not search any further to find a sukka. Nowadays, when one can easily travel from one town to another, is there no obligation to travel to the next town to find a sukka? Should we exert ourselves for the mitzva of sukka any less than we would to visit friends in another town? Though many situations are clear-cut and it is safe to assume that the halakha directs each person to use discretion in determining how far he must extend himself, there does not seem to be a guideline with which to judge borderline cases. This makes the travelers' exemption often very hard to apply practically.
Let us assume, though, that the exemption does apply when the closest available sukka is clearly difficult to reach. What about the second option - building a sukka? With regards to a group of travelers - our youth group tiyul scenario - building a sukka on the camping grounds becomes a live option. Is there an obligation on the group to build a sukka there?
This point is the subject of an disagreement amongst the Acharonim. The Magen Avraham (OC 640:15) rules that travelers must build a sukka where they stay for the night, whereas the Levush (Levush HaChur, OC 640:8) rules that they are only obligated at night if they reach a place where a sukka already stands. According to the Levush he need not build a sukka, "because there is no greater trouble and pain than this - to obligate them to build a sukka in the field or amongst the gentiles."
This was, in fact, already an argument in the times of the Rishonim. The Meiri (Sukka 26a) writes:
"They (the anonymous opinion ['yesh omrim'] quoted above) likewise wrote that day travelers must build themselves a sukka where they stay for the night. However, we rule that travelers only must live in a sukka if it is readily available. This is also common practice."
Even though a group of the great later halakhic authorities (the Arukh HaShulchan and the Mishna Berura, especially in the Bi'ur Halakha) ruled like the Levush, the anonymous opinion quoted by the Me'iri and echoed by the Magen Avraham seems more plausible. Why should one be exempt from the mitzva of sukka, even for one night, only because he is not in his own city or because building it involves troubling oneself? Is trouble an exemption from performing mitzvot? The mishna in Rosh Hashana (32b) rules that, "It is forbidden [on Yom Tov] to travel outside the city limits (techum) to obtain a shofar or to uncover one under a pile of rocks, etc." That this is explicitly forbidden on Yom Tov, indicates that it would apparently be mandated under normal situations. One would have to travel far or cross the water in order to obtain a shofar. Even the mitzva of sukka itself requires that kind of effort before the holiday. Why should the obligation to exert effort to build a sukka be lifted on Chol Ha-mo'ed? Why should they not build a sukka where they want to bed down for the night? Perhaps it would be true that if the effort involved in building a sukka would be so great that the traveller would prefer forgoing his trip and stay home rather than go through with it, the travelers' exemption would come into play. Travelers are permitted to travel even though it means not always performing the mitzva of sukka - perhaps this night time effort would be included in the day travelers' exemption. The halakha would find itself pinning a person to his sukka more than he would be to his own home. But if we speak of one who would still make the trip, why not obligate him at night?
At least three possible explanations are open to the Meiri and the Levush:
- The effort involve in making a sukka for the night is of the degree that in mitzvot in general the Torah would not obligate it. This is parallel to the ruling of the Rama (OC 656) that applies the one fifth ceiling on tzedaka expenses to mitzvot in general;
- The sukka-home analogy would exempt one from building a sukka just for the night. A person does not build a house to stay over for the night somewhere but sets down for a more substantial stretch of time;
- One who already has a sukka at home would not be obligated to build a second sukka during his travels. One certainly does not relate to his house that way (he would not build temporary lodgings to stay in during a business trip, but look for a hotel or friends willing to put him up). [According to this reason, one travelling during all the days of sukkot might be obligated to build a sukka each night.]
Still, the approach of the Magen Avraham and that of the opinion the Meiri quotes seems more compelling.
- HOW MUCH TIME
However, on second thought, thewhole dispute about whether day travelers must build a sukka to stay in at night might be irrelevant to the situation at hand. Even according to the Magen Avraham, if day travelers reached their destination right at dinner time they would not have to postpone their meal until after they finish building their sukka.
[The Magen Avraham himself seems to rule stringently in this case - "One who is stringent here is to be blessed, for this is improper, for he should have built a sukka and he did not." However, even he relates to this as a stringency (chumra). The Peri Megadim did not relate to this issue at all. We might add that the Magen Avraham took the Orchot Chaim a step beyond what seemed to be his original intention. The Orchot Chaim did not speak about building a sukka but about returning home.]
They likewise need not finish up their business dealing early in order to enable them to build a sukka before dinner time. Rather, they go about their business as usual and when they finish build a sukka for eating (if they have enough time before their normally scheduled dinner) or for sleeping. This is all included in the principle of "teishvu ke-ein taduru" that rules that one need not alter normal living habits in order to live in a sukka. Therefore, the Magen Avraham only obligated day travelers to build a sukka at night when they finish the business of the day.
However, certainly one who devotes the night to the same activity as he did during the day would not be obligate to stop and build a sukka. The obligation only takes effect the moment the person's activities cease. This is the rule of travelers during both the day and the night, according to our text of the gemara. The gemara was obviously not referring to someone travelling twenty-four hours a day, but to one who would not have time at night, because of his travels, to either build or find a sukka before eating or sleeping at night.
It follows that the youth group involved in an organized tiyul would not be obligated, even if they were able to, to build a sukka at night. As is well-known, the night is not only a period to rest from the day's activities. Night activities are an organic and integral aspect of the tiyul - the participants are precisely categorized as day AND night travelers as long as they are involved in the goals and activities of the tiyul. They are not, even according to the Magen Avraham, obligated to build a sukka, unless there is time to do so during the period between when the night's activities end and when they go to sleep or eat. By that time it is usually impossible realistically to build a sukka.
Therefore, the halakhic conclusions that follow are:
- It is permitted to go on a trip during Chol Ha-mo'ed Sukkot even if it is clear that the participants will not be able to perform the mitzva of sukka during the tiyul.
- If, during the tiyul, they reach, around the normal or scheduled eating or sleeping time, a place where there is a sukka they are able to enter, they must eat and/or sleep there. How to define the area and the distance that exempts them still needs clarification.
- If they finish the tiyul at night and stay in a place where they are able to build a sukka, they are obligated to do so. To what degree they must exert themselves also demands further clarification.
- If the activities of the tiyul extend late enough so not enough time is left to build a sukka before sleeping time, they are exempt from building one.
- EDUCATION, MITZVOT, AND EXEMPTIONS - THE GREATER ISSUE
Up until now we spoke from a purely and exclusively halakhic vantage point. However, on a practical level the matter seems radically different.
One should be firmly and sharply opposed - both educationally and from the perspective of Jewish beliefs and values - to tiyulim or activities organized in a way that involves not observing the mitzva of sukka. The existence of formal exemptions from positive mitzvot is not the exclusive nor the only decisive way of gauging whether to perform them. We do not speak of actual evasive trickery (ha'arama) - itself a significant problem in halakha and belief - and this is not the forum to relate to it. Even not relating fully to a mitzva is problematic, even when it involves ignoring and not evading.
A Jew must be saturated with an ambition and longing for mitzvot and not, God forbid, view them as a burden he is inescapably stuck with that he tries to cast off at the first opportunity. This point is at the root of the trait of "zerizut" (acting with enthusiasm and energy), rooted in the obligation not just to serve God, but to serve him with joy and exhilaration. Rabbi Eliezer's statement, "If one's prayer is a fixed obligation it is not a supplication," is explained by Rav Oshaya as "One whose prayer is a burden to him." Of course this has special meaning in its home context, relating to prayer, but the concept at its root applies to all mitzvot.
The gemara (Pesachim 105b) explains that on Erev Shabbat kiddush precedes birkat ha-mazon (if one was eating when Shabbat enters) and that on Motza'ei Shabbat birkat ha-mazon precedes kiddush, because:
"Shabbat entering is different than Shabbat leaving; we try and have it enter as early as possible out of our love for it and have it exit as late as possible so that it is not a burden on us."
This is not just a derush or a pious custom, but mainstream halakha. This principle reflects a halakhic approach in all of its power and scope, beyond the restricted formal plane.
It is possible that the Ramban's famous expression, "Naval bi-reshut ha-Torah," (one who can succeed in being a vile individual while still technically acting within the confines of the laws of the halakha) is too harsh to apply to avoiding positive action - perhaps it is limited to one who drifts into negative behavior. But the idea at the base of the Ramban's concept does apply. Rav Chisda's statement to Rami b. Tamri, "I see you are very sharp," (Chullin 110b) includes a critique on his ability to use his intelligence to devise all sorts of exemptions.
Perhaps the central halakhic source in the Rishonim to clarify this issue is in the laws of tzitzit. They built on the discussion in the gemara (Menachot 41a) between the angel and Rav Katina. Both Rav Katina's summer and winter garments were technically exempt from tzitzit. The angel chastised him, "What will be with the mitzva of tzitzit?" The gemara's discussion makes it clear that Rav Katina was not violating the laws of tzitzit, but was evading the mitzva by using exemptions. Apparently based on this passage, the Rambam (Hilkhot Tzitzit 3:11) rules,
"Even though one is not obligated to buy a tallit and wrap himself in it in order to affix tzitzit to it, a pious person should not absolve himself from this mitzva. Rather, one should always try and wear a garment that is obligated in tzitzit in order to fulfill this mitzva."
Other Rishonim expanded on this - to obligate not only the pious but everyone; and to see this in the context of mitzvot in general. The Rosh (Tosafot Ha-Rosh Nidda 61b) writes,
"However, it is fitting that all God-fearing people buy a tallit with four corners to obligate himself in tzitzit, for it is a great and important mitzva. As we say in Bereishit Rabba (and, in a slightly different version in Sota 14a), 'Was Moshe anxious to enter the land in order to eat of its fruit and be satiated by its goodness?' Rather, thus said Moshe: 'Let mitzvot that can be fulfilled by me, be fulfilled by me.'"
If this is true of a mitzva that is always within one's reach, certainly this is the case with regards to a mitzva that one can only fulfill one week out of the year!
However, the question itself, especially when asked by Israeli youth groups that stand for education in service of Hashem and fear of God - and that no small number of benei Torah are involved in - is problematic. For decades I was in the Diaspora in places where the mitzva of sukka was not considered an "easy mitzva," and I was never asked about using the traveler's exemption when one is far from a sukka during the day. Did it ever enter the mind of a businesthat strives to scrupulously fulfill mitzvot and, in the course of his business, finds himself in New York's skyscrapers, to eat his lunch in his office because there is no sukka in his vicinity? Did a student who views himself as rooted in Torah and fear of God and finds himself forced to spend a long day in a university library ever think of eating in a cafeteria because the campus did not have a sukka? Is it possible that in Israel, where the mitzva of sukka is both easier and more inclusive - a mitzva that even many that are not generally observant still relate to in one way or another - is it possible that here benei Torah should avoid keeping this mitzva in its fullness?
I am well aware that many believe that there is much educational value to youth groups' tiyulim - mostly because of how it deepens the love and relationship to Eretz Yisrael. They also claim is that the days of Chol Ha-mo'ed are most appropriate for scheduling tiyulim. As an outsider, it is difficult for me to judge. However, I am convinced that, except for extremely extenuating circumstances, the most important educational message we can pass on to our youth during Sukkot is deepening the awareness and sensitivity for observance and enthusiasm about mitzvot - even if this means some difficulty and even if it involves sacrifice.
If there is need for tiyulim during the holiday, by all means have them. Rabbi Eliezer's statement (Sukka 27b), "I praise the 'lazy ones' who do not leave their homes on the holiday, for it says, 'You should be joyous, you and your household," is not cited halakhically. But if a tiyul is organized, arrangements should be made - the same way they are for trucks and water supply, counselors and guides - to be able to fulfill the mitzva of sukka properly. I am sure that the heads of the organizations, where the need and desire is clearly felt, can grapple with more complex technical and logistical challenges than arranging for sukkot for their campers.
We close with a prayer that He who spreads a sukka of peace over his people Israel should help them succeed and merit organizing programming that will give both recreation and education, both bring pleasure and uplift, while deepening the mitzva of sukka specifically and mitzvot in general. So said he who was the greatest of those who loved the land and longed for it, "Let mitzvot that can be fulfilled by me, be fulfilled by me."
With the message: