"You Shall Make for Yourself the Festival of Sukkot"

  • Rav Yair Kahn
suk-yk

The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Special Holiday Shiur
Yeshivat Har Etzion


"You Shall Make for Yourself the Festival of Sukkot"

by Rav Yair Kahn

I.

"An old sukka (an already existent sukka not made specifically for Sukkot): - Beit Shammai rule unfit (for fulfilling the mitzva of dwelling in a sukka) and Beit Hillel rule as suitable." (TB Sukka 9a)

According to Rashi, the argument between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel concerns whether a sukka needs to be "lishma" or not (i.e., whether or not it needs to have been erected specifically for the fulfillment of the mitzva). However, in the Yerushalmi we find that even according to Beit Hillel: "It is necessary to add a new element to it." The Beit Yosef (OC 636) is of the opinion that without this 'new element' the mitzva cannot be fulfilled.

The implication of all this, is that EVEN Beit Hillel require that a sukka be specific for the festival. The distinction between their opinion and that of Beit Shammai being, that whilst Beit Shammai require constructing the whole sukka explicitly for the festival, Beit Hillel rule that it is sufficient merely to introduce something new - even after the construction of the sukka is complete. (The Shulchan Arukh rules according to Beit Hillel in 636:1.)

We must now examine what issue is at the basis of Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel's disagreement.

The above-mentioned gemara continues: "What is Beit Shammai's reasoning? There is another verse: 'You shall make for yourself the festival of Sukkot for seven days' (Deut. 16:13) - it is necessary that the sukka be constructed specifically for the festival. And [what do] Beit Hillel [do with this verse]? They apply this verse to the matter of making a sukka on Chol Ha-mo'ed. Beit Shammai, however, follow R. Eliezer's opinion that one may not make a sukka on Chol Ha-mo'ed."

Further in the gemara (27a-b) there is a discussion of R. Eliezer's opinion: "We have learnt: R. Eliezer says - you cannot go out from one sukka to another, and you cannot make a sukka on Chol Ha-mo'ed ... what is R. Eliezer's reasoning? 'You shall make for yourself the festival of Sukkot for seven days' - that is, that you must construct a sukka that is fit for seven days ... It is learnt, R. Eliezer says - just as a person cannot fulfill his obligation (of taking the four species) on the first day of the festival with a lulav that belongs to another ... so also a person cannot fulfill his obligation (of dwelling in a sukka) in the sukka of his fellow! As it is written: 'You shall make FOR YOURSELF the festival of Sukkot' - of your own."

The relationship between these rulings of R. Eliezer must be investigated: a) You cannot go out from one sukka to another; b) You cannot make a sukka on Chol Ha-mo'ed; c) A person cannot fulfill his obligation in the sukka of his fellow.

It would appear that R. Eliezer disagrees with the Chakhamim not only with regard to the act of dwelling in a sukka, but also with regard to the actual definition of what constitutes a "sukka."

R. Eliezer learns from the verse "You shall make for yourself the festival of Sukkot for seven days" that the mitzva of sukka requires a person to construct an alternative abode for the seven days of Sukkot, and within it to perform the act of dwelling. Therefore, R. Eliezer obligates being an owner similar to a person's permanent abode - and that this dwelling place shall actually serve a person as such for all seven days of the festival.

According to R. Eliezer one cannot leave his specific dwelling place for the festival, and move to a different sukka. Likewise, it is impossible for one to fulfill the mitzva in another person's sukka, since it is not HIS special abode for the festival. A sukka that is constructed in the middle of the festival - on Chol Ha-mo'ed - cannot therefore be defined as a person's dwelling for ALL the days of Sukkot.

Beit Shammai follow the same track, learning from this same verse that an 'old' sukka is unsuitable to fulfill the mitzva. This is since, according to this opinion, the requirement of building "specifically for the purpose of the festival" is no mere minor-side-ruling of "specific intent," but rather an integral factor in the very definition of the "cheftza" of the sukka - i.e., the dwelling place for the festival. In short: According to Beit Shammai the sukka must be constructed specifically for the period of the festival, for if this were not so, it would not be defined as a sukka at all. Additionally, the possibility of defining it as a sukka AFTER its construction would be viewed as a negation of the principle of "create it - and not previously constructed."

Beit Hillel argues that the definition of a "sukka" is not based on the festival of Sukkot. Rather, the "sukka" according to them is defined in common everyday terms. A "sukka" is a shed, which is a temporary construction whose primary function is protection from the sun - as it is written in Isaiah "And a sukka shall be for shade in the day." According to Beit Hillel, the principle "create [it] and not previously constructed" (which would render a sukka unfit for use in fulfilling the mitzva) applies to a sukka that was NOT constructed to provide shade. In any case, Beit Hillel permit a sukka that was not constructed specifically for the festival.

The Chakhamim follow the opinion of Beit Hillel, allowing one to go from one's sukka to another; to build a sukka on Chol Ha-mo'ed; and to fulfill one's obligation in another person's sukka. This is because, according to Chakhamim's definition, a sukka is not a dwelling place which is made specifically for the duration of the festival, but anything that, in everyday life, fulfills the normal function of a sukka. And even if Beit Hillel and Chakhamim require that a sukka be for the sake of the mitzva (as is inferred from the Yerushalmi), this requirement is not part of the definition of a sukka, and thus they do not require construction specifically for the sake of the festival. Rather, it is sufficient to merely introduce some new element after construction, specifically for the mitzva.

II.

Even according to Beit Hillel, who rule that an old sukka is fit for performing the mitzva, there IS halakhic significance to a sukka that was constructed specifically for the sake of the mitzva.

In the Yerushalmi (1:2) it is taught that: "One who builds a sukka for himself, what does he say? - 'Blessed are You ... who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to make a sukka.'" Inferred from this is that there is fulfillment of a mitzva in the mere building of a sukka. (And so explains Rashi in TB Makkot 8.) It is clear that the mitzva of constructing a sukka applies only to constructing a sukka FOR THE SAKE OF THE MITZVA .

Concerning the rule of sanctity inherent in a sukka, the Rashba writes (in his novellae on TB Beitza 30b): "I have a difficulty in that since we rule that a sukkat GNB"Kh and a sukkat RKB"Sh (examples of sukkot not made specifically for the mitzva) is fit for use, why should holiness pertain to it for all seven days of the festival? Just because a person enters it and eats once or sleeps there should there be a holiness to it for all seven days? It was not made for the purpose of the holiness of a sukka! [For this reason] it is possible that a sukkat GNB"Kh and a sukkat RKB"Sh are simply considered mere booths, [and as such have no holiness]."

Rashba is claiming that even though a sukka not made specifically for the mitzva is sufficient according to Beit Hillel, nevertheless the special sanctity which pertains to a sukka exists only for a sukka that was made for the specific purpose of the mitzva.

If this is so, we can see even in the opinion of Beit Hillel there is halakhic significance in building a sukka for the sake of the mitzva, even though they also declare an 'old sukka' fit for use. Beit Hillel consider the building of a sukka the sake of the mitzva as an actual act of mitzva, and according to the Rashba, this action is what imbibes the sukka with its holiness.

III.

"The Rabbis have taught, GNB"Kh - sukkot not made specifically for the mitzva - are fit [for use in performing the mitzva] as long as its covering is according to the law. What does 'according to the law' mean? [Rashi - what does it come to teach us? If it is deficient in one sense, i.e. that it was not made for the sake of the mitzva of sukka, does that mean that we can do away with all the other requirements of sukka?] Answered Rav Chisda: It means that one has to make it for the SHADE of the sukka." (Sukkah 8b)

Rav Chisda's answer to the gemara's question must be understood. Even a sukka that was constructed for the purpose of the mitzva needs to have been constructed for the purpose of providing shade. If so, it is obvious that a sukkat GNB"Kh needs to have been built for the purpose of shade; why should we have assumed that just because it was not built for the sake of the mitzva, that it also does not have to be constructed for the sake of shade?

There is a further difficulty arising from the passage in Sukka 2b. It is implied that only R. Zeira requires shade, on the basis of the verse in Isaiah "And a sukka shall be for shade in the day." The Amoraim who argue with R. Zeira sideline this source as "being written concerning the days of the Messiah." Rashi there explains that "in the Messianic Age, those sukkot will be to provide shade ... but the sukka which fulfills the mitzva is not for the purpose of shade." If this is so, why would Rav Chisda require a construction for the purpose of providing shade? It is unsatisfactory to say that Rav Chisda followed the opinion of R. Zeira since R. Yosef Karo in the Shulchan Arukh rules in favor of Rav Chisda in chapter 635, while he rules against R. Zeira in chapter 633. (And so it would be impossible for Rav Chisda to be basing himself on R. Zeira.)

The Rosh cites an alternative interpretation of Rav Chisda's words: "Rabbeinu Tam explained that it was constructed only for the purpose of shade and NOT so thick- roofed as to provide protection from the rain."

The Bach (R. Yoel Sirkis) exacts from the words of the Rosh and the Tur that a sukkat GNB"Kh that is thick-roofed enough to provide protection from the rain is halakhically unsuitable for performing the mitzva, whilst a similarly thick-roofed sukka that was constructed specifically FOR THE PURPOSE OF PERFORMING THE MITZVA is perfectly fit for fulfilling one's obligation.

To explain concisely all of the above, it is possible to say that according to Beit Hillel, there are two tracks concerning the creation of something that will be termed a sukka: 1) by constructing what is, in actuality, a sukka, a shed whose function is to provide protection from the sun; 2) by constructing a sukka for the purpose of fulfilling the mitzva, even though it is not meant to provide protection from the sun.

It is possible that these two rules are learnt from two different verses: "For seven days you shall dwell in booths" (Lev. 23:42) teaches that there is a sukka in actual terms, in which one must abide during the festival. However, Beit Hillel (parallel to Beit Shammai) learn from the verse "You shall make for yourself the festival of Sukkot for seven days" (Deut. 16:13) that it is possible to construct a sukka for the specific purpose of fulfilling the mitzva even when it is not a sukka on the functional plane (i.e., while halakhically it is considered a sukka, functionally it has no other purpose). Beit Hillel learn from this verse that it is possible to construct a sukka on Chol Ha-mo'ed, and may also learn from the apparent superfluity of the verses that one may fulfill his obligation with a sukka that was constructed for the sake of the mitzva even if it was NOT built to provide shade.

In light of the above, everything now falls into place. Rav Chisda's ruling that requires the construction to be for the purpose of providing shade, exists solely in regard to a sukkat GNB"Kh that was created on a functional plane. However, a sukka that was constructed for the purpose of the mitzva does not need to have been built in order to provide shade. The requirement that is specific for a sukkat GNB"Kh (only) is "that its covering be according to the law."

The conclusion of the passage on 2b is that a sukka constructed for the purpose of the mitzva which is not to provide shade does NOT negate Rav Chisda's requirement that a sukkat GNB"Kh DOES need to be for the sake of providing shade. The Bach's distinction fits nicely here - that according to the Rosh, ONLY a sukkat GNB"Kh whose thick roof provides protection from the rain is halakhically unfit, since it has no comparison to a real, functional sukka which was built in order to provide shade. However, a sukka which was constructed for the purpose of fulfilling the mitzva is perfectly fit even if it was NOT built to provide shade, and will also be perfectly fit even if it is so thick-roofed that it provides protection from the rain.

IV.

At the very beginning of our discussion, we mentioned the dispute between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel concerning an 'old sukka' (one that had already been built). The gemara (9b) connects this argument to the argument between R. Eliezer and the Chakhamim regarding the construction of a sukka on Chol Ha-mo'ed. As has been shown, these arguments relate to the very definition of a sukka. According to R. Eliezer and Beit Shammai, a sukka is an alternative dwelling place constructed for the duration of the festival of Sukkot. Beit Hillel, however, are of the opinion that the definition of a sukka is a functional one, a shed which provides shade.

It is possible that these two definitions are based on another argument, between R. Eliezer and R. Akiva regarding the nature of the sukkot in the wilderness: "It is taught in a beraita: 'For I provided the children of Israel with sukkot' - R. Eliezer says that [the sukkot here] were the clouds of glory, whilst R. Akiva is of the opinion that God made for them actual booths" (TB Sukka 11b).

According to R. Akiva the mitzva requires normal, actual sukkot (booths), for this will facilitate a re-enactment of the religious-historical phenomenon upon which the mitzva is based. However, for R. Eliezer a regular, functional sukka will not suffice. In his opinion, the mitzva is an attempt to re-enact the supernatural sukkot - the clouds of glory. This attempt requires sukkot made specially for the duration of the festival. The mitzva demands of us that we leave our houses every year and move into a temporary abode whose entire essence represents and re-enacts the dwelling in the shadow of God - underneath the clouds of glory.

We suggested that according to Beit Hillel there are two possible tracks in the creation of a sukka. a) the functional track (mentioned earlier) b) the specification of the sukka as being for the purpose of the mitzva.

In the Torah, the passage in the parasha of Emor relates to sukkot of the functional type, in order to re-enact the actual sukkot that had existed in the wilderness, according to R. Akiva. In the parasha of Re'eh, there is no mention of the sukkot that were in the wilderness - the entire parasha focuses on the notion of the Divine Presence residing amongst the Jewish people 'in the place which God will choose.' "But to the place which the Lord your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put His name there, there you shall seek Him, at His dwelling, and there you shall come." (Deut. 12:5) In relation to the festival of Sukkot, it is written: "Seven days you shall keep a festival to the Lord your God in the place which the Lord shall choose ..." (Deut. 16:15). The parasha concludes, in relation to all the festivals: "Three times a year, all your males shall appear before the Lord your God in the place which He shall choose" (verse 16).

In connection to the verse "You shall make for yourself the festival of Sukkotfor seven days" (verse 13) from which the Sages learn not only making the festival, but also the construction of the sukka itself - there is no relationship to the sukka as a re-enactment of the sukkot in the wilderness; rather, it relates to the sukka as an encounter (as it were) between the Jewish people and their Father in Heaven. This sort of sukka, even according to Beit Hillel, cannot be a merely functional sukka, but rather a special sukka that makes possible such a meeting - that is, a sukka constructed specially for the fulfillment of the mitzva. It turns out, therefore, that according to Beit Hillel, there are two different sources that teach about two different processes, coming together to create a "sukka."

A sukka, therefore, is also a remembrance of the past, of those sukkot which God caused us to dwell in upon our exodus from Egypt. Even according to the view that it was actual sukkot - booths - that God made for them, "the remembrance that they will know and remember, that they were in the wilderness, they did not come into any house and did not come across any inhabited settlement for forty years, AND GOD WAS WITH THEM, they lacked nothing" (Commentary of the Ramban on Lev. 23:43). That is to say, there is here a reminder of the special providence that characterizes the period in the wilderness. On the other hand, there exists also a sukka in the present, that within it, the Jewish people and the Divine Presence (as it were) meet - a mysterious and wondrous encounter.

All of this hopes and turns towards the future sukka - the sukka of the Messianic Era which "will be for shade in the daytime from the heat, and for a place of refuge and a hideaway from storm and from rain."

(Translated by Robin Harding. A fuller version of this article will appear in Hebrew in a volume celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the yeshiva's founding.)

 


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