Daf 25a

  • Rav Michael Siev


Introduction to the Study of Talmud
by Rav Michael Siev

Sukka 02 - Daf 25a

A scan of the classic printed daf can be found at:
http://www.e-daf.com/dafprint.asp?ID=1146 (You can find a scan with larger print by going to the e-daf.com homepage and selecting sukah 25a)

Key words and phrases in Hebrew and Aramaic are marked in blue, and their translation/explanation can be seen by placing the cursor over them. 

From time to time, the shiur will include instructions to stop reading and do some task on your own. This will be marked by a

red pause box
 It is highly recommended that you follow those instructions. I am working on a way to have your computer melt if you don't, but as of yet, the technical details are still beyond me.

Within the quoted texts, my explanations and additions are also noted in red.

We begin our study of Masechet Sukka on daf 25a. This is clearly not the beginning of the masechet, nor is it even the beginning of a chapter. Nevertheless, it is a good place to start because it begins the gemara's discussion of a new and important theme - the mitzva of living in one's sukka. Until this point, the masechet has basically covered the laws of building a sukka - what dimensions a sukka must be, what materials are acceptable to be used as s'chach, etc. At this point the masechet transitions to a new topic, that of the individual's obligation to use the sukka that he has hopefully built in an acceptable fashion. Thus, we are starting in the middle, but very much at a beginning.

As noted last week, it is highly advisable that you follow along on a standard, printed page of the Talmud. Note that about a third of the way down the page on 25a the word מתני appears in bold and in a larger typeset. This stands for the word matnitin, or mishna. It is from this mishna that we will begin our study.

This mishna states:

Mishna Messengers of a mitzva are exempt from the sukka

Sick people and their attendants are exempt from the sukka

We eat and drink casually outside the sukka.

מתני' שלוחי מצוה פטורין מן הסוכה

חולין ומשמשיהן פטורין מן הסוכה

אוכלין ושותין עראי חוץ לסוכה. 

Curiously, the mishna opens the discussion pertaining to the rules of dwelling in one's sukka with a list of three situations in which one is relieved of this obligation. The obligation per se is taken for granted - it is, after all, a pasuk in Chumash, and the assumption is that the basic obligation is familiar to everyone. The mishna can therefore get right to the task of analyzing the details - and exceptions - of this obligation.

The mishna mentions "messengers of a mitzvah." What exactly does this mean? Think for a moment - or check Rashi!

Rashi is always our first line of defense when it comes to explaining the meaning of a particular word, phrase or argument in the gemara.

Note: Rashi's comments can always be found aside the text of the gemara, next to the inside margin of the page. On our page, that means his comments are on the right hand side. Each comment begins with a short quote from the gemara, preceded by a colon and followed by a single dot. That is the known as the dibbur hamtchil, and it is the section of gemara that Rashi intends to explain. In newer printings of the Talmud, the dibbur hamatchil is printed in bold, which makes it easier to find. Since our Rashi pertains to the mishna, it is relatively easy to locate in any event. In Rashi, as in the gemara, you will note the word מתני in bold and in a larger typeset; that indicates the beginning of Rashi's comments on a mishna.

Rashi here explains:

Messengers of a mitzva - those walking in the way of a mitzva

such as to learn Torah and to greet his teacher and to redeem captives. 

שלוחי מצוה - הולכי בדרך מצוה

כגון ללמוד תורה ולהקביל פני רבו ולפדות שבויים. 

Thus, one who is on his way to perform a mitzva is relieved from his obligations vis-a-vis the mitzva of sukka. Why should this be? And how far do we take this rule? That is a discussion that we can begin to explore as we learn the gemara.

 The gemara treats each of the mishna's statements in independent discussions - since we have started with the mishna's first ruling, we will return to the rest of the mishna later - for now let's go on to the gemara's discussion regarding the first statement. We start from the beginning of the gemara's discussion of this mishna - where it says גמ, which stands for "gemara."

Warning: I have presented the text of the gemara here with a literal translation. Although I have added a couple of words of explanation, the translation is still a bit difficult to follow. I have presented the translation this way because it is an important step in learning how to understand a gemara - one must understand the literal meaning of the gemara and then, since the gemara's syntax is quite different from what we are used to, one must decipher what the gemara actually means. I will present a more clear explanation of the gemara immediately following the text itself. 

Gemara From where (do we know) these words?  

For the rabbis taught: "When you sit in your house" - excluding one who is involved in a mitzva; "and when you walk on the way" - excluding a groom.

From here they said: one who brings in (=marries) a virgin - is exempt, and a widow - is obligated.

What is implied? Rav Huna said: like "the way." Just as a way is nonobligatory - so everything nonobligatory, to exclude this one who is busy with a mitzva.

Are we not dealing with one who is going for a mitzva - and the Merciful One said to read!

If so, the verse should state "while sitting" and "while walking." What is "while you sit" and "while you walk" - in your own walking you are obligated, in the walking of a mitzva you are exempt.

גמ' מה"מ (=מנא הני מילי)?

דת"ר (=דתנו רבנן): "בשבתך בביתך" (דברים ו, ז) - פרט לעוסק במצוה, "ובלכתך בדרך" - פרט לחתן.

מכאן אמרו: הכונס את הבתולה - פטור, ואת האלמנה - חייב.

מאי משמע? - אמר רב הונא: כדרך, מה דרך רשות - אף כל רשות, לאפוקי האי דבמצוה עסוק.

מי לא עסקינן דקאזיל לדבר מצוה, וקא אמר רחמנא ליקרי!

אם כן לימא קרא בשבת ובלכת, מאי בשבתך ובלכתך - בלכת דידך הוא דמיחייבת, הא בלכת דמצוה - פטירת. 

The gemara here does something that is very common - the mishna taught a law and the gemara demands a source for the stated law. The gemara then cites a b'raita that derives the source for our ruling from a pasuk. In this instance, the pasuk should ring a bell - we say it three times a day in the sh'ma!

Note: The mishna is a collection of material authored by Rav Yehuda Hanassi, based on a far wider range of material. Those tannaitic sources left out of the mishna are called b'raita, literally "outside." We possess today a collection of the b'raita, which is printed in the back of full editions of the Talmud, and is called the tosefta, but the gemara quotes many b'raita'ot (pl. of b'raita) that are not found in the tosefta.

What is the relevance of the sh'ma to the case at hand in our mishna?

Hint - think about (or look up in a siddur or Chumash!) the context of this pasuk. What is it talking about?

The pesukim in sh'ma tell us that the "words that Hashem commands us" should be "on our hearts" and that we should teach them to our children and discuss them - "while we sit in our houses and walk on the way." These "words" are understood to refer to the Torah generally, and to k'riat sh'ma in particular. This pasuk is thus the source for the mitzva to recite sh'ma twice daily - as the pasuk continues, "when you lie down and when you arise." Reciting the sh'ma is a mitzva - thus, if it can be demonstrated that the pasuk limits our obligation in this mitzva to circumstances in which we are not already involved in some other mitzva, that can serve as a precedent for the idea that one who is already engaged in the performance of a mitzva is exempt from having to perform other mitzvot as well. This would be an acceptable source for our mishna's ruling that one who is involved in a mitzva is exempt from the mitzva of sukka.

Let's understand more fully the gemara's derivation of our law. The gemara explains that when the pasuk obligates one to say sh'ma while sitting at home, that is meant to exclude from the command one who is involved in a mitzva. Similarly, one who is traveling on the way is obligated in sh'ma, as opposed to a bridegroom who is marrying a virgin - though if he marries a widow (or divorcee) he is obligated to recite the sh'ma. We will leave the issue of the bridegroom aside for the moment and focus on the general exemption of one involved in the performance of a mitzva. How does the phrase "while you sit in your house" imply that one who is engaged in a mitzva is exempt?

The gemara is bothered by this very point, and strives for greater clarity: "What is implied," the gemara asks - how does the pasuk quoted in the gemara teach us this law? The gemara explains that the key word is derech, "way." One goes on one's way as one pleases - so too, one is obligated to recite sh'ma only while doing as he pleases, but not while engaged in a mitzva. The gemara further challenges this derivation - one can, of course go on one's "way" for mitzva purposes as well! The gemara finally answers that it is the pasuk's emphasis on the individual that implies that the obligation is only when one is engaged in non-mitzva activities. The verse could have said "while sitting in a house or traveling on the way." The fact that it says "while you sit in your house and while you travel on the way" implies that the verse refers only to one who is at home or traveling for his own reasons and not for purposes of a mitzva. Thus, only someone involved in his own activities is required to recite the sh'ma; one who is engaged in Godly activities, so to speak, i.e. the performance of a mitzva, is not obligated. This is the basis for the principle that the gemara (a little later) calls ha'osek b'mitzva patur min hamitzva, one who is engaged in a mitzva is exempt from (other) mitzvot. And, it explains the ruling of our mishna.

Having learned that ha'osek b'mitzva patur min hamitzva, we should be intuitively bothered by the very concept. Is it possible that anyone who is engaged in the fulfillment of a mitzva is exempted from all other mitzvot? There are numerous mitzvot that a person may fulfill a good deal of the time, or even constantly - is it possible that someone who is wearing tzitzit or who has a mezuza on his doorpost is exempted from saying sh'ma or eating in a sukka?! Clearly, we need to provide some parameters for this rule that ha'osek b'mitzva patur min hamitzva. The commentators suggest two possible sets of guidelines as to when this rule applies:

1) Tosafot (lit. "additions" - a compilation of commentary from 11'th to 13'th century French and German scholars, printed on the outside margin of the standard page of gemara) and some other commentators argue that one who is previously engaged in the performance of a mitzva is exempt from other mitzvot only if they will impede the completion of the mitzva he was previously involved in. Since one can easily say sh'ma or do any mitzva while wearing tzitzit, one would be obligated to do so. Thus, the case in our mishna must be a situation in which performing the mitzva of sukka would make it impossible to complete the other mitzva.

2) Ran (Rabbenu Nissim, a 14th century Spanish scholar) and some other authorities contend that one who is engaged in the performance of a mitzva is exempt from other mitzvot even if he could theoretically fulfill both of them - but only if he is actively involved in the first mitzva. The gemara, after all, does not say ham'kayem mitzva patur min hamitzva, that one who is fulfilling a mitzva is exempt from other mitzvot, but rather ha'osek, one who is engaged in a mitzva is exempt from other mitzvot. When a person actually puts on his tzitzit or affixes a mezuza to his doorpost he is actively involved in a mitzva. After that, his relationship to the mitzva is a passive one, and he is thus not exempted from other mitzvot.

This is plenty for one shiur - our first real shiur, no less. We will continue next week with our analysis of the concept of ha'osek b'mitzva patur min hamitzva and with the gemara's discussion of the topic. Please take some time over the week to review this shiur. Use it to help you read through the text of a standard gemara - it is only through consistent practice of that type that one will gain real skills in deciphering Talmudic texts on one's own, which is one of the primary goals of this shiur!