S.A.L.T. - Sukkot 5777 / 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg


Motzaei Shabbat

            The Torah in Sefer Devarim (16:13) commands observing the festival of Sukkot “be-ospekha mi-garankha u-mi’yikvekha” – “when you gather [the products] from your granary and from your press.”  The plain meaning of this verse is that Sukkot is celebrated at the time of year when the harvest is completed, after the produce has been collected and stored.  The Gemara, however, in Masekhet Sukka (12a), offers a surprising interpretation of this verse which forms the basis of one of the most basic and important halakhot relevant to the sukka.  Namely, the Gemara infers from this verse that the sekhakh, the primary component of the sukka, must be made of “pesolet goren ve-yekev” – “the refuse of the granary and press.”  In other words, the sekhakh must be made of vegetation, but of “pesolet” – refuse, material that cannot be eaten or used for any constructive purpose. 

            The Gemara briefly discusses how exactly Chazal arrived at this conclusion on the basis of this verse, but regardless, it is striking that the sekhakh is described in such terms.  The festival of Sukkot celebrates the produce of the “granary and press,” the successful harvest that has just been reaped, collected and stored for the winter.  And, according to the Gemara’s reading, the Torah commands celebrating this bountry in a structure made specifically from the pesolet – the refuse that is discarded during the harvesting process.  We celebrate and give thanks for the food we have produced by residing in a dwelling made from the non-usable materials produced by the fields.  It appears that the Torah seeks to divert the farmer’s attention away from the food that he had just produced, and take note of the pesolet, the piles of refuse that had formed in the process.

            As the Torah states explicitly elsewhere, in Sefer Vayikra (23:43), the sukka commemorates the conditions in which Benei Yisrael lived during their sojourn in the wilderness.  With the end of the harvest season, when the warehouses are filled with food produced by the people through their hard work and ingenuity, they are told to remember their ancestors’ experience in the wilderness.  They are reminded of the time when our nation was incapable of surviving by natural means, through agricultural work, and were sustained miraculously by the Almighty, thus reinforcing their belief that despite their hard work and effort, their sustenance ultimately depends solely on God.  As part of this experience, the Torah directs our attention away from the food we’ve produced and onto the “pesolet.”  We are reminded that, as Moshe told Benei Yisrael in reflecting upon their supernatural survival in the wilderness, “…a person does not live on bread alone, but rather on anything declared by the Lord” (Devarim 8:3).  After the food has been produced and collected from the granary and press, the Torah tells us to use specifically the “pesolet,” to remind ourselves that from God’s perspective, the refuse is just as valuable and significant as the food.  God can care for us with the “pesolet” no less than He can with the actual produce. 

            This, perhaps, is the significance of the requirement of “pesolet goren ve-yekev.”  It challenges us to balance our appreciation for material wealth with an awareness of our dependence on the Almighty, with the realization that ultimately, it is He who sustains us, and it is He upon whom we must rely, more so than upon our material assets.


            The Mishna in Masekhet Sukka (28b) addresses the situation of rainfall on Sukkot, establishing that once one’s food begins to become ruined by the rain, he may leave the sukka and enter his house.  The Mishna then adds that such a situation is comparable to one of “a servant who comes to pour a cup for his master, and he pours a jug on his face.” 

            It seems clear that Chazal refer here to God’s displeasure with our service, as He brings to rain to prevent us from fulfilling the mitzva of sukka, but the precise scenario described, and the particular meaning of this analogy, require explanation.

            The Vilna Gaon offered an especially insightful interpretation of the Mishna, explaining that the master in the analogy does not pour on the servant the cup that he was given to drink.  The Mishna speaks of a servant coming “li-mzog,” which is often used by Chazal in reference to diluting wine.  The wine is raw and unprocessed, and the servant brings a jug of water to pour into the wine so the master could drink it.  The master then throws the water onto the servant, rejecting his gesture, and leaving the wine unprocessed and hence undrinkable.  The Vilna Gaon explained that this analogy refers to the necessary combination between the very different experiences of the Yamim Noraim and Sukkot.  The wine in this story represents the awe, fear and spiritual intensity of the first ten days of Tishrei, the period of judgment, introspection, tension and dread.  This “wine” cannot be properly absorbed and integrated into our beings without being “diluted” by the addition of the joy and festivity of Sukkot.  The Tishrei experience is meaningful and impactful only if we combine the “wine” and the “water” – the intensity and solemnity of the Yamim Noraim with the festive celebration of Sukkot.  Without the joy of Sukkot, the Yamim Noraim experience cannot have an enduring impact upon us.  We would simply resume our ordinary routine and leave the special, intense emotions of the High Holidays behind, as we would be unable to bring them with us into our day-to-day life.  It is the joy of Sukkot which “dilutes” the fear of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur so that the experience can be properly integrated into our everyday lives throughout the coming year.

            This, the Vilna Gaon explains, is the Mishna’s intent in presenting this analogy.  When God, for reasons we cannot know, brings rain on Sukkot, thereby preventing us from fulfilling the mitzva of sukka, we lose the “water” that we need to “dilute” the Yamim Noraim experience.  We then run the risk of losing the long-term effect of that experience upon our lives.

            According to the Vilna Gaon, then, this Mishna teaches us the importance of the delicate balance between fear and joy, between intensive spiritual focus and genuine happiness and enjoyment.  This combination allows us to live rich, meaningful religious lives, in which we work to serve our Creator with both solemnity and joy, fulfilling our obligations with earnestness and intensity while also enjoying true contentment and satisfaction.      


            The Shulchan Arukh begins its discussion of the laws of Sukkot by explaining that when the Torah commands us to reside in sukkot during this holiday to remember the “sukkot” in which our ancestors dwelled in the wilderness, it refers to the miraculous “clouds of glory” that encircled them.  This understanding of the sukka is the subject of a famous dispute between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Akiva, recorded in Torat Kohanim (to Vayikra 23:43) and in the Gemara (Sukka 11b).  One view maintains that Benei Yisrael lived in actual huts, whereas the other explains the verse as referring to the special protective clouds that encircled the nation as they traveled.  The Shulchan Arukh (following the Tur) begins its presentation of the laws of the sukka by codifying the view that the sukka commemorates the “clouds of glory.”

            A number of Acharonim, as noted by the Mishna Berura, commented that the practical consequence of this ruling relates to the intention that one must have as he dwells in the sukka.  Since the Torah explicitly states that the purpose of residing in the sukka is to recall Benei Yisrael’s living conditions in the wilderness, we need to determine to what precisely this refers in order to properly fulfill this mitzva.  Accordingly, the Shulchan Arukh informs us that the accepted view is that which identifies the “sukkot” in the verse as the “clouds of glory,” as this is the intention one must have when he resides in the sukka – to recall the miraculous clouds with which God protected our ancestors in the wilderness. 

            The Mishna Berura then cites the Peri Megadim as noting that this requirement applies only on the level of “le-chatekhila” – meaning, the way one is supposed to perform the mitzva.  After the fact, however, if one ate in the sukka without this intention, he has nevertheless fulfilled his requirement.  Rav Yaakov Ettlinger, in his Bikkurei Yaakov, questions this ruling, and suggests that this intention is indeed indispensable for fulfilling the sukka obligation.  He writes that once the Torah commanded us to reside in a sukka in order to remember the miraculous conditions in the desert, it stands to reason that this commemorative function is indispensable for the fulfillment of the mitzva.  Rav Ettlinger explains that this requirement stands independently of the general question surrounding kavana (intention) when performing mitzvot.  According to some opinions, one does not fulfill a mitzva if he performs the required act without intending for the mitzva, while other disagree.  In the case of sukka, however, the Torah expressly requires living in the sukka in order to remember our ancestors’ experiences in the desert, and so irrespective of the general debate surrounding kavana, one must have this in mind to fulfill the mitzva of sukka.  As such, Rav Ettlinger writes, on the first night of Sukkot, when there is an obligation to eat a ke-zayit of bread in the sukka, one who did not have this intention when eating should eat another ke-zayit with this intention.

            In the Tosefes Bikkurim appendix printed at the end of Bikkurei Yaakov, Rav Ettlinger notes those who took issue with his conclusion.  They noted the Gemara’s famous discussion in Masekhet Rosh Hashanah (28b) concerning the case of a person who sleeps in the sukka on the night after Sukkot.  The Gemara suggests that according to the view that a mitzva act fulfills the mitzva even if there is no intent to fulfill the obligation, one who sleeps in the sukka for personal enjoyment after Sukkot should be in violation of bal tosif – the prohibition against adding onto mitzvot.  If intention is not required for fulfilling a mitzva obligation, then, seemingly, it should be forbidden to sleep in a sukka after Sukkot, as one thereby performs a superfluous mitzva act, in violation of bal tosif.  The Gemara responds that the prohibition of bal tosif forbids adding elements onto a mitzva at the time it is to be performed, but does not forbid performing a mitzva act at a time when the mitzva does not apply. 

            The Gemara’s entire discussion, some noted, appears to disprove Rav Ettlinger’s ruling.  Rav Ettlinger claimed that separate and apart from the general question surrounding the indispensability of kavana for fulfilling a mitzva, the mitzva of sukka requires us to recall the experience of our ancestors as they lived under the protection of the “clouds of glory.”  As such, one who sleeps in his sukka for enjoyment after Sukkot certainly does not transgress bal tosif.  Since he does not sleep there with the intention of recalling the “clouds of glory,” he does not perform a proper mitzva act that could violate bal tosif.  The fact that the Gemara even considered the possibility that one violates bal tosif in such a case would seem to prove that the special intention to recall the wilderness experience is not an indispensable component of the mitzva.

            Tomorrow we will iy”H present Rav Ettlinger’s answer to this question.


            Yesterday, we noted the Gemara’s brief discussion in Masekhet Rosh Hashanah (28b) regarding the case of one who decides he wants to sleep in the sukka after the end of Sukkot.  The Gemara posits that seemingly, if we accept the view that a mitzva act is valid even if it is done without any intention to fulfill the mitzva, sleeping in the sukka after Sukkot would violate bal tosif – the prohibition against adding onto the Torah’s laws.  Even though the individual sleeps there for enjoyment, and not for the mitzva, nevertheless, according to this view, intention is immaterial, and thus he performs a bona fide mitzva act when it is unwarranted, in violation of bal tosif.  The Gemara then dismisses this argument, asserting that bal tosif forbids adding onto mitzvot at the time they are to be observed, but not performing a mitzva act when the mitzva does not apply.

            As we saw, this Gemara appears to disprove the view taken by Rav Yaakov Ettlinger, in his Bikurei Yaakov (625), that one does not fulfill the mitzva of sukka without intending to commemorate the “clouds of glory” that encircled Benei Yisrael in the wilderness.  Several Acharonim posited that irrespective of the general question as to whether one can fulfill mitzvot without intention, one must have in mind when living in the sukka to commemorate our ancestors’ miraculous existence in the desert.  Rav Ettlinger suggested that this requirement may apply even on the level of be-di’avad – meaning, that one who fails to have this intention has not fulfilled the mitzva.  This position, however, seems to be negated by the Gemara’s discussion, as the Gemara presumes that sleeping in the sukka purely for comfort and enjoyment could constitute a valid mitzva act that could therefore violate bal tosif when the act is not required.

            Rav Ettlinger himself addresses this question, in the Tosefet Bikkurim appendix to Bikurei Yaakov, and he answers by proposing a novel reading of the Gemara’s discussion.  He notes that the Gemara never actually entertained the possibility that it would be forbidden to sleep in the sukka after Sukkot.  The Gemara made its point as an objection to the view that mitzva performance does not require intention, asking that according to this view, “One who sleeps in the sukka on the eighth day” – meaning, the day after Sukkot – “should receive lashes” for transgressing bal tosif.  As this is clearly not the case, the Gemara argues, we may perhaps prove that intention is necessary for the satisfactory performance of a mitzva act.  Why, Rav Ettlinger asks, did the Gemara assume from the outset that one is permitted to continue living in the sukka on the eighth day?

            Rav Ettlinger answers by suggesting that the Gemara refers to the practice in the Diaspora to reside in the sukka on Shemini Atzeret (albeit without reciting a berakha).  This practice is established elsewhere in the Gemara (Sukka 47a), and is based on the fact that Diaspora communities observe two days of Yom Tov to commemorate the time when remote communities were unsure of the date.  Just as Diaspora Jews observe a second day of Yom Tov, they similarly remain in the sukka on Shemini Atzeret, because in ancient times Diaspora communities were unsure whether that day was Shemini Atzeret or the seventh day of Sukkot.  The Gemara raised the question of how we can justify this practice according to the view that a mitzva act is valid without intent.  Since we know with certainty that this day is Shemini Atzeret, sleeping in the sukka would, seemingly, transgress bal tosif according to the view that intention is not required to fulfill a mitzva.  (According to the view that intention is required, this practice does not violate bal tosif, as one enters the sukka to fulfill the mitzva only commemoratively, and not with the intention of fulfilling the actual Torah command.)  As such, the Gemara speaks not of one who sleeps for enjoyment in the sukka on Shemini Atzeret, but rather of a Diaspora Jew who sleeps in the sukka on Shemini Atzeret as required by Halakha.  Therefore, since he sleeps for the sake of the halakhic requirement, he presumably does so with the intention of recalling Benei Yisrael’s miraculous conditions in the wilderness, and for this reason the Gemara questioned why this does not constitute a violation of bal tosif.


            Several parallels exist between the festivals of Sukkot and Pesach, and already the Gemara, in Masekhet Sukka (27a), notes that as both festivals begin on the 15th of the month (Tishrei, Nissan), they share certain halakhic properties.  This association between Sukkot and Pesach may perhaps account for the prevalence of the number four in Chazal’s enactments relevant to the seder night.  Just as on Sukkot we bear the obligation to wave the four species (an obligation which applies as a Biblical command only on the first day), Chazal similarly instituted several practices on the first night of Pesach involving the number four, most notably, drinking four cups of wine.

            The parallel between these two mitzvot – the four species on Sukkot, and the four cups of wine on Pesach – highlights the difference between them.  The four species, which the Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 30:12) famously views as symbolic of different kinds of Jews, are held together, whereas the four cups of wine at the seder must be drunk separately; one does not fulfill the mitzva of four cups by drinking four cups of wine in immediate succession.  And thus whereas the four species are brought together to form a single unit, the four cups are to remain separate and apart from one another.  This quality of the four cups extends as well to the four sons discussed by the Haggadah.  The text of the Haggadah makes a point of differentiating between the four sons, instructing the parents to respond separately and individually to each one, in a manner suitable to each child’s unique character and needs.  It emerges, then, that whereas on Sukkot we focus on the theme of unity and togetherness, on Pesach, we specifically underscore our differences and each person’s uniqueness.  Along similar lines, it has been noted that at the seder we are required to recline in a regal fashion, enjoying our personal space, while on Sukkot we often find ourselves cramped together.  In fact, the Gemara (Sukka 27b) even comments that in principle, all Am Yisrael can reside in a single sukka.  On Sukkot, it appears, Halakha encourages us to live together in crowded spaces, as opposed to Pesach, when we are to recline and extend our personal space.  (This notion was developed in an article by Rav Efrem Goldberg.)

            How might we explain this difference between the two festivals?  Why do we focus during Sukkot on our sense of togetherness, the joining of different types of Jews, whereas on Pesach we highlight the theme of individuality and uniqueness?

            On Pesach, we celebrate our freedom from slavery, which meant the liberation of individuality.  Slaves have no individual identity, and are instead treated and regarded as property.  A slave is unable to pursue an individual direction in the pursuit of self-fulfillment, as he is bound unlimitedly and unconditionally to the wishes and whims of his master.  And thus on Pesach, alongside the celebration of our emergence as a nation, we also celebrate our individuality.  Each and every Jew is commanded to conduct himself or herself in regal fashion, recognizing that each and every one of us is unique and special, endowed with individual qualities that set him or her apart from everyone else.  On Sukkot, by contrast, as we celebrate the end of the harvest season, when our attention is naturally drawn towards finances and socioeconomic status, we do just the opposite, and endeavor to blur the divisions between different kinds of Jews.  During this time of year, we recall and reenact the time when we lived altogether under the miraculous protection and care of the Almighty in the wilderness, when we were incapable of caring for ourselves.  Lest we be tempted to feel more important than, or superior to, those who are less successful, the festival of Sukkot comes and tells us to all live in crude, simple dwellings, to join together with other types of Jews, to remind ourselves that ultimately, we are all the same – helpless creatures entirely dependent on the Almighty’s grace and compassion.  And thus while on Pesach we focus on our distinctiveness, how we are each special and different with individual talents, on Sukkot we draw our attention to our similarities, to the fact that our differences pale in comparison to all that we share in common.


            The Gemara in Masekhet Sukka (11b) famously cites a view that when the Torah commands us to reside in a sukka to commemorate the “sukkot” in which Benei Yisrael dwelled in the wilderness, this refers to the ananei ha-kavod – the miraculous “clouds of glory” that accompanied the nation.

            It has been suggested that this view must be understood in light of the verses in Sefer Shemot, towards the beginning of Parashat Beshalach (13:20-22), that describe Benei Yisrael’s journey immediately following the Exodus.  Earlier (12:37), in Parashat Bo, we read that Benei Yisrael’s first station after departing Egypt was a place called Sukkot.  Their second journey, as we read in Parashat Beshalach, was from Sukkot to Eitam (13:20), and it is in reference to this second journey that we read of God’s miraculous cloud: “They journeyed from Sukkot and encamped in Eitam… And God walked before them in a pillar of cloud to guide them along the way…”  Perhaps, then, according to the view that the sukka commemorates the “clouds of glory,” it commemorates specifically this journey from Sukkot to Eitam, when these clouds first descended to guide and assist the nation.  It would then emerge that Pesach celebrates the initial departure from Egypt, the journey from the Egyptian border to Sukkot, whereas the festival of Sukkot celebrates the second journey, from Sukkot to Eitam, when the clouds first appeared.  (This suggestion was made by Rav Oren Duvdevani.)

            Support for this explanation may perhaps be drawn from the Torah’s formulation in presenting the command to reside in a sukka, when it states, “…in order that your [future] generations know that I had the Israelites reside in sukkot when I took them from the land of Egypt.”  The Torah mentions here not the forty years of travel in “sukkot,” but rather the “sukkot” which God provided at the time when Benei Yisrael left Egypt.  This formulation becomes more clearly understood once we view the sukka as commemorating the arrival of the miraculous cloud when Benei Yisrael departed from Sukkot and journeyed towards Eitam.

            We might further develop this approach by noting the particular significance of this journey from Sukkot to Eitam.  In the opening verses of Parashat Beshalach, we read that before Benei Yisrael journeyed from Sukkot, God decided against leading them along the direct route to Eretz Yisrael, and instead chose to lead them through the desert (Shemot 13:17-18).  When Benei Yisrael embarked from Sukkot, they headed away from the natural route to the Land of Israel, and made their way instead towards the Sea of Reeds and the desert, beginning a circuitous trek that entailed a lengthy sojourn in an uninhabitable wilderness.  We might speculate that it is to this particular journey that the prophet Yirmiyahu refers when he proclaims, “Thus says the Lord: “I remember for you the kindness of your youth, your bridal love, when you followed Me into the wilderness, into an uncultivated land” (Yirmiyahu 2:2).  It was at this point when Benei Yisrael expressed their faith in God by following him into the desert, rather than taking the natural, direct route to the Promised Land.

            If so, then the arrival of the miraculous “clouds of glory” symbolizes God’s reciprocity to Benei Yisrael, His promise to reward our trust by guaranteeing our protection.  At that moment when Benei Yisrael exhibited their boundless faith by heading towards the desert, God responded by sending them His miraculous “clouds” which protected them as they traveled.  The sukka, then, reminds us that we have nothing to fear by following God’s will.  Even when this entails difficult sacrifices or a degree of uncertainty, we must firmly and confidently believe that we will be cared for.  The sukka represents the reciprocal nature of emuna, the fact that our decision to follow God “into an uncultivated land” is rewarded with the “ananei ha-kavod,” with His loving care and protection.


            The Gemara in Masekhet Sukka (27b) records a debate among the Tannaim as to whether one fulfills the mitzva of sukka by eating or sleeping in his fellow’s sukka, instead of his own.  Whereas Rabbi Eliezer maintained that one must use his own sukka for the mitzva, the accepted view, following the majority opinion among the Sages, is that one fulfills his obligation by eating or sleeping in a borrowed sukka.  The majority view infers this ruling from the verse in Sefer Vayikra (23:42), “kol ha-ezrach be-Yisrael yeishvu ba-sukkot” (“all citizens of Israel shall reside in sukkot”).  Chazal understood this verse as implying that “all Israel are capable of residing in a single sukka” (“kol Yisrael re’uyim lei-shev be-sukka achat”).  The simplest explanation of the Gemara’s inference, seemingly, is that Chazal explained the verse to mean that even if only one Jew builds a sukka, the entire nation is able to use it to fulfill their obligation.  This verse thus instructs that one does not have to own the sukka he uses to fulfill the mitzva.  (This explanation of the Gemara is offered by Rav Elazer Moshe Horowitz of Pinsk, in his notes to the Gemara.)

            Rashi, however, explains the Gemara’s comment differently.  He writes that the Gemara understood the verse as referring to a sukka owned cooperatively by the entire nation.  Necessarily, if everyone shares ownership over this sukka, then nobody actually has technical halakhic ownership, since everybody owns less than the value of a peruta – the minimum value that is subject to halakhic ownership.  This, then, proves that halakhic ownership is not a precondition for fulfilling the mitzva of sukka, and thus the majority view concluded that one may fulfill the mitzva by using somebody else’s sukka.

            We might wonder why Rashi preferred this explanation over what would seem to be the simpler reading, that the Gemara refers to a situation where only one Jew has a sukka.  Why did Rashi choose to explain the Gemara as speaking of a sukka cooperatively owned by the entire Jewish Nation?

            The answer, perhaps, lies in the famous dispute recorded earlier in Masekhet Sukka (11b) regarding the commemorative function of the sukka.  The Torah (Vayikra 23:43) commands us to reside in a sukka to commemorate the “sukkot” in which our ancestors resided in the wilderness, and the Tannaim disagree as to whether this refers to actual huts, or to the miraculous “clouds of glory” that encircled Benei Yisrael.  The difference between the two opinions, it would appear, is the difference between individual, personal residences, and a “structure” that encircled the entire nation.  According to the opinion that the sukka commemorates the “ananei ha-kavod” (“clouds of glory”), the ideal model, theoretically, is a sukka belonging to, and inhabited by, the entire Nation of Israel, which would resemble the miraculous clouds that encircled the entire nation in the wilderness.  Even if, as a practical matter, the Torah could not command that such a sukka be constructed, it is the theoretical model of the sukka envisioned by the Torah, and thus Chazal understood that one may use another person’s sukka.  Rashi perhaps understood that the majority view among the Tannaim follows the opinion that the sukka commemorates the “clouds of glory,” and thus interprets the Torah’s command of “kol ha-ezrach be-Yisrael” as setting this theoretical model of a national, cooperative sukka jointly owned by the entire nation.

            Indeed, the dissenting view, which requires owning the sukka in which one resides, is held by Rabbi Eliezer, one of the two disputants in the debate surrounding the question of what precisely the sukka commemorates.  According to the version of the debate recorded in Torat Kohanim (noted by the Mesoret Ha-Shas on the margin of the page in Sukka 11b), Rabbi Eliezer is the one who maintained that our sukkot commemorate the actual huts in which our ancestors resided in the wilderness.  In light of what we have seen, we might suggest that this position of Rabbi Eliezer forms the basis of his ruling requiring each person to reside in his own sukka.  Since, in his view, the mitzva commemorates the private dwellings in which Benei Yisrael resided, his ideal model of sukkot is each family living in its own personal sukka.  Rabbi Eliezer therefore ruled that one must reside in his own sukka and cannot fulfill the mitzva by using somebody else’s sukka.  The majority opinion, however, accepts the view of Rabbi Akiva, who held that the sukka commemorates the “ananei ha-kavod,” and therefore the theoretical ideal is for all Benei Yisrael to share a single sukka, thus establishing that one may fulfill the mitzva with somebody else’s sukka.