Taken from the Shiurim of Rabbi Michael Rosensweig


Of all of the holidays on the Jewish Calendar, Succot is at once the most pro-active and the most enigmatic. In addition to the daily commandment to take the four species, there is also the main commandment, that of sitting in the Succah, a commandment which includes not only eating, but sleeping, learning, and "hanging out" as well. Our issue will be to determine what exactly is the nature of this mitzvah, and how that nature effects some of the laws associated with it.

As with any mitzvah, our investigation must begin with the verses in the Torah. It is here that the enigmatic aspect comes into play, for the Torah presents Succot in a less-than-clear fashion. To fully understand this, we will analyze the verses pertaining to Succot both within themselves and by comparing them to the Torah's exposition of the laws of the other holidays. (It may be helpful to have a Tanach on hand for this.)

There are three "parshiyot ha-moadim" - sections speaking of the holidays - in the Torah. The first is Vayikra 23, the second in Bamidbar 28-29, and the third is Devarim 16 (the mentionings of the holidays in Shemot 23 and 34, while important, do not figure into our discussion here). Each of these three sections has a very clear focus within itself. Vayikra is the most comprehensive of the three. Its theme is "mikra kodesh" - describing each festival as a "holy convocation" - and it discusses all six holidays (Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh HaShana, Yom HaKippurim, Succot, Shmini Atzeret), complete with their dates and attendant mitzvot. Bamidbar also mentions all of the holidays, and is focused mainly on the special sacrifices brought on each of these days, although it does include a "loose" detail here and there. Devarim, which deals only with Pesach, Shavuot, and Succot, takes more of an agricultural approach and, consistent with that book's focus on the Jews entering the land, places each holiday into the context of going up to Yerushalayim to celebrate the festival.

This is all fine and good. However, when we look closer at the verses speaking of Succot, we see massive amounts of textual problems. The first is that Succot receives a "double mention" in Vayikra. Verses 33 through 36 describe the holiday as a mikra kodesh on which one is forbidden to perform any labor and on which one must bring special sacrifices. Verse 37 then presents what would appear to be a summation verse for this entire chapter - "These are the holiday of Hashem that shall be called holy convocations..." However, verse 39 then comes back with more detail about Succot. Even more significantly, the mention on the specific mitzvot of Succot, namely the Succah and the four species, appears only in this latter section! Additionally, the commandment to sit in Succot is followed immediately by the justification of "So that your generations will know that Hashem sat the Jews in Succot when he took them out of Egypt." This would not seem so strange if it were not for the fact that this is the only reason given for any mitzvah in this entire section. To top it all off, this second section dealing with Succot begins with the word "ach" - however or nevertheless. What is going on here? There are also more subtle textual issues here. Both Succot and Pesach are described as being for seven days. However, there are differences in terms of where the seven-day aspect is placed in the verses. Both in Vayikra and in Bamidbar, the seven day aspect of Pesach is juxtaposed with the commandment to eat matza, while by Succot, the seven days are connected not merely to the active mitzvah involved with the holiday, but also to the "chag" (holiday) aspect, as well as the aspect of the holiday as being for Hashem. Is there any significance to all of this? Finally, we should note the issues that arise in Devarim. First, the language used there is that we should MAKE (ta'aseh) a holiday of Succot. Why is this unusual phrase employed here? Second, while the Torah gives many details about the mitzvah of matza, the mitzvah of Succah is entirely omitted.

To sum up this section, there are two major issues when we read the verses concerning Succot. The first is why the mitzvah of Succah seems to be placed on a lower footing than the mitzvot of the other holidays. The second issue is how do we view the seven-day nature of Succot? We will soon see that the answers to these two questions are very closely related.


The gemara in Succah 27a discusses two possible sources for a law of Rabi Eliezer. While these sources do apply to the case at hand, they are important on a more general level as they are the two main textual sources for our knowledge of some of the laws of the Succah. The first source is the use of the command to sit in the Succah to mean that we must live in it (teishvu k'ein taduru). The second option is a textual link made between the laws of Succah and those of eating matza on Pesach. Obviously, it is no accident that we have two sources. In such cases we must look beyond the possibility that there are simply two equally valid options and look to see what the various implications are of following each possibility.

The case for following the first option is spelled out in further detail on Succah 28b (among other places). There, in defining how one is to observe the holiday, the gemara lists several thing that one must do in the Succah, such as bring his nice dishes into it, eat and drink in it, and walk around in it. The idea behind these laws seems to be the notion that for seven days, one moves his personal headquarters from his house to his Succah.

However, there is a problem with this view. The Chachamim in the mishna on 27a state that the obligation on the first night is on higher level than that on the rest of the holiday. How do we include this view within the definition of "living in the Succah?" To answer this problem, we must look at the other possible source. Connecting Succah to Pesach means making a connection to a law where there is a difference between the first night and the rest of the holiday. One must eat matza on the first night of Pesach. After that, while one cannot eat any chametz, there is no specific commandment to eat matza. If we compare Succah to this law, then we can see how the Chachamim arrived at their law. Nevertheless, if we use this source we then have to investigate to what degree we can make a comparison? Would we say that one has to eat matza in the Succah as a result, or do we merely transfer a limited number of details from one law to the other?


Taken together, these two sources raise several issues. The first is the question of how many mitzvot are we actually dealing with? Is it possible that there are more than one? While no listing of the mitzvot (such as those done by Rambam, Semag, Rav Sa'adiah Gaon) lists more than one commandment of being in the Succah, we see a possible split between the first night at the rest of the holiday both in the mishna on 27b and even in the Tur, who says that the first night has "more of an obligation" while the other days have merely a command to not eat outside of the Succah (but not a positive injunction to be inside of the Succah). Rav Yerucham Fishel Perlow, is his commentary on Rav Sa'adiah Gaon's Sefer HaMitzvot suggests that there may actually be two commandments, but since there is only one verse we can only actually count one. On the other side of the coin is the view of Rashba, who states that the obligation is constant throughout, and the differences that arise are issues of being lenient versus being strict. It is possible that we care more about the first night because it "leads off" the holiday and thus we try as hard as possible to be in the Succah, even if it rains for part of the night, a level of stringency we would not take the rest of the holiday. The qualitative obligation does not differ, but our relationship to the obligation does to some extent.

There is also the issue of the obligation of women. One would assume that women would not be obligated to sit in the Succah, since it is a positive time-bound commandment. However, that is not the reason that is given by the gemara. Why not?! Again, it depends on which of our sources we use. If we focus on the living aspect, then there are two approaches. One option is that the law applies directly to males, but living includes them being in the Succah with their wives and children. The other option is that it applies to females as well, and then we again must ask why the gemara does not rely on the fact that this is a positive time-bound commandment. Clearly, sitting in the Succah must function on a higher plane than do regular mitzvot. On the other hand, if we utilize the comparison to matza, then we have to understand why women are or are not obligated in that mitzvah and why that is so.

The final issue that we will raise this week is that of mitzta'er - one who cannot sit in the Succah because it causes him pain or discomfort. At what threshold do we allow one to free himself of his obligation to be in the Succah? What type of discomfort are we talking about - rain, wind, physical pain? Is there a difference between the first night and the rest of Succot? What seems to emerge from the discussion of this topic is two possible types of mitzta'er - on the part of the person and caused by a defect in the Succah itself. Again, these will flow from our divergent sources.


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