Sukka 25a-31b

Sukka 25a-b – One mitzvah exempting you from another

The Mishnah on today’s daf (page) teaches about situations where people can forgo the mitzvah of sukka. According to the Mishnah, sheluhei mitzvah – people occupied with performance of a mitzvah – are not obligated in the commandment of sukka. Also included on this list are people who are ill, together with their caretakers. Finally, the Mishnah teaches that only a formal meal needs to be eaten in the sukka; a snack can be eaten outside of the sukka.

The idea that ha-osek be-mitzvah patur min ha-mitzvah – that someone engaged in a mitzvah is free from his obligations in other commandments – is derived from a passage in keri’at shema. We read in shema that we are obligated to discuss the words of shema – be-shivtikha be-veitekha u-velekhtekha va-derekh – when you are sitting in your home and when you are walking on your way. The emphasis on “your home” and “your way” teaches that when you are occupied in matters that are not your own choice, that is to say, matters that you are obligated to be involved with – i.e. mitzvot – then you are not obligated in shema, nor, for that matter, are you obligated in other mitzvot.

One point that is not clear, and is the subject of debate among the poskim, is whether we apply the rule of ha-osek be-mitzvah patur min ha-mitzvah only in a case where performing the additional mitzvah will adversely affect fulfillment of the first mitzvah (for example, if spending time looking for a sukka will limit the amount of time the travelers will be able to devote to their travel, making fulfillment of the mitzvah take a longer time). Others argue that involvement in a mitzvah simply creates a situation whereby a new obligation cannot be imposed on the person who is already occupied with a mitzvah. According to this view, even if the second mitzvah can be done with no additional strain or effort, the person is still not obligated to do it.

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Sukka 26a-b – Eating outside the sukka

As we learned, the last Mishnah (25a) permitted eating a non-formal meal outside the sukka. The Mishnah on our daf (page) records that when asked to taste the food that was being cooked on Sukkot, Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai insisted that it be brought into the sukka, as did Rabban Gamliel when he was brought two dates and a bucket of water.

In contrast, the mishna relates:  And when they gave Rabbi Tzadok less than an egg-bulk of food, he took the food in a cloth for cleanliness; he did not wash his hands because in his opinion, one is not required to wash his hands before eating less than an egg-bulk.  And he ate it outside the sukka and did not recite a blessing after eating it.  He holds that one is not required to recite a blessing after eating less than an egg-bulk, as it is not satisfying, and it is written: “And you shall eat and be satisfied and bless the Lord your God” (Devarim 8:10).

The Gemara objects that it seems odd to find that the Mishnah would bring stories of Sages who insisted on eating even small amounts of food in the sukka immediately after presenting the rule that such foods can be eaten outside of the sukka. The Gemara responds that the Mishnah is teaching that such behavior is an accepted stringency, and that such behavior is not considered yuhara – haughtiness.

Rabbi Aryeh Leib Yellin in his Yefe Einayim explains that there is no yuhara in this case because it is not evident to people why he is not eating a small amount outside – perhaps he is simply not hungry! In any case, there are people who even during the year will eat and drink only in their own homes, so there is no clear indication that they have accepted this stringency upon them.

The Me’iri suggests that the reason these stories were placed together in the Mishnah was to emphasize that stringency may be lauded, but leniency is also acceptable, as long as it is within the framework of what halakha accepts, since we see that among the Sages of the Mishnah both positions were considered normative.

Rabbi Tzadok’s behavior is subject to a difference of opinion between Rashi who says that he took the food in a napkin because of his fastidiousness, while Tosafot explain that his religious devotion was such that he treated all food as though it were terumah, so he refrained from touching food lest it become ritually defiled. In any case, it is clear that the baraita tells Rabbi Tzadok’s story in order to emphasize that just as there were Sages who were stringent upon themselves, there were also those who made a point of emphasizing that it was appropriate to stick to the letter of the law without stringencies. In this story, Rabbi Tzadok was lenient with regard to sukka, ritual hand washing and the blessing after food.

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Sukka 27a-b – Eating in the sukka

Mishna: Rabbi Eliezer says: A person is obligated to eat fourteen meals in the sukka over the course of the seven days of the festival of Sukkot, one during the day each day and one at night each night.  And the Rabbis say: There is no quota for the number of meals, and one may choose whether or not to eat any of the meals except for the meal on the evening of the first Festival day of Sukkot, which one is required to eat in the sukka.

Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus was also known as Rabbi Eliezer ha-Gadol. He lived during the time of the destruction of the second Temple and in the period following the destruction. Although Rabbi Eliezer came from a wealthy family that could trace its roots back to Moshe Rabbenu, he did not begin to study Torah until he was 20 years old, when he traveled to Jerusalem to study with Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai. Rabbi Eliezer so impressed his teacher that Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai considered him to be the best of all his students and, indeed, the equal of all the Sages. His knowledge and leadership abilities were already recognized before the destruction of the Temple, and he is one of the Sages who established the great yeshiva in Yavneh together with Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai after the destruction.

We find recorded in Pirkei Avot that Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai described Rabbi Eliezer as a “well plastered cistern that never loses a drop of water,” whose teachings were based almost entirely on traditions that he received from his teachers. Nevertheless, we find that, in contrast to his teachers and peers, Rabbi Eliezer was inclined to follow the opinions of Bet Shammai.

Rabbi Akiva was his main student, although virtually all of the Sages of that generation learned from him. His own son, Hyrcanus, was accepted as one of the leading Sages of his generation.

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Sukka 28a-b – The students of Hillel

In the context of discussing Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus and his teacher, Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai, the Gemara mentions that Hillel HaZaken had eighty students – thirty who are described as deserving of divine revelation like Moshe Rabbenu, thirty who merit the cessation of heavenly orbits as did Yehoshua bin Nun, and twenty intermediate students. The greatest of his students was Yonatan ben Uzziel; the youngest of them was Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai.

In what fields was the “youngest of the students” expert?

It was said of Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai that his studies included the written Torah, the Mishnah, the Gemara, the Halakhot, and Aggadot; the subtle points of the Torah and the minutiae of the Scribes; the inferences from minor to major and analogies; astronomy and geometry (the simple meaning of the word in Greek is land measurements, but it was commonly used to mean engineering or mathematics in general); the language of the ministering angels; the language of the demons, the whisper of the palms, washer’s proverbs and fox fables, and matters great and small.

The report on Yonatan ben Uzziel was that when he would sit and study Torah, a bird that flew above his head would immediately burn up.

We have surprisingly little biographical information about Yonatan ben Uzziel. His life’s work, for which he is best known and remembered, is his translation of the books of Nakh (nevi’im) into Aramaic. It is not clear whether the translation that we have today is actually the one that he wrote, or whether it is based on his work. In any case, it is not simply a translation, but a free interpretation, which includes many details and elucidations. Although a translation into Greek already existed at the time, his work was groundbreaking in that it included interpretations beyond the simple meaning of the words and was done according to – and with the approval of – the Sages of his generation.

We find that Yonatan ben Uziel was so well regarded during his lifetime, that even Shammai HaZaken, who served as the Av Bet Din, sought him out to discuss issues of halakhah with him.

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Sukka 29a-b – Make your sukka your home

The Mishnah (28b) taught the general principle that during the week of Sukkot a person should make his house his temporary dwelling (ara’i) and his sukka his permanent dwelling (keva). Thus, a person’s beautiful utensils should be brought into the sukka and his normal eating, drinking and daily activities should take place there.

Nevertheless, not everything is appropriate in the sukka. Rava rules that the place for drinking utensils is in the sukka, but eating utensils should remain in the house.

Similarly, a lamp can only be left in a large sukka; if the sukka is small then the candle should remain in the house.

The Rosh and the Me’iri explain that the problem with eating utensils is that when they become dirty they are inappropriate for the sukka, so they must be removed immediately. Tosafot and the Ritva argue that the reference is not to plates as much as it is to pots and pans, whose place is in the kitchen and not on the table. Others suggest that the difference between eating utensils and drinking utensils is that there are set times for meals, so those are the only times that eating utensils belong in the sukka. Drinking takes place all of the time, so cups and glasses always belong in the sukka.

With regard to the lamp, the most obvious explanation of the Gemara is that in a small sukka we are afraid that a fire might break out, which is the approach suggested by Tosafot and the Rosh.  Alternatively, as explained by the Ritva and the Mei’ri, the need to stay a distance away from the fire effectively takes away from the size of the sukka, so it cannot be placed in a sukka which is the minimum size to begin with. Rashi offers an alternative approach – that we are talking about a clay candle holder, and that even if the candle is no longer burning, it should not be left in a sukka, since it is considered ugly and disgusting – like the dirty dishes that must immediately be removed.

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Sukka 30a-b – A mitzvah fulfilled by means of a transgression

The third perek (chapter), Lulav ha-Gazul, which began on yesterday’s daf, or page (29b), focuses on the mitzvah of taking the four species (see Vayikra 23:40). Based on the explanation of this commandment in the Torah, many details remain unclear:

  • To what plants is the Torah referring – it offers more in the way of a description than a specific tree or shrub?
  • Are there requirements about the condition of the plants that are to be used for this mitzvah?
  • Do all of the plants need to be taken together?
  • Is the commandment a mitzvah on all Jews, or is it connected to the Temple service?
  • Does the mitzvah apply on just the first day of Sukkot, or on every day of the holiday?

These very issues are the ones dealt with in our perek.

The title of the perek – Lulav ha-Gazul – refers to the first rule in the Mishnah, which prohibits using a stolen lulav to fulfill the mitzvah. Rabbi Yohanan quotes Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai as explaining the basis for this prohibition as being a mitzvah ha-ba’ah ba-aveirah – a commandment that is fulfilled by means of a sinful act. The source for this concept is a passage in Tanakh (Malakhi 1:13) in which the prophet pointedly states that God rejects the offering of a stolen sacrifice, just as He rejects offerings that are physically blemished.

Another pasuk (verse) quoted in this context refers to God’s love of justice and His hatred of a stolen olah offering (see Yeshayahu 61:8). The Ri”af points out that the pasuk chooses to emphasize an olah because it is a sacrifice that it totally burned up for God. While we can well understand that sacrifices where part of the korban is given to its owner cannot come from stolen property, we may have thought that if it all is given to God, there is less of a problem since the entire universe belongs to Him. Thus it is important to emphasize God’s total rejection of such a suggestion.

The commentaries discuss the concept of mitzvah ha-ba’ah ba-aveirah at great length. The general conclusion is that not every sinful act connected to a commandment negates the mitzvah. When the aveirah (transgression) is what allows the mitzvah to be performed – as in our case where the lulav would not have been available for use had it not been stolen – then it cannot be used for performance of a mitzvah.

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Sukka 31a-b – Using a stolen sukka

This perek (chapter) introduced us to the idea that a stolen lulav cannot be used to perform a mitzvah – how about a stolen sukka? Surprisingly, in this case, the Hakhamim permit the use of a sukka that was built on stolen property.  Rabbi Eliezer, who forbids its use, does so as much because of the sin involved as because of his view that every person must live in his own sukka and cannot borrow (or steal) the sukka of his friend.

Why is the rule of mitzvah ha-ba’ah ba-aveirah – a commandment that is being fulfilled by means of a sinful act – not applied in this case?

The Ritva raises this question and suggests that the concept of mitzvah ha-ba’ah ba-aveirah applies only to commandments that are acts of prayer and entreaty; this would be true of the lulav, which is taken as part of the prayer service, but not the sukka. This explanation is rejected by the majority of the commentaries. The Tosafot R”id suggests that the Gemara is discussing a case where a significant change was made to the sukka itself, thus removing it from the possession of the original owner, and in turn taking away its halakhic status as “stolen.”  It is also possible that there are some amora’im who do not accept the restrictions of mitzvah ha-ba’ah ba-aveirah.

Rabbi Moshe ibn Habib, in his Kappot Temarim, suggests that the definition of a sukka is its s’khakh; thus the only problem of mitzvah ha-ba’ah ba-aveirah would be when the s’khakh is stolen, and our Gemara is discussing a case when it is the land on which the sukka is standing that is stolen.

According to the continuation of the Gemara, even the case of a stolen s’khakh may not be an impediment for using the sukka, because of takkanat marish.  According to the Torah, if a person has a stolen article in his possession, it is not enough for him to pay its value to the owner – he must return the object itself. The Sages ruled that in the event that forcing the thief to return the object may discourage him from repenting (e.g. where a stolen beam could only be returned if the thief would have to destroy his house in order to extract the beam), he can return its value rather than the object itself.

Thus, if wood was stolen and used as the s’khakh of a sukka, it is likely that the thief would only have to return the value of the s’khakh and not the s’khakh itself.

It goes without saying that even if a sukka gezulah (stolen) is technically kosher, one should not use someone else’s sukka without his permission – see the Rema in the Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayyim (637:3).