Masechet Sukkah 27a-33b

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Lulav Set
27 Sep 2006

The Coming Week’s Daf Yomi by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim (original ideas) of Talmudic scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud.

This month’s Steinsaltz Daf Yomi is sponsored by Dr. and Mrs. Alan Harris, The Lewy Family Foundation, and Marilyn and Edward Kaplan

Sukkah 27a-b

The Mishnah brings the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer, who says that over the course of Sukkot, a person is obligated to eat two meals per day in the sukkah, i.e. one should eat 14 meals in the sukkah over the course of the Biblically mandated seven-day holiday. According to the Chachamim, however, there is only an obligation to eat in the sukkah on the first night of the holiday. From then on, a person can choose to eat food that does not obligate him to sit in the sukkah, and he will not be obligated to do so.

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 Yochanan ben Zakkai. Rabbi Eliezer so impressed his teacher that Rabban Yochanan 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 Yochanan ben Zakkai after the destruction.

We find recorded in Pirkei Avot that Rabban Yochanan 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.

Sukkah 28a-b

In the context of discussing Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus and his teacher, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, the Gemara mentions that Hillel ha-Zaken had eighty students – thirty who are described as deserving of divine revelation like Moshe Rabbeinu, thirty who merit the cessation of heavenly orbits as did Yehoshua bin Nun, and twenty average students. The greatest of his students was Yonatan ben Uziel; the least of them was Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai.

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

It was said of Rabbi Yochanan 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 Uziel 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 Uziel. His life’s work, for which he is best known and remembered, is his translation of the books of Nach (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 Shamai ha-Zaken, who served as the Av Bet Din, sought him out to discuss issues of halakha with him.

Sukkah 29a-b

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 sukkah his permanent dwelling (keva). Thus, a person’s beautiful utensils should be brought into the sukkah and his normal eating, drinking and daily activities should take place there.

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

Similarly, a candle can only be left in a large sukkah; if the sukkah 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 sukkah, 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 sukkah. Drinking takes place all of the time, so cups and glasses always belong in the sukkah.

With regard to the candle, the most obvious explanation of the Gemara is that in a small sukkah 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 sukkah, so it cannot be placed in a sukkah 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 sukkah, since it is considered ugly and disgusting – like the dirty dishes that must immediately be removed.

Sukkah 30a-b

The third perek, 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:

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 Yochanan 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 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.

Sukkah 31a-b

This perek introduced us to the idea that a stolen lulav cannot be used to perform a mitzvah – how about a stolen sukkah? Surprisingly, in this case, the Chachamim permit the use of a sukkah 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 sukkah and cannot borrow (or steal) the sukkah 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 sukkah. 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 sukkah 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 Amoraim who do not accept the restrictions of mitzvah ha-ba’ah ba-aveirah.

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

According to the continuation of the Gemara, even the case of a stolen sechach may not be an impediment for using the sukkah, 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 sechach of a sukkah, it is likely that the thief would only have to return the value of the sechach and not the sechach itself.

It goes without saying that even if a sukkah gezulah (stolen) is technically kosher, one should not use someone else’s sukkah without his permission – see the Rama in the Shulchan Arukh Orach Chaim (637:3).

Sukkah 32a-b

Many of the halakhot of hadassim – the myrtle branches, referred to as anaf etz avot in Vayikra 23:40 – parallel those of the lulav. They cannot be stolen or dried up, etc.

The Gemara derives the identification of the hadas as a myrtle based on its interpretation of the aforementioned passage in Vayikra, reading it to mean that the leaves must cover the branches. In so doing, the Gemara rejects a number of other possible identifications, like olive branches, dulva and hirduf.

The Dulvaplatanus orientalis – is a tall, non-fruit-bearing tree (it grows to 50 meters high) of the Platanaceae family that is usually grown as an ornamental tree. It is rejected in this case because its leaves do not totally cover its branches.

The hirdufnerium oleander – is an evergreen shrub that grows to a height of four meters. Its yellowish-greenish leaves are thick and leathery with pink flowers. Although it certainly meets the requirement to have leaves that cover the branches, it is rejected because of its toxicity. Both Abayye and Rava quote psukim (=verses) – Abayye from Mishlei (3:17) that the ways of the Torah are pleasant; Rava from Zechariah (8:19) that the Torah loves truth and peace – that are understood to indicate that a poisonous plant could not be the one chosen to perform a mitzvah.

Further details about the requirements for hadassim are taught by Rabbi Yehuda, who insists that a kosher hadas must have at least three leaves on each row. Rav Kahane permits a hadas where the leaves are set up in rows with two leaves on one level and a third leaf on the next level.  This position is rejected by Mar bar Ameimar, who quotes his father as calling this a hadas shoteh – a “foolish,” or “mistaken,” hadas.

While the Rama permits the use of a hadas where there are two leaves on each level (Shulchan Arukh Orach Chaim 446:3), the majority of the poskim reject that position and rule that three leaves need to be growing on each level.

Sukkah 33a-b

Another one of the rules of the hadas presented in the Mishnah (32a) is that if there are more berries than leaves, the hadas cannot be used. If the berries are removed, however, then the hadas is considered kosher for use.

Rav Chisda presented a limitation on this rule that had been taught by Rav (he refers to him as Rabbeinu ha-Gadol, apparently because he was the youngest of Rav’s students and had learned from many of Rav’s older students – in this case, he wanted to emphasize that he heard this teaching from Rav directly). According to him, the berries are only a problem if they are in one place; if they are spread out in two or three places, then the hadas can be used. Rava corrects the statement, arguing that in such a case, the hadas would be menumar – spotted – which is a problem. He explains that Rav must have been making a different point: that if the berries were green they would not be a problem; it is only if they are black (or red, according to Rav Papa) that the hadas cannot be used.

At no point does the Gemara explain why the berries create a problem for the hadas. The implication of the Gemara (as interpreted by Rashi) is that the problem is one of hadar – that the four species must be particularly beautiful, and the contrasting color of the berries is considered a blemish, marring the hadar of the branches.

The Jerusalem Talmud suggests two possible problems with the berries. One suggestion is that the berries – with their distinct color – appear to be foreign to the branch; another possibility is that the commandment in the Torah is to perform the mitzvah with the branch (anaf) – not with the fruit (pri). Once the berries have ripened – as is indicted by the change in color – they are considered fruit, which cannot be used for performance of the mitzvah.

In addition to his monumental translation and commentary on the Talmud, Rabbi Steinsaltz has authored dozens of books and hundreds of articles on a variety of topics, both Jewish and secular. For more information about Rabbi Steinsaltz’s groundbreaking work in Jewish education, visit or contact the Aleph Society at 212-840-1166.


The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.