Masechet Sukkah 34a-40b

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05 Oct 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 34

Continuing its discussion of the arba minim – the four species that are taken up during the holiday – the Mishnah (33b) discusses the requirements of the aravah (willow branch). Aside from the limitations that we are already familiar with from our study of the lulav and the hadassim (e.g. that a stolen or dried up branch cannot be used), we learn that a tzaftzefa is not kosher for use as an aravah.

What is an arava and what is a tzaftzefa? The baraita lists that an aravah has a reddish stem and a long leaf with smooth edges, while a taftzefa has a whitish stem and a round shaped leaf with serrated edges. Another baraita distinguishes between different types of serrated edges – when they are like a magal (scythe) they are fine; the problem is when they are shaped like a masor (saw). In fact, Abayye identifies the scythe-shaped plant as a hilfa gila, which was apparently well-known to be considered an aravah.

These identifications do not make the picture much clearer. The commentaries discuss whether all three of the “rules” must be met in order to declare a plant to be an aravah; from the story of the hilfa gila it is clear that not all of the criteria must be met. Furthermore, the Tosefta and the Yerushalmi appear to have variant readings of the baraita that give a very different picture of the kosher aravah.

Thus, even with the lengthy list that the Gemara gives, indicating the ways to distinguish between the kosher aravah and the non-kosher tzaftzefa, it is still difficult to ascertain which types of trees are referred to. It appears that both the aravah and the tzaftzefa are types of willow trees of the salix family, short trees that grow very quickly. Even within the two types there are many varieties, including trees that are grafted and contain both types within them.

The aravah likely can be identified as salix acmophylla boiss, while the tzaftzefa, which, according to the Gemara, has leaves that are of a different shape than the aravah, may very well be the “white willow” – salix alba L.

Sukkah 35

As with all of the arba minim – the four species that are taken on the Sukkot holiday, the etrog is hinted at in the pasuk that refers to it as a peri etz hadar – the fruit of a beautiful tree – but is not clearly identified. The Gemara attempts to derive the identity of the fruit from the pasuk itself. This methodology is not limited only to our Gemara – the Jerusalem Talmud argues that it must be a beautiful fruit from a beautiful tree, as opposed to a beautiful tree with ugly fruit (like a carob) or an ugly tree with beautiful fruit (like a pomegranate).

Our Gemara also notes that the pasuk emphasizes both the fruit and the tree, and suggests that we are to understand that it is a reference to a tree whose fruit has the same taste as the tree itself. This apparently points specifically to an etrog, where most of the fruit is the peel – whose taste is similar to the tree – and only a very small amount of it is truly fruit.

The Gemara’s objection to this suggestion is that other types of fruit fall into this category, as well. Pepper, for example, has the same taste as its tree. This pepper is piper nigrum – black pepper – which grows on a climbing vine to a height of 5 – 7 meters. Its growth is similar to that of a grape vine, as it spreads out on the ground if it has nowhere to climb. At the edges of the branches there are white sprouts, from which the fruit grows, each one about the size of a pea. When ripe, they turn red. Pepper is native to Indonesia and the southern part of India, but already in Talmudic times it was successfully cultivated in Israel.

The Ritva points out that the discussion in the Gemara about how to define the passage commanding us to take a pri etz hadar cannot possibly be searching for the true identification of the fruit. By the time of the Gemara it is obvious that there were already long-standing oral traditions that the fruit that had to be taken was an etrog. Out Gemara is simply an attempt to investigate whether the well-known tradition could be shown to have a source in the written Torah, as well.

Sukkah 36

The Mishnah (34b) teaches that an etrog must be whole for it to be used for the mitzvah. If even a small part of it was missing then it cannot be used.

The Gemara on our daf tells of the unusual case of Rabbi Chanina, who would take a bite out of his etrog and then use it to fulfill the mitzvah. The explanation for his behavior is given by the Gemara as distinguishing between the first day of Sukkot, when there is a biblical obligation to take the daled minim (the four species) and other days of the holiday when the requirement is only of Rabbinic origin. When there is no biblical obligation, even an etrog that is chaser – where a part is missing – is considered kosher.

This distinction helps us understand why Rabbi Chanina was able to fulfill his mitzvah even though his etrog had a bite taken from it, but we still are at a loss to understand why Rabbi Chanina chose to do that – and from the Gemara it appears that he did this on a regular basis. This question is raised by the Meiri, who points out that it is odd that one of the Sages would choose to fulfill the mitzvah this way on a regular basis, even if it was technically permitted to do so. He explains that Rabbi Hanina certainly said the blessing on a full etrog. Nevertheless, his tradition was to walk around holding a lulav and etrog in his hands throughout the day. In the course of the day he became hungry and took small bites from the etrog. Still, the Gemara feels that we can conclude from this story that such an etrog can be used for the mitzvah after the first day.

Another issue raised by the commentators is that the daled minim are set aside for the mitzvah, which makes it forbidden to use them for other purposes throughout the holiday. The Ritva (among others) suggests that Rabbi Chanina purchased a different etrog for each day of the holiday, so none of the etrogim were “set aside” for use on a particular day, thus once he fulfilled the mitzvah for the day he was well within his rights to derive benefit from them.

Sukkah 37

Aside from the simple mitzvah of picking up the daled minim (four species) on Sukkot, there is also a mitzvah of ni’anu’ah – to wave or shake the lulav during prayers.

Rabbi Yohanan explains this as being part and parcel of the prayer service. We move the lulav back and forth recognizing that our prayers are directed to God who is master of the four directions of the world, and we raise and lower it acknowledging God who controls the heavens and the earth. Rabbi Hama bar Ukva sees these activities as fitting in with the theme of prayers for rain on Sukkot, with the movements of the lulav representing our prayers for good winds and for good dew.

Perhaps the simplest explanation of the na’anu’im is given by the Me’iri, who describes them as a show of joy appropriate for the Sukkot holiday. This idea is developed by Rabbenu Mano’ah who says that the shaking must be done with strength and vigor to fulfill the passage that commands that a person must praise God with his entire being (Tehillim 35:10), and by the Rosh who explains that it is to show particular love for the mitzvah.

The explanation that appears in the Jerusalem Talmud is that waving the lulav is an act of defense – and attempt to ward off the prosecuting angel. Moreover, the Mishnah instructs this shaking or waving of the lulav at specific points during Hallel – the prayer of thanksgiving.  Based on the passage in Tehillim (96:12) that the trees of the forest sing out in praise of God, we are commanded to shake the symbolic trees as we praise God with our recitation of the Hodu prayer (Tehillim 118:1) and the plea Hoshi’a na (Tehillim 118:25).

The actual definition of ni’anu’ah is a matter of dispute. The Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 681:9) rules that it is a thrusting of the lulav back and forth in all directions, which is the tradition kept by the Sephardic communities. Most Ashkenazim follow the opinion of the Rama that the lulav must be shaken, as well.

Sukkah 38

What if someone does not know how to say the prayers? How can he fulfill his obligation? This is a particular problem in situations where the prayers are ones that are said infrequently – like Hallel – so people may not have learned them by heart.

The Mishnah on our daf suggests that even an eved (a non-Jewish slave), a woman or a child who has not reached bar mitzvah, people who are not obligated in Hallel, can lead the prayer, so long as the adult repeats Hallel word-for-word. Nevertheless, the Mishnah rebukes a person who is illiterate and needs to rely on someone who is not obligated to lead him in prayer. If there is an adult leading the prayer, then the person can respond with the word Halleluya and fulfill his obligation in that way.

The Gemara teaches that the tradition was for the congregation to respond to the prayers of the hazzan with a refrain of Halleluya during those paragraphs of Hallel where that was the key word (Tehillim 113-117). In the portion of Hallel where the refrain was different, the congregational response matched that refrain (e.g. Hodu laShem in Tehillim 118). Already during Rava’s time the vast majority of people were literate and were able to recite Hallel without assistance, nevertheless the tradition continued, remnants of which are retained in the recitation of Hallel to this day in many synagogues.

What if someone just listens to the chazzan without responding?

Here the Gemara applies the rule shome’ah ke-oneh – that listening with proper intent is the equivalent of responding.

Tosafot point out that it is certainly better to respond with the appropriate refrain than to merely listen intently, nevertheless there are times when a person cannot say the response aloud and at that time listening may be the preferred option. For example, if a person is in the middle of saying the silent amida prayer and the congregation reaches a place where a community response is called for, the person should remain silent and listen. The rishonim compare this to the case where servants of the king are occupied with their royal service and they cannot take a break from it, even to turn their attention to another important assignment for the king.

Sukkah 39

During the Sabbatical year, no agricultural work can be done in Israel and fruits that grow on their own cannot be harvested in a commercial way, rather they are supposed to be left so that anyone can take them for their own use. Once picked they must be treated with care, as they have kedushat shevi’it – the holiness of the Sabbatical year – they are supposed to be eaten or otherwise used in a normal way; they cannot be discarded in a degrading manner. Although it is forbidden to do business with fruit grown in the shemitta year, in the event that the fruit is sold, its holiness transfers to the money that was received in exchange for it, and now that money (i.e. things purchased with that money) must be treated with kedushat shevi’it.

Given these rules, how can an etrog be purchased for the mitzvah of arba minim during the Sabbatical year?

The Mishnah on our daf has a simple recommendation – when the purchaser comes to buy his lulav, he should ask to receive the etrog as a present rather than pay for it. Rav Huna in the Gemara explains this to mean that the price of the etrog should be included in the price of the lulav. This can be done either by specifically arranging that the price of the lulav is high enough that the seller will be willing to agree to give the etrog as a present (Rashi) or simply that a global price should be agreed on and the intent of the purchaser should be that he is paying only for the lulav (Rambam).

While the Mishnah is concerned with the situation of the etrog, the Gemara wants to know how a lulav can be purchased during the Sabbatical year. At first the Gemara tries to distinguish between the lulav and etrog by arguing that the rules apply to each of them on different years. The etrog is an unusual fruit in that it is comparable to vegetables in a number of ways – unlike most of the trees native to the Land of Israel, the etrog needs to be watered regularly. Furthermore, unlike most trees that have specific harvest seasons, the etrog remains growing on the tree throughout the year until it is picked.

The conclusion of the Gemara (40a) is that the etrog is a fruit, to which the laws of shemitta apply, while the lulav is considered a tree.

Sukkah 40

Our Gemara continues discussing the rules of the Sabbatical year that were introduced by the last Mishnah (39a) in the context of purchasing an etrog during the shemitta year.

Our Gemara brings a baraita that emphasizes the severity of shemitta, in that even forbidden business dealings with shemitta fruit, which is referred to as avakah shel shevi’it – “the dust of the Sabbatical year laws” – leads to severe punishment. Calling the laws forbidding business dealings with shemitta fruit avakah shel shevi’it indicates that these are not the main rules of the Sabbatical year, either because the focus of the prohibitions of the Sabbatical year is the agricultural work itself (Rashi and Tosafot), or because business dealings are only a small part of the larger prohibition against storing the kedushat shevi’it fruit for use in the year after shemitta (Arukh).

According to Rabbi Yossi bar Chanina in the baraita, someone who does business with Sabbatical year fruits will find himself impoverished and be forced to sell his movable property. Should he not realize the severity of his actions, the punishment will continue as long as he does not repent. He will end up selling his agricultural lands, then his own house and real estate; he will be forced to take loans, and when he cannot pay them he will be forced to sell himself as a slave to a fellow Jew – or even to a non-Jew.

Rabbi Yossi bar Chanina derives this from his reading of the laws of shemitta as they appear in the Torah, and the continuation of the laws that are discussed there. In Parshat Behar (Vayikra 25:1-13) we learn the rules of shemitta and yovel. This is followed by the laws of buying and selling movable objects (pasuk 14), selling land (beginning with pasuk 15), selling homes (beginning with pasuk 29), borrowing money (from pasuk 35), being sold as a slave to a Jew (from pasuk 39) and finally being sold as a slave to a non-Jew (47 and onwards).

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.