Masechet Sukkah 41a-47b

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Hoshana Rabbah
10 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 41

The pasuk that commands us to take the arba minim on Sukkot (Vayikra 23:40) is enigmatic. It describes the mitzvah as commanding us to take the four species on “the first day [of the holiday]” and then continues that you should “rejoice before God for seven days.”

Which are we commanded to do? Celebrate with the etrog and lulav for one day or for seven?

The Mishnah teaches that originally the halakha was that the arba minim were taken one day in all places (medina), and seven days in the bet ha-mikdash [“before God”].

There is a difference of opinion amongst the rishonim regarding the definition of mikdash in this case. Rashi, the Ritva and others explain that anyplace outside of the Temple – including the Old City of Jerusalem – is considered medina and the lulav is not taken there. The Rambam rules that the holiness of the Temple extends to the entire city and therefore all of Jerusalem is considered mikdash for this purpose. The Jerusalem Talmud is clear on this point, in agreement with the Rambam. Thus it is possible even today that there is a biblical obligation to take the arba minim when visiting the Old City of Jerusalem.

This rule was changed with the destruction of the Temple. At that time Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai instituted a Rabbinic decree obligating the lulav and etrog to be taken for all seven days of the holiday, zecher la-mikdash – as a remembrance of the Temple and its unique role.

The Me’iri points out that Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai did not actually establish the mitzvah for all seven days as in the Temple, since at least one of the days will fall out on Shabbat, when, nowadays, the lulav is not taken. Nevertheless the point is that the obligation as it was practiced in the bet ha-mikdash is remembered.

Sukkah 42

The final Mishnah in our perek closes with the statement “a minor who knows how to wave [a lulav] is obligated in the mitzvah of lulav.” This is one of the statements in the Mishnah that teach the concept of chinuch – of educating children before they are obligated in mitzvot on a biblical level. The baraita that appears in the Gemara expands on this idea, enumerating commandments that a child becomes obligated in – for reasons of education – as soon as he knows how to perform them. Aside from lulav they include:

Rav Hamnuna explains that teaching Torah does not mean learning complicated ideas, rather the passage in Devarim (33:4) that emphasizes the connection between the Torah and the Jewish people. The Yerushalmi interprets the baraita to mean that a child who is old enough to learn to speak should be taught lashon Torah – the language of the Torah – that is to say, he should be taught how to speak Hebrew. Once he knows Hebrew he should be taught kriyat shema. Rabbeinu Yehonatan explains the idea of the Kohen’s son participating in blessing the congregation as a public statement that he is a Kohen, removing any suspicion that he is living in the Kohen’s house as a guest or even as an eved – a slave. Once this statement is made, he is permitted to receive teruma like any Kohen.

Sukkah 43

The fourth perek of Masechet Sukkah focuses on other mitzvot of the holiday aside from taking the lulav and etrog or sleeping in the sukkah. Some of these commandments are connected specifically with the Temple, and today, with the Temple destroyed, we no longer perform these mitzvot or we only commemorate them without being able to actually fulfill them. These mitzvot include:

Our daf discusses the mitzvah of aravah, which involved circling the altar in the Temple every day, and circling it seven times on the seventh day of Sukkot. Most commentaries explain that this mitzvah was only done by Kohanim, since no one else was permitted to enter the sanctuary where the mizbe’ach was. Some of the Geonim argue that the people did not actually walk around the mizbe’ach, rather they surrounded the altar on all sides, and the people who were not kohanim stayed in the area that was permitted to them. Rabbi Yitzhak ibn Gi’ot argues that for this mitzvah an exception was made and everyone was allowed to circle the mizbe’ach.

The commandment of the aravah does not appear explicitly in the Torah, and several possible sources are cited, among them that it is a halakha l’Moshe mi-Sinai or that it was established by the prophets. In any case, the Sages felt that it was so important that it was to take place even when the seventh day of the holiday fell out on Shabbat. This ruling disturbed the Baitusim, who went so far as to hide the aravot that had been prepared for use on Shabbat. The Gemara relates that the aravot were uncovered by the local people who handed them to the kohanim to use.

The Baitusim were one of the deviant sects during the second Temple period who did not accept the ruling of the Sages. The Gemara does not make clear what differences existed between the Baitusim and the Tzedukim, although from the stories that appear it is the Baitusim who tried to use trickery in order to uproot the rules of the Sages and impose their rulings on the populace.

Sukkah 44

With regard to the mitzvah of aravah that was discussed in yesterday’s daf, Rabbi Abahu quotes Rabbi Yochanan as saying that it was a mitzvah established by the prophets (yesod nevi’im), while Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi taught that it was a tradition of the prophets (minhag nevi’im). The difference between the two opinions is that if the aravah is a yesod nevi’im, the implication is that the prophets established it as an obligation, and someone who fulfills the commandment will make a bracha on it beforehand. If, on the other hand, it is a minhag nevi’im, that merely indicates that the prophets themselves performed this ritual and that others, seeing them do it, chose to accept it upon themselves. If that is the case, the aravah does not merit a bracha like other Rabbinic commandments.

Hearing Rabbi Abahu’s teaching, Rabbi Zeira challenged him by pointing out that Rabbi Yochanan himself was known to have quoted Rabbi Nechunya ish Bikat Bet Hortan as saying that the commandment of the aravah was a halakha l’Moshe mi-Sinai – an oral teaching from Moshe as he accepted it on Mount Sinai – which has the strength of a biblical commandment!

After a moment’s hesitation, Rabbi Abahu explained that this commandment, is, in fact a halakha l’Moshe mi-Sinai, however the tradition was forgotten and the prophets came and reestablished it.

The commentaries raise a basic question about this answer. In general we believe that nevi’im do not have the ability to give new rulings about matters of halakha through their powers of prophecy (according to the Rambam attempting to do so is an indication of a false prophet). According to that, how could the nevi’im reestablish a forgotten halakha l’Moshe mi-Sinai? In his commentary to Masechet Sukkah, Rav Zvi Hirsch Chajes suggests that these prophets did not reestablish the mitzvah of aravah based on their prophecy, rather they did so based on their ability to analyze and study the relevant texts and halakhot.

Sukkah 45

The Mishnah describes how the mitzvah of aravah was done.

There was a place called Motza, which is a village just a few kilometers to the south of Jerusalem, where the aravot (willows) were gathered for use in the Temple. This village still exists; it is first mentioned in Sefer Yehoshua (18:26-28) as one of the cities of the tribe of Binyamin. In the time of the Mishnah the Romans established it as a garrison town to house the soldiers who protected Jerusalem. Apparently this was a place with unique willow trees whose branches were long enough to lean over the altar when they were placed next to it.

Every day of Sukkot, the people would circle the mizbe’ach one time, and on the seventh day they would walk around it seven times. The Talmud Yerushalmi explains that this was done in remembrance of the victory in Yericho (see Yehoshua chapter 6), when the Jewish people circled the city once a day for six days and seven times on the seventh day before the walls of the city collapsed. The Arukh la-Ner comments that this fits in with the theme of the holiday of Sukkot, which celebrates specifically God’s miracles on behalf of the Jewish people in the land of Israel. In a similar vein, the Maharsha says that on Sukkot we are obligated to commemorate the miracles that God did on our behalf, which is why we invoke a memory of the public miracle of the walls of Yericho collapsing.

Upon completing the procession around the mizbe’ach, the people would say yofi lekha mizbe’ach, yofi lekha mizbe’ach – proclaiming the beauty of God’s altar. The Arukh la-Ner explains that there was a particular reason to compliment the altar on Sukkot, either because it was the focus of the processions that take place on the holiday or because more sacrifices are brought on Sukkot than on any other holiday.

Sukkah 46

We have already established that outside of the Temple, on a biblical level the mitzvah of lulav is only on the first day of the holiday; our tradition of taking the lulav and etrog for the entire seven days of Sukkot is zecher le-Mikdash – a commemoration of the Temple where it was a mitzvah to take the lulav every day of the holiday (see Sukkah 41).

This is summed up in our Gemara, where Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi declares that only the first day is the mitzvat lulav (the commandment of lulav); the rest of the week is mitzvat zekenim (the commandment of the Sages).

The Rashash argues that there is a practical difference being suggested here. According to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, only on the first day should a person bless asher kidishanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu al netilat lulav – that we are commanded in the mitzvah of taking a lulav. On other days the blessing that should be recited is asher kidishanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu al mitzvat zekenim – that we are commanded in the mitzvah of following the words of the Sages. This is also indicated in the Talmud Yerushalmi.

According to Rav, however, we view the commandment as the mitzvah of lulav for the entire week, even if its basis is a Rabbinic enactment. This is apparent from Rav’s ruling with regard to Chanukah candles, where the blessing that is recited is asher kidishanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu lehadlik ner shel Hanukkah – that we are commanded in the mitzvah of lighting the Chanukah candles.

In answer to the Gemara’s query “where are we commanded in this mitzvah?” (after all, the Chanukah story takes place during the Second Temple period, well after the Torah was written), the pasuk of  lo tasur (see Devarim 17:9-11) is given, which indicates that we must listen to the words of the priests and judges of our time.

Sukkah 47

In the Land of Israel, the holiday of Sukkot is seven days long and the “eighth day” of the holiday is Shemini Atzeret, which is a separate holiday, as indicated by the fact that it does not have the mitzvot of lulav, of sukkah or of the water libation. The situation outside of Israel is more complicated, since during the time of the Mishnah when the announcement of the new month was made by the bet din ha-gadol in Jerusalem, it was sent by messenger. Therefore, places outside of Israel could not be sure when the holiday actually began, and because of this uncertainty, they kept two days of Yom Tov. Diaspora communities continue keeping this tradition to this day, even though we now operate with a set calendar and all communities know when the new month and the holidays fall out based on the calendar

Based on this, the “eighth day of Sukkot” presents something of a problem. Should we treat it as a separate holiday or is it still considered part of Sukkot?

Two versions of a disagreement between Rav and Rabbi Yochanan are presented by the Gemara.

According to the first version, all agree that Diaspora Jews are obligated to sit in the sukkah on the eighth day; the disagreement is whether they make a blessing on the mitzvah of sukkah. According to the second version, everyone agrees that a blessing is not made on the sukkah; the disagreement is whether people should be sitting in the sukkah on that day at all.

The Sefat Emet explains that all opinions in the first version assume that there cannot be any problem with sitting in the sukkah. Even the concern of bal tosif – that a person is not allowed to add to the mitzvot of the Torah – does not apply in this case, because no clear act of mitzvah is being done in this case. Therefore you cannot lose anything by sitting there. This may help explain why none of the Amoraim suggest that we should continue taking the lulav and etrog on the eighth day in the Diaspora. The Ran adds that as we have learned, taking the lulav and etrog after the first day of Sukkot is a Rabbinic obligation, and there is no reason to extend that Rabbinic obligation to a day that is, itself, considered Sukkot only from a Rabbinic perspective.

The rishonim grapple with the second version, however. Why should one of the Amoraim rule that we not be obligated to sit in the sukkah on a day that might be considered Sukkot? The Ran and the Ritva explain that this is only true because of the present day situation when we really do know the correct day of the holiday, and the people in the Diaspora keep two days of Yom Tov only out of respect for the traditions of their forefathers. Thus there is room to be lenient when the two holidays would end up in conflict with one-another.

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.