Masechet Sukkah 55a-56b

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27 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 55a-b

We traditionally close our daily morning prayers with one of the mizmorei Tehillim – Psalms. This mizmor is taken from the daily Psalm sung when the morning sacrifice – the tamid shel shachar – was brought. Our Gemara quotes a baraita that describes how, in the Bet ha-Mikdash, a special mizmor was sung in connection with the Mussaf sacrifice on each day of Sukkot. It is interesting to note that only the mizmorim for hol ha-mo’ed – the intermediary days – are enumerated in the baraita, while the holidays themselves are not explained. Although it does not appear in our Gemara, Masechet Soferim does offer Psalms for the holidays, as well; mizmor 76, which refers to God’s sukkah (see verse 3) is mentioned as the mizmor sung on the first day, and mizmor 12, entitled lamenatze’ah al ha-sheminit was the Psalm of Shemini Atzeret, the eighth day of the Sukkot celebrations.

There are a number of explanations given for the choice of particular mizmorim for each day of Sukkot. The Me’iri summarizes them as follows:

According to Rashi, aside from days three and four (when a single mizmor was split in half), the entire psalm was sung together with the Mussaf sacrifice. The Ritva argues that only a selection of the mizmor was chosen to accompany the korban.

Sukkah 56a-b

The closing story in Masechet Sukkah is a sad one.

In it we learn of the priestly family of Bilgah, whose rights and privileges in the Temple were curtailed. Rav Shlomo Adani explains in his Melekhet Shlomo that the punishments – receiving their portion of the lehem ha-panim (the show bread) in the south, and having their ring for slaughtering and their window sealed up – all indicated that they were finished with their work in the Temple and were about to leave.

What led to these restrictions? The Gemara gives two explanations:

  1. When it was their turn to serve in the Temple the family came late – or perhaps, as suggested by the Rashash, not all of them came – and the next family was forced to work a double shift to make up for their absence.
  2. Miriam the daughter of Bilgah rejected Judaism and married a Greek soldier. When the Greeks entered the Temple sanctuary and defiled it, Miriam kicked the altar with her shoe and shouted “Lokos, Lokos [wolf, wolf], how long will you continue to swallow up the Jewish people’s money without coming to their aid in their time of need?!” (The Maharsha explains that the metaphor of the altar as a wolf stemmed from the parallel between a wolf that attacked and ate sheep and the altar upon which the daily korban tamid – a sheep – was brought regularly.)

The Jerusalem Talmud sees her behavior as so problematic that it asks why the family of Bilgah did not lose their rights entirely, answering that the 24 family mishmarot (=watches) was an essential part of the order of the Temple service and could not be easily done away with.

Our Gemara asks why the entire family was punished for the poor behavior of one individual, and answers with a teaching in the name of Abayye that a child’s words are invariably something that is repeated from what he or she heard at home. Even so, asks the Gemara, should the entire family be punished because of Miriam’s parents? Again Abayye is quoted, this time as teaching Oy la-rasha, oy li-shekheno. In order to end the Masechet on a happier note, aside from the maxim “woe to a rasha (an evil person); woe to his neighbor” the Gemara also quotes Abayye as teaching, “Good fortune to a tzaddik (a righteous person), and to his neighbor, as well.”

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.