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Standing Tall

By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow

What do Chanukah and Purim have to do with daf yomi Sukkah?

Maseches Sukkah begins with the halachah that a sukkah that is taller than 20 amos (between 30 and 40 feet) is invalid. Rabbah explains that there is a halachic requirement that one be cognizant of the fact that he is sitting in a sukkah. To facilitate this, the s’chach, which is the primary part of the sukkah, should be readily visible. A person’s eye can wander up to a view of 20 amos. If an object is higher than that, a person must make a conscious decision to view it. Since we want a person to be continuously aware of the s’chach, it has to be at a height where he will see it without too much thought (Rivan).

The Megillah says that Haman made a gallows to hang Mordechai 50 amos tall. Wouldn’t it have been better to make the gallows shorter so that people could see the top without conscious thought? They shouldn’t have been more than 20 amos tall. (The obvious answer is that Haman didn’t do the daf.) Rabbah was just applying an observable aspect of human behavior to halachah. Was Haman unaware of the fact that people do not gaze above 20 amos without conscious thought? Even if he was, why were some of his sons hung over 20 amos? (Presumably the righteous people of Shushan did the daf!)

The Gemara (Sukkah 2b) clarifies that according to Rabbah, if the sukkah walls reach all the way up to the s’chach, then the sukkah is indeed valid even if the s’chach is higher than 20 amos. (According to Rabbah, an example of an invalid sukkah would be where the s’chach is attached to a nearby structure over 20 amos, but the walls of the sukkah are only 10 amos high.) The Gemara explains that walls naturally guide one’s vision to follow them up to the s’chach, even higher than 20 amos. One would thereby be cognizant of the fact he is sitting in a sukkah. (This is a common technique in art to use pictorial elements to guide the viewer’s eye.)

The Imrei Emes (Gerrer Rebbe) explains that this is true about the gallows as well. People would see the bottom of the gallows and naturally follow the wood to the top.

Many commentators raise the following question, however. The halachah is that one may not place his Chanukah menorah higher than 20 amos. The rationale is that the menorah should be readily visible, to publicize the miracle of Chanukah. As explained earlier, one does not gaze higher than 20 amos without conscious effort. Why don’t we say that if the menorah is placed on a shelf on a wall, a viewer’s eye would follow the wall until the menorah, the height notwithstanding?

Several answers are given. The Turei Zahav (O.C. 671:5) answers that when it is dark, one’s eye won’t necessarily follow the wall, because the wall itself is hard to see. The mitzvah of menorah is only at night. Due to the lack of light, one’s eye may not follow the wall up until the menorah. The sukkah, however, is used day and night. It suffices that during the day one’s eye will be able to follow the wall up to the s’chach.

The halachah is not like Rabbah. The s’chach must always be below 20 amos. However, the halachah is that the walls do not need to reach the s’chach, as long as they have a minimum height of 10 tefachim (30 to 40 inches) and they are directly under the s’chach. Knowing that walls do not have to reach the s’chach helped out Rabbi Rothberg in the following incident.

Rabbi Rothberg and his chaverim went to a city in England to revitalize the state of Yiddishkeit there. They constantly encountered opposition to halachic changes they wanted to enact which they thought were required. One oft-repeated reply was “Rav Unterman didn’t do it, and if it was good enough for Rav Unterman, it’s good enough for me.”

Rav Unterman had been the chief rabbi of Liverpool until 1946, but he hadn’t been there for many years and there was no way of ascertaining what Rav Unterman really did. After Yom Kippur, they asked the 75-year-old gabbai if the shul had a sukkah. He replied, “Sure!”

The night before Sukkos, they asked him to show them the sukkah. He took them to a room in the shul and pulled a lever, and some boards in the center of the ceiling opened up to reveal the sky. “Just put some s’chach up!” he said. They realized right away that it was invalid. The walls of the room were too far away from the opening in the center of the room to be kosher sukkah walls.

After the gabbai left, Rabbi Rothberg had an idea. They stacked chairs up in the center of the room and tied the bottoms with twine. (The twine was necessary to form halachic walls around the legs of the bottom chair.) They thereby formed four walls out of chairs. Although the chairs did not reach the opening in the roof, it was nevertheless acceptable, as explained above. They were nervous about the gabbai’s reaction to their creation. Sure enough, in the morning the gabbai chastised them. “What did you do? The place looks horrendous! Rav Unterman didn’t do this. And if it was good enough for Rav Unterman, it is good enough for me.”

Just then, the 70-year-old non-Jewish caretaker walked in. He exclaimed, “Wow. The chairs, the rope, the

mehitza—I haven’t seen them since Rabbi Unterman was here!”

• • •

Mazal tov! Daf Yomi Insights has finished Shas with the Five Towns Jewish Times! The article above was in fact my second article published in this paper. Seven and a half years ago, I approached Larry Gordon and asked him if he was interested in a daf yomi column. He was, and suggested that I try writing one to gauge the interest of his readers. The response to my first article was, baruch Hashem, positive, and the rest of Shas is history. I thank Hashem for granting me life and the fortitude to have completed this cycle of Shas with the 5TJT.

I would like to thank my wife for her constant support and encouragement. In my parents’ home I was always surrounded by Torah. My mother and father remain a source of inspiration for me. In addition, my mother serves as my biggest fan.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Larry Gordon for granting me this unique opportunity to write for his paper. Larry has become a good friend over these years. I have come to appreciate his keen insights into Torah and worldly matters. I would like to also thank the great editorial staff, including but not limited to Mr. Shmuel Gerber and Mrs. Michele Justic. They make my writing look better than it really is!

I would also like to express my thanks for the numerous individuals who have helped out with various articles. If you think that this means you, it probably does. Finally, I would like to thank Mr. Brodsky, my English teacher at Yeshiva Tiferes Moshe. Whatever writing skills I have can be traced back to my days in junior high.

Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead and is a rebbi at Mesivta Kesser Yisroel of Willowbrook. He can be contacted at

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Posted by on February 7, 2014. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.