By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
One aspect of Sukkos is the mitzvah of aliyah l’regel. Three times a year, including on Sukkos, the Jewish nation visited the Beis HaMikdash in Yerushalayim to greet the Presence of the Shechinah. Nowadays, most authorities hold that this mitzvah is not obligatory because, unfortunately, there is no Beis HaMikdash. The Midrash Yalkut Shimoni on Yeshayah explains that in the future geulah the mitzvah will not only be three times a year, but actually once a month!
Hashem’s love for us. The Gemara (Yuma 54a) tells us that when the Jewish nation would be olei regel, they would open the Paroches and reveal the Keruvim smiling and facing each other. Then the Kohanim would declare to the olei regel, “See how much Hashem loves you.”
This is also a thought that we declare before we recite the daily Shema, and one that should be reinforced. When we realize how much Hashem loves us, we look at events in our life differently. We appreciate better what we have been given, and we also come to value and understand the hashgachah pratis, the individual attention, that we receive from Hashem. This perspective will, in turn, allow us to fulfill the special avodah of Sukkos: simcha—spiritual joy.
Simcha, the special avodah. Each of the yomim tovim has its own special avodah, method in which to serve Hashem and become ever closer to Him. The Gemara above tells us that it is reciprocal; Hashem comes ever closer to us on the yom tov. When we perform the special avodah of Sukkos, let us have this in mind.
Pesach is called Z’man Cheruseinu, the time of our freedom. Shavuos is called Z’man Mattan Toraseinu, the time when we received our Torah; and Sukkos is called Z’man Simchaseinu, the time of our joy. Although all yomim tovim are times of simcha, Sukkos is singled out as the one in which Z’man Simchaseinu is the essence of the holiday. Why?
The Nesivos Shalom explains that the sukkah is a manifestation of “Heviani haMelech chadarav—the King has brought me into His inner room” (Shir HaShirim 1:4). After the Yomim Nora’im, during which Klal Yisrael has been elevated and purified, Hashem gives us the mitzvah of sukkah. The sukkah’s holiness is a revelation of Hashem’s intense love for His people, a love comparable to the love demonstrated when He was with us in the Beis HaMikdash itself.
This is why Sukkos has an extra dimension of simcha to it. We are a nation whose very essence thrives upon dveikus Bashem—closeness to Hashem. This is our true simcha. Indeed, the Gemara tells us (Sukkah 51b): “One who has never witnessed the simchas beis hasho’eivah (the all-night celebration on Sukkos) has never seen joy in his life.” The Gemara cites Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananyah (Sukkah 53a) whose words bear out that the simcha, the joy, was so captivating that no one slept in a bed on Sukkos.
Seeing one’s teacher. Another aspect of the avodah on Sukkos, as on the other Regalim, is to see and greet one’s teacher. The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 16b) tells us, “Chayav adam le’hakbil p’nei rabbo b’Regel.” A somewhat fascinating observation can be made. It is a mitzvah on Sukkos to visit one’s teacher. Sh’luchei mitzvah (people on a mitzvah mission) are technically exempt from the mitzvah of sukkah (Shulchan Aruch O.C. 640:7) while on the road.
We see how very important it is to visit and develop a bond with one’s Torah teachers! We also see that this is part of the Divine service of the three holidays, the Regalim. Seeing one’s teacher helps connect one to the chain of mesorah that connects us to our birthright of Sinai. This will further our “cleaving to G‑d”—dveikus Bashem—which is one of the themes of the three Regalim. Many people specifically try to see their teachers on Sukkos.
Effects of the sukkah. Dwelling in the sukkah can make another change within us as well. The gedolei ha’mussar have explained that the sefer Mesillas Yesharim, written by Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzato (the Ramchal), can be learned on many levels. The sefer carries the reader through different levels of spirituality. Each time one studies it carefully, one rises in that particular trait. Some of the traits that are discussed are zehirus (watchfulness), zerizus (alacrity), kedushah (holiness), and also Ruach HaKodesh (Divine wisdom).
Chazal tell us that the sukkah, as well, can infuse us with a level of Ruach HaKodesh.
The Mitzvah Of Sukkah
One must dwell in the sukkah for seven days. This is the meaning of the verse “Ba’sukkos teishvu shivas yomim.” Dwelling means eating, drinking, sleeping, and performing all our activities there. This would include talking on the phone as well. The Gemara expounds, “Teishvu k’ein taduru—dwell as you live.”
There is also a concept of “mitztaer patur min ha’sukkah—if one is suffering, then one is exempt from the sukkah.” Therefore, if it is raining, one is exempt from being in the sukkah. On the first night, however, one should try to make Kiddush in the sukkah when it is not raining.
The s’chach of a sukkah must be under the sky and not under a house or tree. The Shoel U’Meishiv explains that the fundamental essence of the mitzvah of sukkah is to expand our bitachon, our trust in Hashem. If there are intermediaries of shelter in between, the effect of the sukkah would thus be lost.
The s’chach must have grown from the ground and should not be touching or held up by anything that is mekabel tumah (susceptible to becoming impure). Thus, it may not be nailed down or even held up by something made of metal.
The sukkah must have walls; we have learned this as halachah l’Moshe miSinai. The walls must be able to withstand a ruach metzuyah (a normal wind). If it cannot stand in such a wind, then the sukkah is not kosher—even if it is still up.
The minimum size of a sukkah is 7 tefachim (handbreadths) by 7 tefachim. A tefach, according to Rav Moshe Feinstein, is 3.54 inches. The maximum height of a sukkah is 20 amos. An amah is 21.25 inches, according to Rav Feinstein.
Women are exempt from this mitzvah, as it is a time-bound mitzvah, a mitzvas asei she’hazeman grama. Nonetheless, they gain all the benefits of the mitzvah each time they eat in it. Since the meals of yom tov should be eaten together as a family, the Chasam Sofer would make room for the women and girls in the sukkah.
A boy over the age of 7 must eat any mezonos food in the sukkah. (This is actually the subject of debate among the poskim, but the Mishnah Berurah (640:5) holds that it is forbidden to feed a boy this age a mezonos meal outside of the Sukkah.)
When it rains on the first night. Generally speaking, the halachah states that one should leave the sukkah and go back into the house when it rains. This may not be true, however, on the first night of Sukkos.
Let’s understand why that is, exactly. Pesach celebrates the exodus from Egypt, and Sukkos celebrates the immediate aftermath. Yet they are connected even more deeply. The Gemara tells us that many of the halachos that apply to Pesach also apply to Sukkos. We derive this by means of a g’zeirah shavah—which is, l’havdil, like a “hypertext” link in a computer document—connecting two words in the Torah to each other. The laws of one section of the Torah thus can be connected to and derived from the other section of the Torah. There is just such a connection between the words “the fifteenth” stated with regard to Pesach and “the fifteenth” stated with regard to Sukkos.
Just as there is a mitzvah to eat matzah on the first night of Pesach, there is also a mitzvah to eat a k’zayis of bread on the first night of Sukkos. And we must eat it in the sukkah. It must also be eaten at night.
The question arises, Is this “hypertext” dealing with a new aspect of the obligation of Sukkos, or is it an extension of the mitzvah of sukkah that we knew already? According to the Ran, it is a new obligation, and therefore the general laws of sukkah don’t apply here. Therefore, even if one is mitztaer, uncomfortable, in the sukkah, one must still eat in the sukkah. According to the Rambam, it is the same obligation of the general laws of sukkah that is being discussed. The exemption of rain, according to the Rambam, still exists.
The Rema (Orach Chaim 639:5) rules like the Ran. The Vilna Gaon rules like the Rambam. The Mishnah Berurah rules that we must make an effort to wait, in order to avoid any doubts.
How long should we wait? Rabbi Abraham Gombiner, author of the Magen Avraham, writes that we should wait until the very last moment, midnight, just as on Pesach! The Mishnah Berurah, however, rules in accordance with other authorities that the waiting time has not been quantified and is dependent on the individual.
On the first night of Sukkos, a family should wait approximately one hour to see whether or not the rain will stop. If the rain does not stop, they should go into the sukkah and recite Kiddush with “Shehecheyanu” but without “Leishev BaSukkah.” Everyone should wash and say “HaMotzi” and eat a k’zayis of challah in the sukkah. They should then continue the meal in the house. If it stops raining, one should enter the sukkah and eat a k’beyah of challah in the sukkah and recite “Leishev BaSukkah.” Even if the meal has ended, one should wash again and recite “HaMotzi” and “Leishev BaSukkah.” One should do this until chatzos at night.
On the second night, one may start the meal in the house immediately, without waiting that hour, although the Mishnah Berurah rules that it is also preferable to wait. Kiddush is said with the Shehecheyanu in the house, with the stipulation in mind that a k’zayis of challah may be eaten in the sukkah at the end of the meal. At the end of the meal, before bentching, one should still go into the sukkah and eat a k’zayis of challah, then one can come back and bentch in the house. While in the sukkah, do not recite a Leishev BaSukkah unless it has stopped raining. Once again the timing is until chatzos. If it stops raining before this time, wash and recite the berachah of Leishev BaSukkah in the sukkah. Why? Because the k’zayis eaten in the rain does not count, according to the Rambam; we must try again until chatzos.
Let’s not forget once again that the sukkah is a manifestation of “Heviani HaMelech chadarav—The King has brought me into His inner room” (Shir HaShirim 1:4). After the Yomim Nora’im, during which Klal Yisrael has been elevated and purified, Hashem has given this mitzvah of sukkah. The sukkah’s holiness is a revelation of Hashem’s intense love for His people, a love comparable to the love demonstrated when He was with us in the Beis HaMikdash itself. We should therefore make every effort to fulfill this mitzvah in all the details explained above.
Ushpizin. The Zohar (Emor 103a) tells us that the kedushah of the sukkah is so concentrated that the souls of the seven great leaders of Klal Yisrael actually leave Gan Eden and come to bask in the light of our sukkos down here. On account of this Zohar, many have the custom to recite an invitation to these ushpizin—guests.
The seven guests are Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe, Aharon, Yosef, and Dovid. Each day of Sukkos, one of the seven leads the other six. Not everyone has this minhag, and one must follow one’s family customs.
The Arba’ah Minim
The arba’ah minim (four species) are the lulav, the esrog, the aravos, and the hadassim. The mitzvah d’Oraisa is to take one’s own arba’ah minim in the hand on the first day of Sukkos. Women are not obligated in this mitzvah but receive s’char (merit) if they perform it.
Ideally, the mitzvah should be performed as early in the morning as we can, but there are two minhagim for men. Some perform the mitzvah in the sukkah itself before Shacharis. Others perform it in shul after Shacharis but before Hallel. This is the most prevalent custom.
Requirement of “la’chem.” On the first day of Sukkos there is a requirement that the person who is performing the mitzvah of netilas lulav must actually be the owner of it. This is because the verse in the Torah states, “u’lekachtem la’chem.” “La’chem” indicates that ownership is required.
If a woman wishes to fulfill the mitzvah of netilas lulav on the first day of Sukkos, she must receive the arba’ah minim as a gift from someone else. Merely taking hold of it will not suffice. Rather, the fact that it is a gift should be verbalized. This is even true between a husband and wife and a father and daughter. In other words, when a father or husband gives the arba’ah minim to his daughter or wife, he must say that it is a gift. It is the minhag for Ashkenazic women to recite a berachah when they perform the mitzvah, while Sephardic women do not.
Matanah al m’nas l’hachzir. In order to fulfill this mitzvah in a situation where only one set of arba’ah minim is purchased, the legal concept called “matanah al m’nas l’hachzir” is used. This essentially means that the owner is gifting it to the person who wishes to perform the mitzvah, but only on condition that it eventually be returned.
On the first day of Sukkos, one should not give arba’ah minim to a child, because of the following problem: From a halachic perspective, a child can receive a gift, but cannot give a gift. In chutz la’Aretz, this creates a problem also on the second day of yom tov.
On the other days of Sukkos, there is a mitzvah d’Rabbanan to take the arba’ah minim. But on those days there is no requirement of “la’chem”—to own it.
When the Beis HaMikdash stood, it was also a Torah mitzvah on the last six days to take the arba’ah minim in the Beis HaMikdash itself. The Rambam is of the opinion that it was a Torah mitzvah throughout all of Yerushalayim.
Not missing or defective. If any of the arba’ah minim is missing a part of its wholeness, then that item is no longer usable for the first two days of yom tov.
Some of the issues in regard to the esrog apply on the first two days, while others apply throughout the yom tov. For example, if there was an esrog with a pitom, and the pitom fell off but the rest of the esrog was intact, the esrog is unfit for the first two days, but may be used for the rest of yom tov.
Hadar requirement. There is a mitzvah to beautify all the mitzvos that we perform. This is called “hiddur mitzvah.” On Sukkos, however, the arba’ah minim must all be beautified; all must be hadar throughout chol ha’moed. Chazal, however, were the arbiters of what is called “hadar.” If any of the arba’ah minim are dried up or withered, they are no longer considered hadar.
Procedure for taking the arba’ah minim. In order to address the requirement of the berachah being “over lassiasan,” immediately before and only before the fulfillment of the mitzvah, Chazal enacted the following order:
1. The esrog is first lifted upside down, not in the manner that the esrog naturally grew (not k’derech gidulo). In other words, with the pitom (or place where the pitom would be) facing downward, and the stem facing upward. This is so that one will not have fulfilled the mitzvah before having recited the berachah.
2. The berachah is recited.
3. The esrog is turned right side up in the manner that it is grown (k’derech gidulo). The pitom faces upward.
4. The shehecheyanu is recited
5. The lulav is then shaken. Minhag Ashkenaz is forward, right side, backward, left side, up, and then down. When we shake down, we only point the bottom of the lulav downward—not the top. The minhag of the AriZal is right side, left side, forward, up, down, and backward.
Be sure to hold the esrog in your left hand and the lulav and the other two minim in the right hand. This is so that you will have more mitzvos in the right hand. The haddasim should be on the right side, while the aravos are on the left. The spine of the lulav should be facing you. A lefty should hold the esrog in the opposite hand, the right hand. One should be standing when performing this mitzvah.
Whenever yom tov comes immediately before Shabbos, in other words, on a Friday, an eiruv tavshilin must be made. An eiruv tavshilin is a rabbinic device that allows one to “continue preparing and cooking” for Shabbos on yom tov.
We learned, however, that performing melachah on a yom tov for another day other than the yom tov itself is, in fact, a Torah prohibition. If this is the case, then how could it be that a rabbinic enactment allows one to get around a Biblical prohibition?
The answer is that, technically, it was permitted by the Torah to cook on yom tov for Shabbos. Why was it permitted? There is an argument found in the Gemara about this very point. Rabbah said that it was permitted because “you never know when guests may drop in and eat.” Rav Chisda, on the other hand, said that the Torah actually made an exception for Shabbos.
The rabbis, however, forbade cooking on yom tov even when done for Shabbos. Why did they forbid it? Either because they were afraid that people would take the best items for yom tov and leave nothing significant for Shabbos (Rabbah’s explanation); or because they were afraid that it would lead to much confusion in that people would think that one could also cook for another day of the week, too, not just Shabbos (Rav Chisda’s explanation).
Difference in halachah. There is a difference between the two approaches. According to Rabbah, all the food would have to be fully cooked before Shabbos. According to Rav Chisda, the food may still be cooking at the start of Shabbos. According to whom do we pasken? Ideally, we should be concerned to make sure the food is all cooked from before Shabbos starts. Post facto, we can rely on the opinion of Rav Chisda.
According to both opinions, however, the cooking that is permitted for Shabbos may only be done on Friday. It may not be done on Thursday at all.
Procedure for eiruv tavshilin. We set aside food for the eiruv tavshilin from before yom tov. These foods should be eaten on Shabbos. At a minimum, one must have one cooked item (and at least a k’zayis of it) and, ideally, one baked item as well. The custom is to use an egg and a matzah or a challah. It is proper to use these foods at a Shabbos meal.
If one inadvertently omitted the cooked food, the egg in our case, the eiruv tavshilin must be made again. However, if one inadvertently left out the challah or the matzah, the eiruv tavshilin is valid.
Ideally, one should also cook the food for the purpose of eiruv tavshilin.
A berachah is recited on the eiruv and the text for the eiruv is recited. It is in Aramaic. If the person performing the eiruv understands Aramaic, then there is no need to recite it in Hebrew or in English. If not, then it should be recited in English. The words mean: “With this eiruv, we are permitted to bake, cook, keep warm, kindle fire, prepare, and do all that is necessary on the holiday for Shabbos—for ourselves, and for all Jews who live in this city.” v
The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com.