As everyone is busy building their Sukkah in preparation of the impending Yom Tov, it is important to realize that we must prepare in other ways too. We should be reading and reviewing what is unique about Sukkos – in order to gain the maximum from this beautiful Yom Tov. Below we find a number of important fundamentals.
SUKKOS — A TIME OF ALIYAH L’REGEL
One of the aspects of the Yom Tov of Sukkos is the mitzvah of aliyah l’regel. Three times a year 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
But there is something else of interest to us in regard to aliyah l’regel. 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 what we have been given to a greater extent, 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: simchah — spiritual joy.
SIMCHAH, THE SPECIAL AVODAH
Each of the Yamim 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 Zman Cheruseinu, the time of our freedom. Shavuos is called Zman Mattan Toraseinu, the time when we received our Torah; and Sukkos is called Zman Simchaseinu, the time of our joy. Although all Yamim Tovim are times of simchah, Sukkos is singled out as the one in which Zman 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 Yamim Nora’im, during which Klal Yisrael has been elevated and purified, Hashem has given 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 simchah to it. We are a nation whose very essence thrives upon dveikus Bashem — closeness to Hashem. This is our true simchah. Indeed, the Gemara tells us (Sukkah 51b): “One who never witnessed the Simchas Beis HaSho’eivah (the all-night celebration on Sukkos) never saw joy in his [or her] life.” The Gemara cites Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananyah (Sukkah 53a) whose words bear out that the simchah, 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 pnei rabo ba’Regel.” A somewhat fascinating observation can be made. It is a mitzvah on Sukkos to visit one’s teacher. Shluchei mitzvah (people on a mitzvah mission) are technically exempt from the mitzvah of Sukkah (Shulchan Aruch OC 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 known as the Regalim. Seeing one’s teacher helps connect one to the chain of Mesorah that connects 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 teacher on Sukkos.
EFFECTS OF THE SUKKAH
Dwelling in the sukkah can make another change within us as well. The Gedolei HaMussar 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 in sefer Mesillas Yesharim are:
zehirus (watchfulness), zerizus (alacrity), kedushah (holiness), and also Ruach HaKodesh (Divine wisdom).
Chazal tell us that the sukkah does this as well, to a degree. It can infuse us with a level of Ruach HaKodesh.
THE MITZVAH OF SUKKAH
The mitzvah of Sukkah is that one must dwell in the sukkah for seven days. This is the meaning of the verse “Ba’sukkos teishvu shivas yamim.” 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 schach 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 schach must have grown from the ground and should not be touching or held up by anything that is mekabel tumah (even 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; this is a halachah that we have learned Halachah l’Moshe MiSinai. The walls must be able to withstand a ruach metzuyah (a normal ordinary 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 twenty 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 assei sh’haz’man garma. 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 Ch’sam 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. It is a debate among the poskim, but the Mishna Brurah (640:5) holds that it os forbidden to feed a boy this age a mezonos meal outside of the Sukkah.
WHEN IT RAINS ON THE FIRST NIGHT OF SUKKOS
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 through the notion of a gzeiras shaveh. A gzeiras shaveh is l’havdil, like a “hypertext” in computer language -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 in Pesach and “the fifteenth” stated on 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 as to whether this “hyper-text” is 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 like on Pesach! The Mishnah Berurah, however, rules in accordance with other authorities that the waiting time has not been quantified and it depends upon each and every person.
Therefore, 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 Laishev 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 Yamim 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.
The Zohar (Emor 103a) tells us that the Kedusha of the Sukkah is so concentrated that the souls of the seven great leaders of Klal Yisroel 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 Avrohom, Yitzchok, Yaakov, Moshe, Aharon, Yoseph and Dovid HaMelech. Each day of Sukkos, one of the seven leads ther six. Not everyone, of course, has this Minhag, and one must follow one’s family customs.