The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash
Surf A Little Torah
Yeshivat Har Etzion
By Rav David Silverberg
Several writers have noted the peculiar structure of the Torah’s discussion of the Sukkot festival, towards the end of Parashat Emor (Vayikra 23:33-44). This section first very briefly calls for the observance of a Yom Tov on the first and eighth days, and the offering of special offerings on these days (referring to the musaf sacrifices, which are detailed later, in Sefer Bamidbar, chapter 29). At this point, the Torah appears to conclude its discussion of the festivals: “These are the festivals of the Lord that you shall declare sacred occasions… besides the Lord’s Sabbaths…” (23:37-38). Surprisingly, however, the Torah then immediately resumes its discussion of Sukkot, reiterating the obligation to observe a festival and introducing the obligations of the arba minim (four species) and the sukka. Why does the Torah interrupt the Sukkot section, by inserting a verse that appears to conclude the entire discussion of the festivals?
One answer to this question is cited in the name of Rav Menachem Tzvi
Taksin, who asserted that the mitzvot of arba minim and Sukkot did
not apply until after Benei Yisrael’s entry into the
This explanation appeared in the journal Tel Talpiyot, and its
publication met with considerable complaints by readers who challenged the right
to make such a claim. Without
basis, they argued, one cannot theorize about a given mitzva that it was
not practically applicable at the time it was conveyed to the people in the
wilderness. In response, the
editor, Rabbi Yisrael Weltz, in a subsequent issue, elaborated on this question
to substantiate Rav Taksin’s claim.
In addition, he included a letter by Rav Eliezer Waldenberg likewise
supporting the theory. Among the
sources cited is a passage in the Mabit’s classic philosophical work Beit
Elokim (Sha’ar Ha-yesodot, chapter 37), where he states explicitly that
Benei Yisrael were not obligated to reside in sukkot while in the
wilderness. As for the arba
minim, the Rambam writes in Moreh Nevukhim (3:43) that “the four
species are a symbolical expression of our rejoicing that the Israelites changed
the wilderness… with a country full of fruit-trees and rivers.” He appears to assume that this
mitzva applies only after the transition underwent by Benei Yisrael
from desert travel to a life of agricultural enterprise. Abarbanel similarly writes that arvei
nachal (willows) did not grow in
(Taken from the work, Ke-motzei Shalal Rav, Parashat Emor)
The Mishna in Masekhet Sukka (28b) introduces the provision exempting one from residing in the sukka when rain falls on Sukkot, adding that such a situation is analogous to a case of a master who receives a drink from his servant and throws it back at him. Meaning, rainfall during Sukkot signifies the Almighty’s disinterest in our performance of the mitzva, since as a result of inclement weather we cannot fulfill the sukka obligation.
The Rambam, in his commentary to this Mishna, writes, “Rainfall at the beginning of Sukkot alludes to the fact that God does not willingly accept their [the Jewish people’s] deeds.” Surprisingly, the Rambam imposes a very significant qualification on the Mishna’s comment, limiting it to rainfall at the onset of Sukkot. It appears that according to the Rambam, we need not be distressed over rainfall that disrupts our observance of this mitzva some other time during the festival. Only rain at the beginning of Sukkot should be interpreted as an indication of God’s displeasure with us. Why should there be such a distinction?
One fairly simple answer, cited in the name of Rav Yaakov Chayim Zelig of
A more satisfying answer, perhaps, is cited in the name of Rav Chayim
Of course, this explanation presumes that rainfall suspends the
sukka obligation even on the first night of Sukkot. This issue is subject to a dispute among
the Rishonim, as documented by the Beit Yosef (O.C. 639), with some
Rishonim maintaining that the unique obligation to eat in the sukka on
the first night of the festival is unaffected by rainfall. According to Rav Chayim
Interestingly, it would emerge from this discussion that Rabbi Yehoshua himself would not view rainfall as a siman kelala after the first night of Sukkot. He must therefore have had some other reason to argue against beginning the mashiv ha-ru’ach insertion before Shemini Atzeret. This issue, of course, requires a separate discussion.
(Based on Rav Yisrael Stein’s Sukat Gedolei Yisrael)
Yesterday, we discussed the analogy drawn in the Mishna (Sukka 28b) between rainfall on Sukkot and a master who throws his drink served by his butler back onto the butler. The occurrence of rain on Sukkot, which prevents us from fulfilling this mitzva, reflects the Almighty’s disinterest in our service, similar to a master who rejects his servant’s gesture.
The question arises as to the practical implication of this analogy. When rain indeed falls on Sukkot, how
are we to respond to this “omen”?
Why did the Mishna find it important to inform us that in such a case God
is displeased with us? The question
is confounded by the fact that both the
What more, the
The Korban Netanel (a commentary to the Rosh) suggests an
explanation based on the Maharshal’s approach to the aforementioned exchange in
the Gemara (in his Chokhmat Shlomo, printed underneath the
Maharsha). The Maharshal claims
that had the Mishna referred to a situation where the servant spills water on
the master, then it would have spoken of an entirely different issue. The image of the servant scorning his
master would correspond to the Jew leaving his sukka to escape the
rain. Meaning, according to this
interpretation of the Mishna – which the Gemara ultimately rejects – the Mishna
condemns relying on the rainfall exemption. One should instead brave the elements
and continue eating in the sukka despite the uncomfortable conditions and
the technical exemption from this mitzva. If so, then this discussion is indeed of
utmost practical importance. If the
Mishna describes a servant throwing water at his master, a scene that
corresponds to the Jew running inside to escape the rain, then we are encouraged
to remain in the sukka even in harsh weather conditions. If, however, the scene involves a master
who rejects his servant’s gesture, symbolic of God’s disinterest in our
performance of this mitzva, then to the contrary, we are actually barred
from the sukka when rain falls, as the inclement weather signifies the
Almighty’s objection to our service.
Understandably, then, the
The Mishna’s metaphor may yield other practical ramifications, as well. Rav Yehuda Leib Ginsburg, in his Musar Ha-mishna, mentions that some commentators deduced from this Mishna that when rain falls on Sukkot, one must enter his home sadly, given the indication of divine displeasure. He further suggests that this perspective on rainfall during Sukkot perhaps grants one permission to pray for the rain’s cessation. The Mishna in Masekhet Ta’anit (3:8) establishes that prayers are recited for any type of crisis situation, with the exception of abundant rainfall. Since rain essentially constitutes a blessing, even when it falls excessively we should not petition God for its cessation. In light of the Mishna in Sukkot, however, we might perhaps conclude that one may beseech God to stop rain on Sukkot. Since, as the Mishna establishes, rain on Sukkot reflects anger, rather than a divine blessing, it would seem appropriate to pray for it to end.
The Gemara in Masekhet Sukka (28b) establishes the famous halakha known as teishvu ke-ein taduru – meaning, that one’s residence in his sukka must resemble his residence in his home. The Torah writes, “Ba-sukkot teishvu” (“You shall dwell in sukkot” – Vayikra 23:42), suggesting that one must “dwell” in his sukka in the same manner as he dwells in his permanent home. Specifically, the Gemara explains, “If one has beautiful utensils, he brings them to the sukka; beautiful couches – he brings them to the sukka…” The Gemara then specifies that one must perform in his sukka all activities he would normally do at home.
From this presentation it would appear that the reason for beautifying one’s sukka is the principle of teishvu ke-ein taduru, requiring that one treat his sukka like his home. Instinctively, one might have thought that the requirement to ensure a comely décor in one’s sukka evolves from the broader concept of hiddur mitzva – requiring that high aesthetic standards be maintained in performing mitzvot. True, the berayta in Masekhet Shabbat (133b) that articulates the principle of hiddur mitzva indeed mentions, “sukka na’a” – that one must endeavor to build a beautiful sukka. One might argue, however, that this applies only to the sukka itself. The furnishings and accoutrements in the sukka are not an integral part of the sukka itself, and might therefore not fall under this category. Nevertheless, even these must be aesthetically pleasing due to a separate factor – the concept of teishvu ke-ein taduru. Just as one decorates and furnishes his home tastefully, so must he decorate and furnish his sukka.
Rav Soloveitchik (Reshimot Shiurim to Masekhet Sukka, p. 105) proved this point from a discussion later in Masekhet Sukka (48a), concerning the procedure of leaving one’s sukka on the afternoon of Hoshana Rabba, the final day of Sukkot. The Mishna requires removing one’s utensils and furniture from the sukka and bringing them inside in preparation for Shemini Atzeret. (This applies only to those in Eretz Yisrael, who do not eat in the sukka on Shemini Atzeret.) The Gemara then addresses the case of a person who has nowhere to bring his belongings, and requires that he perform some action that demonstratively renders the sukka unfit for use. As Rashi explains, since this individual will, by necessity, remain in his sukka even after Sukkot, he must somehow invalidate the sukka to avoid appearing as extending the sukka obligation beyond its timeframe. One means by which this is accomplished, the Gemara states, is by bringing dirty dishes into the sukka – something which one may not do during Sukkot (Sukka 29a). It emerges, then, that bringing soiled utensils into the sukka undermines the mitzva of sukka – or, more precisely, undermines the possibility of dwelling in the sukka as required by Halakha. Rav Soloveitchik noted that this halakha can be understood only if a comely appearance is required by virtue of teishvu ke-ein taduru. If this requirement stems only from the broader concept of hiddur mitzva, bringing soiled utensils into the sukka would not affect the performance of the sukka obligation per se; it would rather violate the generic obligation demanding respectable aesthetic standards with regard to mitzva objects. If the presence of filthy items indeed demonstrates that one does not remain in his sukka for mitzva purposes, then we must conclude that beautifying a sukka is required as an integral part of the sukka obligation itself, and not due to the overarching value of hiddur mitzva.
In theory, this perspective on the requirement to beautify one’s sukka should affect the type of decorations one places in his sukka. In my experience, the decorations commonly sold and used differ significantly from the materials used to decorate modern homes. According to what we have seen, one might question this practice, since decorating a sukka is required as part of the concept of teishvu ke-ein taduru, the obligation to treat a sukka as a home. Most likely, the structure of the sukka, not to mention the elements of the outdoors, simply cannot accommodate standard, household furnishings and decorations, and for this reason people traditionally decorate the sukka with considerably simpler and less lavish decorations.
In introducing the mitzva of arba minim (the four species), the Torah (Vayikra 23:43) refers to the etrog with the term “peri etz hadar” – literally, “a beautiful fruit of a tree.” The Gemara (Sukka 35a) brings two explanations as to how this description corresponds with the traditional identification of this fruit as the etrog. The first focuses on the term peri etz – “fruit of a tree” – which might suggest some degree of parity between the fruit and the tree. Hence, this view suggests reading the verse as referring to a fruit “she-ta’am etzo u-firyo shaveh” – whose bark has some taste, just like the fruit itself. The second view cited in the Gemara advances a homiletic interpretation of the word hadar (beautiful), suggesting that it alludes to the phrase, “ha-dar ba-ilano mi-shana le-shana” – “it lives on its tree all year round.” Thus, the Torah – ever so subtly – alludes to these two qualities of the etrog fruit.
As some writers have suggested, this Gemara perhaps expresses the two primary themes underlying the symbolic meaning of the etrog. A famous Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, Parashat Emor) establishes a correspondence between the four species and four groups among Am Yisrael: those who excel in Torah and the performance of mitzvot; those who excel in Torah but not mitzvot; those who excel in mitzvot but not Torah; and those who excel in neither. The etrog, which is both fragrant and tasty, represents the complete tzadik, who has to his credit both scholarship and many righteous acts. Accordingly, the two central qualities of the etrog – the taste of its bark, and its continuous presence on the tree – could perhaps allude to the primary qualities embodied by the perfect tzadik. The similar taste of the bark and fruit, according to the Chemdat Yehoshua (cited in Likutei Batar Likutei to Masekhet Sukka), represents sincerity, the parity between the interior and exterior, between heart and deed. The true tzadik is pious both internally and externally; he serves his Creator sincerely, out of love and devotion, rather than for self-serving and self-aggrandizing interests. This sincerity naturally yields the second quality – consistency. One who serves the Almighty sincerely will do so under all circumstances and without condition. Like the etrog, he remains devoted and loyal “all year round,” in all seasons, regardless of the setting or situation. Torah observance for him is not a matter of convenience or satisfaction, but a lifelong commitment and obligation.
The Tishrei festivals, taken as a whole, are often perceived as a challenge to the Jew to express his devotion to the Almighty under differing circumstances. Some people may find it easier to serve God in the somber and intimidating atmosphere of the High Holidays, while for others, the more relaxed, joyous tenor of Sukkot and Simchat Torah provides a far more comfortable environment for religious experience and expression. Of course, these festivals demand that we serve God unwaveringly under both kinds of circumstances – the awe and dread of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and the exuberant joy of Sukkot and Simchat Torah. We thereby demonstrate our consistent loyalty to God, ha-dar ba-ilano mi-shana le-shana – which remains constant and consistent all year round, in every season and under all circumstances.
Yesterday, we discussed the expression peri etz hadar – literally, “a beautiful fruit of a tree” – with which the Torah refers to the etrog (Vayikra 23:43). As we saw, the Gemara (Sukka 35a) cites a view that reads the word hadar in this verse as alluding to the phrase, “ha-dar ba-ilano mi-shana le-shana” – “that resides on its tree all year round.” The Torah thus very subtly hints to the unique quality of etrog fruits (and, from what I’ve been told, all citrus fruits) that they can be found on their trees throughout the year, regardless of the season.
The question arises, is there any connection between this homiletic reading of the word hadar and its plain meaning – “beautiful”? Does the Gemara impose an entirely new reading onto this word, that bears no relation whatsoever to the straightforward reading, or is there perhaps some association between the plain and Midrashic interpretations of this word?
Rav Joshua Shmidman zt”l, in an article entitled “Jewish Beauty and the Beauty of Jewishness” (www.ou.org/publications/ja/5758/spring98/beauty.htm), suggested that the Gemara here gives us some insight into the Jewish concept of “beauty.” The hadar quality of the etrog, its “beautiful” nature and essence, lay specifically in its constancy, in its endurance, in this property of ha-dar be-ilano mi-shana le-shana. In Jewish thought, Rav Shmidman explains, beauty “means the indomitable power of life, the determination to live on despite all difficulties, the affirmation of the victory of life over death, the drive for eternity.” An object that can live continuously and endure under even the harshest of circumstances is “beautiful” in the Jewish sense of the term.
In this vein Rav Shmidman explains the famous command introduced earlier in Sefer Vayikra (19:32), “ve-hadarta penei zakein,” which is commonly translated as, “you shall honor the presence of the elderly.” In light of the more accurate translation of hadar as “beauty,” we should perhaps read this clause to mean, “you shall ascribe beauty to an old face.” Quite contrary to the contemporary conception of beauty, which renders it almost synonymous with youth, Judaism finds beauty specifically in the penei zakein – in the face of an elderly person. The Talmud (Kiddushin 33a) records that Rabbi Yochanan would rise in the presence of even the non-Jewish elderly, explaining, “How many troubles have they experienced!” The power to endure many long years, to overcome life’s obstacles and withstand its many hardships, defines a person as “beautiful.”
In Aramaic, the verb h.d.r. means to return. Upon the completion of a Talmudic tractate, for example, the student traditionally exclaims, “Hadran alakh” – “We will return to you.” This word, too, likely bears a conceptual connection to the Hebrew word hadar: something that is not lost, that endures forever, that does not slip away, is beautiful.
If contemporary culture defines “beauty” in terms of instantaneous, but fleeting, charm and appeal, Judaism teaches that beauty lies in eternity, in the power of timelessness, in that which is everlasting.