Question #1: Where?
“Where should I learn Torah during Sukkos?”
Question #2: What?
“What are the rules about having dirty plates and glasses in the sukkah?”
Question #3: When?
“When it is raining on the first night of Sukkos, why do we make kiddush and hamotzi in the sukkah, but without reciting the brocha on the mitzvah?”
The laws of the mitzvah of sukkah are highly detailed and very unusual. In the course of answering the opening questions, we will be studying an overview of the unique laws of this beautiful mitzvah.
Home sweet sukkah
The proper observance of this mitzvah is to treat the sukkah as one’s home for the entire seven days of Sukkos (Mishnah and Gemara Sukkah 28b). This is derived from the Torah’s words: “You shall dwell (teishevu) in the Sukkah for seven days.” This is the only mitzvah of the Torah that is worded this way, and, as a result, there are many interesting and unique halachic details, both lekulah and lechumrah. (Women are exempt from the mitzvah of sukkah, and, therefore, the halachos that we describe in this article apply only to men. However, a woman who eats or spends time in the sukkah fulfills a mitzvah. According to Ashkenazic practice, she recites a brocha prior to fulfilling the mitzvah; according to Sephardic practice, she does not.)
The Gemara explains that a person should not only eat all his meals in the sukkah, but he should sleep and relax in the sukkah (Sukkah 28b; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 639:1). Although in many places in chutz la’aretz, people are not accustomed to sleeping in the sukkah because of safety, weather or personal concerns (see Rema and acharonim, Orach Chayim 639:2), we should still spend most of the day in the sukkah, and not simply use it as a place to eat our meals, and then leave it for the rest of the day.
To quote the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 639:1): “How does one fulfill the mitzvah of living in the sukkah? One should eat, drink, sleep, relax, and live in the sukkah all seven days, both in the daytime and at night, just as he lives in his house the rest of the year. For these seven days, he should make his house temporary and his sukkah into his regular residence. What are some examples of this? His nicest vessels, tablecloths and bedspreads should be in the sukkah. His drinking vessels, both the serving vessels and the drinking glasses, should be in the sukkah. However, utensils used to prepare food, such as pots and pans, should be outside the sukkah. The lamp should be in the sukkah; however, if the sukkah is small, it should be placed outside the sukkah.”
What does the Shulchan Aruch mean when it makes a distinction between drinking vessels, which are inside the sukkah, and utensils to prepare food, which it says should be outside the sukkah?
Here, the Shulchan Aruch introduces the following concept. Although we are supposed to use and live in the sukkah as we do in our house, we are required to treat the sukkah with a degree of respect, as it has some level of kedusha. The Rema (639:1) notes that unbecoming things should not be performed in the sukkah. The Beis Yosef chooses washing dishes as an example of something inappropriate in the sukkah. The Magen Avraham explains that washing drinking glasses is permitted in the sukkah, because this is not considered something unaesthetic, whereas washing pots and dirty dishes is.
Regarding eating and cooking vessels, there are two aspects to this distinction.
According to custom, pots and other cooking vessels that are not brought to the table when there are guests should not be brought into the sukkah (Mishnah Berurah 639:5). Similarly, other items that are not appropriate for public view, such as a child’s potty, should never be brought into the sukkah. However, presentable “oven-to-table” cookware may be brought into the sukkah.
The second aspect is that plates and platters that are dirty must be removed from the sukkah (Sukkah 29a). This is because, once they have been used, they look unpleasant.
Both of these laws do not apply to drinking vessels, which are usually not repulsive, even when dirty (ibid.).
A rule of thumb I have adopted is: Something that would be in the dining room, living room or bedrooms when you are entertaining guests can be in the sukkah. Items that you would ordinarily leave in the kitchen, bathroom or laundry area should not be in the sukkah.
Lamp in the sukkah?
The Shulchan Aruch stated: “The lamp should be in the sukkah; however, if the sukkah is small, it should placed outside the sukkah.” What does this mean?
In today’s post-Edison world, lighting usually means electric lighting, which, if properly installed, should not present any safety hazards. However, when lighting was oil or other flammable material, placing a light inside a small sukkah could pose a safety hazard. Therefore, the sukkah’s lighting would, of necessity, be placed outside when the sukkah was small. Although this situation is not ideal, it is, under the circumstances, an acceptable way to observe the mitzvah, notwithstanding that your household lighting would be indoors.
Studying in the sukkah
The Gemara (Sukkah 28b) discusses whether learning Torah should be in the sukkah or outside. The conclusion is that learning requiring focus is usually best accomplished outside the sukkah, where someone can learn with better concentration. On the other hand, learning that will not suffer as a result of heing outside home or a beis medrash should, indeed, be done in the sukkah. However, if someone needs access to many seforim while learning, it may not be practical to bring all of them to the sukkah. The Mishnah Berurah (639:29) recommends bringing the seforim that he will need to the sukkah for the entire Yom Tov, if he can create a place there to keep them. I will add that, depending on the climate, he may need a place where they will not get wet.
Thus, we can answer our opening question: “Where should I learn Torah during Sukkos?” The answer is: If someone can conveniently learn in the sukkah, he should; but if he cannot, he should learn where he will be able to accomplish the most.
Snacking outside the sukkah?
Although the Shulchan Aruch requires that all meals be eaten in the sukkah, it does not require that snacks be eaten in the sukkah. This ruling is also derived from the Torah’s wording of mitzvas sukkah: “You shall dwell (teishevu) in the Sukkah for seven days,” which implies that we should treat the sukkah as we treat our house the rest of the year. In this instance, the result is lenient. Just as we do not eat all snacks in the house, but eat them wherever we find ourselves, the same is true regarding eating snacks on Sukkos – there is no requirement to eat them in the sukkah.
In this context, the Mishnah reports:
“It once happened that someone brought Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai some food to taste, and (in another anecdote) someone brought Rabban Gamliel two dates and a pitcher of water. In both instances, the rabbonim asked that the food be brought to the sukkah for them to eat it there. However, when someone brought Rabbi Tzadok a small amount of bread, he ate a very small amount — less than the size-equivalency of an egg — outside the sukkah” (Mishnah, Sukkah 26b).
The Gemara explains: The halacha does not require eating any of these items in the sukkah, but one is permitted to be more stringent. In other words, someone who desires to be stringent and not eat anything or drink even water outside the sukkah is praiseworthy. Ordinarily, it is prohibited to act more stringently than the halacha requires, because of a concern called yohara, showing off that one is more careful in halacha than other people. This concern does not exist germane to being strict about eating snacks in the sukkah, and, therefore, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai and Rabban Gamliel ate in the sukkah, even when it was not mandated. On the other hand, since this is a stringency and not halachically required, Rabbi Tzadok ate his snack outside the sukkah.
How much is still considered a snack that is permitted outside of the sukkah? If you are eating bread, you may eat a piece that is equal to, but not greater than, the size of an average-sized egg. Someone who wants to determine this size exactly should discuss it with his rav or posek. Fruit, as much as you want, may be eaten outside the sukkah. A cereal produced from the five grains may not be eaten outside the sukkah, if it constitutes a meal.
Stopping for a drink
It is permitted to drink water or any other beverage, even wine, outside the sukkah. However, be aware that if a person is in the middle of a meal that requires being in the sukkah, he may not eat or drink anything outside the sukkah (see Ran). This is because every part of a meal must be eaten in the sukkah, even while in the house getting the next course. (Of course, since women are exempt from the mitzvah of sukkah, they may eat or help themselves to something in the house during the meal.)
Kiddush, hamotzi, but not brocha?
At this point, let us discuss the third of our opening questions: “When it is raining on the first night of Sukkos, why do we make kiddush and hamotzi in the sukkah, but without reciting the brocha on the mitzvah?”
Leniencies about sukkah
Answering this question requires two introductions about different aspects of the laws of sukkah. The first is:
As I noted above, when the mitzvah of sukkah is discussed, the Torah writes “You shall dwell (teishevu) in the Sukkah for seven days.” Seemingly, the Torah could just as easily have instructed, “You shall be (tihyu) in the sukkah for seven days.” Why did the Torah use the word teishevu, dwell, rather than the word tihyu, be?Either term teishevu (dwell) or tihyu (be)implies that a person should use his sukkah as his primary residence through the Yom Tov!
The answer is because the word teishevu implies something that tihyu does not: Teishevu implies that there is no requirement to use the sukkah in circumstances that you would not use your house the rest of the year (Tosafos Yom Tov, Sukkah 2:4). This is referred to as teishevu ke’ein taduru, you should live in the sukkah similarly to the way you normally live in your house. Since the mitzvah of the Torah is to treat the sukkah as you ordinarily treat your house, there are leniencies that do not apply to any other mitzvah. One case of these is mitzta’er, someone for whom being in the sukkah causes discomfort. A mitzta’er is exempt from being in the sukkah (Sukkah 26a).
For example, a person whose house is very chilly will relocate temporarily to a warmer dwelling; if bees infest your house, you will find alternative accommodations; if the roof leaks, you will find a dry location until it is repaired. Just as people evacuate their houses when uncomfortable and find more suitable accommodations, so may they relocate from their sukkah when uncomfortable and seek more pleasant arrangements. Therefore, if a bad smell develops near the sukkah, one is exempt from staying in the sukkah.
The first night of Sukkos
The second introduction is to explain that there are two aspects to the mitzvah of sukkah.
(1) The mitzvah to dwell in a sukkah the entire Yom Tov. This is the aspect of the mitzvah that we have been discussing until this point.
(2) The requirement to eat in a sukkah onthe first night of the Yom Tov. Chazal derive this requirement by way of a hermeneutic comparison to the mitzvah of eating matzah on the first night of Pesach (Sukkah 27a). Although there is no requirement to eat matzah all of Pesach, on the first night there is a requirement, as the Torah specifies, ba’erev to’chelu matzos, on the first night of Pesach one is required to eat matzah.
This means that Hashem taught Moshe at Har Sinai that there are two aspects to the mitzvah of living in the sukkah. The first night one has an obligation to eat in the sukkah. The rest of Sukkos, the requirement is to treat the sukkah as you treat your house. Therefore, should you spend all of Sukkos in a circumstance where you would usually never be home – such as a meshulach on a fundraising trip – you could potentially avoid being in the sukkah the entire Yom Tov without violating the mitzvah. However, on the first night, there is an obligation to eat in the sukkah. Even if someone chooses not to eat a meal all of Sukkos, but to subsist completely on snacks, the first night, he is still required to eat a kezayis of bread in the sukkah.
Mitzta’er the first night
Our next question is whether a mitzta’er is required to eat in the sukkah the first night of Sukkos. For example, when the weather is inclement, and it is permitted to eat in the house, does this also exempt someone from eating a kezayis of bread in the sukkah on the first night? This question is the subject of a dispute among the rishonim. Some contend that this exemption does not apply to the mitzvah to eat a kezayis in the sukkah on the first night. Just as a mitzta’er is required to eat a kezayis of matzoh the first night of Pesach, so too a mitzta’er is required to eat a kezayis of bread in the sukkah on the first night of Sukkos (Tur Orach Chayim 639).
Other rishonim disagree, contending that the rules of teishevu ke’ein taduru apply on the first night, just as they apply throughout the rest of the week (Shu”t Rashba, quoted by Beis Yosef).
How do we rule?
The Rema (Orach Chayim 640:4) concludes that although a mitzta’er is absolved from fulfilling mitzvas sukkah the rest of the week, he must, nevertheless, eat a kezayis of bread in the sukkah the first night of Sukkos (see also Meiri, Sukkah 26a; Rema, Orach Chayim 639:5). Ashkenazim, who follow the Rema’s opinion the vast majority of the time, consider this to be an unresolved halachic issue. Therefore, if it rains on the first night of Sukkos, they eat at least a kezayis of bread in the sukkah. However, since there are rishonim who contend that a mitzta’er is exempt even from eating a kezayis on the first night, they do not recite a brocha leisheiv basukah (consensus of most acharonim, see Mishnah Berurah 639:35).
Sefardim should ask their rav what to do, since there is a dispute among Sefardic poskim whether one is obligated to eat in the sukkah on the first night of Yom Tov under these circumstances.
Second night in chutz la’aretz
The acharonim dispute whether the practice of Ashkenazim to make kiddush and eat a kezayis in the sukkah even when it is raining applies only on the first night of Sukkos, or even on the second night of Sukkos in chutz la’aretz. I refer our readers to their rav or posek to discuss this question, should it become germane.
The stars and the sukkah
The halacha is that, lechatchilah, one should be able to see the stars through the sukkah’s schach. What is the reason behind this requirement?
The following thought was suggested: The sukkah, a temporary dwelling with a leaky thatched roof, represents the Jew in exile. Yet, there are a wide variety of kosher Sukkos. Some sukkos are constructed with four complete and sturdy walls that reach all the way to the schach. On the other hand, there are Sukkos that are much less sturdy and yet they are still kosher. For example a sukkah with just two fairly narrow walls accompanied by a third “wall” that is a mere plank the width of one’s fist is kosher. Such a shabby sukkah can be kosher, even if its walls are only ten tefachim tall, which is less than forty inches, with open air between the top of the short “walls” and the schach, notwithstanding that such a sukkah provides virtually no privacy. Do you know anyone who would live in such a house?
The different types of sukkos represent different forms of exile. In some times and places, we were welcomed and had a sense of security; in others, we had to cringe in fear.
Yet, there is one common factor in all the various exiles that we have been through – the stars. The stars remind us that when Klal Yisrael merits it, instead of being like the dust of the earth, we will be like the stars in the sky! (This approach is cited in the contemporary work, Shalal Rav, Sukkos volume, page 114.) Thus, regardless of the difficulties of the moment, we have a Divine promise that one day we will be stars!
We all hope to merit performing this beautiful mitzvah in the best way possible. After having davened for a good, sweet, new year, the logical continuation is to observe mitzvas sukkah in a halachically correct manner, getting our year off to a wonderful start!