The Ins and Outs of Sukkah Observance Or Attending the Ailing and the Uncomfortable

Question #1: I am a medical resident who must be on hospital duty during Sukkos. May I eat full meals outside the sukkah, or must I restrict myself to eating snacks that do not require being in the sukkah? If I am able to eat in the sukkah while on duty, do I recite the bracha of leisheiv basukkah.

Question #2: Our family has a rotation system so that someone is always with Bubbie. Should we have only female members with her during Sukkos, so that the men can be in the sukkah?

Question #3: Zeidie is aging, and getting him to the sukkah is increasingly difficult. Is he required to eat his meals there on Sukkos? Assuming that he may eat indoors, must he eat in the sukkah on the first night of Yom Tov?

PROPERLY FULFILLING MITZVAS SUKKAH

The proper observance of the mitzvah of sukkah is to treat the sukkah as one’s home for the entire seven days of Sukkos (Mishnah and Gemara Sukkah 28b). A person should not only eat all his meals in the sukkah, but he should sleep, relax, and entertain company 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 Rama 639:2), one should still arrange that he spend most of the day in the sukkah.

On the other hand, the mitzvah of sukkah is more lenient than other mitzvos of the Torah. For example, a mitzta’er, someone for whom being in the sukkah causes discomfort, is exempt from being in the sukkah (Sukkah 26a), as is someone ill (choleh) and his attendants (Mishnah Sukkah 25a). Thus, an aging Zeidie is probably exempt from sukkah, the same as someone who is ill.

WHY IS MITZTA’ER ABSOLVED FROM SUKKAH?

In commanding us concerning the mitzvah of sukkah, the Torah instructs: “You shall dwell (teishvu) in the Sukkah for seven days.” The Torah could just as easily have instructed “You shall be (tihyu) in the sukkah for seven days.” Either term teishvu (dwell) or tihyu (be) implies that a person should use his sukkah as his primary residence through the Yom Tov. Why, then, did the Torah use the word teishvu, dwell, rather than the word tihyu, be?

The word teishvu implies that one is not required to use the sukkah in circumstances that one would not use one’s house the rest of the year (Tosafos Yom Tov, Sukkah 2:4). For example, a person whose house is very cold will relocate temporarily to a warmer dwelling; if bees infest someone’s house, he will find alternative accommodations; if the roof leaks, one will find a dry location until it is repaired. Just as one evacuates one’s house when uncomfortable, so may one relocate from one’s sukkah when uncomfortable.

WHY IS AN ILL PERSON EXEMPT FROM SUKKAH?

According to most poskim, illness does not excuse someone from observing a mitzvah unless it is potentially life-threatening (see Shu’t Rashba #238 and Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 472:10, based on Nedarim 49b). Moderate illness exempts one only from the mitzvah of sukkah, but not other mitzvos.

Why is someone ill exempt from the mitzvah of sukkah?

The poskim suggest several reasons why an ill person is exempt from mitzvas sukkah. I will present three approaches, and, later in the article, some halachic differences that result:

I. Oseik bemitzvah patur min hamitzvah — Preoccupation with one mitzvah exempts one from performing a different mitzvah.

Some contend that since halacha requires an ill person to devote himself to getting well, observing mitzvas sukkah conflicts with his need to take care of his health (Besamim Rosh #94). Thus, the principle of oseik bemitzvah patur min hamitzvah exempts the ill from being in the sukkah. If this is the correct reason why the halacha exempts someone ill from sukkah, there will be both lenient and stringent consequences. According to this reason, an ill person is exempt from mitzvas sukkah only when it conflicts with his medical needs, but not otherwise. On the other hand, this approach contends that an ill person is exempt from all positive mitzvos, such as eating matzoh or marror on Pesach, whenever fulfilling the mitzvah conflicts with his medical needs, even if they are certainly not life threatening (Binyan Shelomoh #47).

II. Mitzvos tzrichos kavanah – Observing mitzvos necessitates cognizance.

Other authorities exempt an ill person from mitzvas sukkah for a different reason: One fulfills a mitzvah only when one focuses on performing the mitzvah. This concept is called mitzvos tzrichos kavanah, fulfilling a mitzvah requires cognizance that one is executing one’s obligation; without this awareness, one has not fulfilled his requirement to observe the mitzvah. Based on this background, the Taz (640:8) explains that since someone ill cannot focus on the fact that he is fulfilling mitzvas sukkah, it is impossible for him to observe the mitzvah. According to this approach, a sick person is exempt from sukkah even if his illness does not make it any physically harder to observe the mitzvah (Mikra’ei Kodesh 1:35).

III. Teishvu ke’ein taduru – You should dwell in the sukkah the same way one dwells at home.

Many authorities contend that an ill person is exempt from mitzvas sukkah because of teishvu ke’ein taduru (Ritva, Sukkah 26a s.v. Pirtzah; Bartenura, Sukkah 2:4; Aruch Laneir, Sukkah 26a; Mishnah Berurah 640:6, quoting Rabbeinu Manoach). Since an ill person will relocate from his home to more appropriate accommodations, he may similarly abandon his sukkah for a more comfortable place (Mishnah Berurah 640:6).

ATTENDANTS

Thus far we have learned that two categories of people are exempt from sukkah (1) the ill and (2) someone suffering discomfort (mitzta’er). Although both these people are exempt from living in the sukkah, there is a major halachic distinction between them. The Mishnah (Sukkah 25a) teaches that not only is a sick person exempt from mitzvas sukkah, but even those taking care of him are also exempt. However, someone assisting a person who is mitzta’er is required to fulfill the mitzvah. Thus, if a prominent person who always has people attending to him finds the sukkah too cold, he may complete his meal in the house, but those taking care of him must remain in the sukkah, if they themselves are not suffering.

Therefore, regarding the question asked above whether family members attending an elderly grandparent are excused from sukkah depends on whether the elderly person is considered ill, in which case the attendant is absolved from sukkah, or whether it is simply respectful that he or she not be left alone, in which case the male attendant must eat his meals in the sukkah.

WHY IS THERE A DIFFERENCE?

The question is: If the Torah absolved both an ill person and a suffering person from mitzvas sukkah, why is one aiding the sufferer required to observe the mitzvah while one assisting the ill is exempt? (Aruch Laneir, Sukkah 26a).

I have found two disputing approaches to explain this phenomenon, and their disagreement hinges on a question that we must first discuss: Why is someone taking care of the ill exempt from mitzvas sukkah? The authorities present two approaches to explain this phenomenon.

A. Teishvu ke’ein taduru – Dwell in the sukkah as you do in your home.

Some exempt the attendant from sukkah because of the law of teishvu ke’ein taduru -someone attending the ill does not pay attention to whether he remains in his own home or not. If he needs to attend to the ill, he leaves his house to attend to them. Therefore, since the Torah instructs us to treat the sukkah as we would our home and he leaves his home to attend the ill, he may leave his sukkah for the same purpose.

However, someone attending to a suffering person does not change all his living arrangements to attend to the sufferer’s needs. Just as he limits how much time he spends away from his home to attend to the sufferer’s needs and then returns home, so he may not absolve himself from the mitzvah of sukkah (Aruch Laneir, Sukkah 26a).

B. Oseik bemitzvah patur min hamitzvah – Preoccupation with one mitzvah preempts observing a different mitzvah.

Other poskim exempt attendants to the ill from sukkah because of oseik bemitzvah patur min hamitzvah, someone busy fulfilling one mitzvah is absolved from a different mitzvah. According to this approach, since attending the ill fulfills the mitzvah of bikur cholim, caring for the needs of the ill, performing this mitzvah exempts him from sukkah. However, one is not required to attend to the needs of someone who is mitzta’er, and therefore his attendant is obligated to remain in the sukkah (Levush, Orach Chayim 640).

Does any halachic difference result from this dispute? Perhaps.

The Shulchan Aruch (640:3) rules that an attendant is exempt from eating in the sukkah only when the ill person needs him, but must return to the sukkah when his services are unnecessary. According to the approach of oseik bemitzvah patur min hamitzvah, this decision is highly comprehensible, since one is no longer oseik bemitzvah when he stops performing the mitzvah.

However, if the attendant is exempt because of teishvu ke’ein taduru, it is difficult to explain why an attendant who is temporarily not needed must immediately return to the sukkah. Someone who is sleeping or eating indoors to escape rain is not required to reenter the sukkah immediately when the rain stops, but may finish his meal or night’s sleep indoors (Gemara Sukkah 29a; Shulchan Aruch 639:6, 7). This is because a person who leaves his house because its roof leaks does not return in mid-meal or in the middle of the night when the roof repair is complete; he waits to complete his meal or his sleep until morning before returning home. Thus, the exemption of teishvu ke’ein taduru allows one to complete the meal or night’s sleep outside the sukkah.

By this logic, someone attending to the ill outside the sukkah should be absolved from the mitzvah of sukkah, even when the ill person does not need him, until he completes what he is doing. The Shulchan Aruch’s ruling requiring him to return to the sukkah as soon as his service is unnecessary implies that an attendant’s exemption is because of oseik bemitzvah and not because of teishvu ke’ein taduru.

We can now answer the first question raised above: May a medical resident on hospital duty during Sukkos eat full meals outside the sukkah?

The answer is that he may eat full meals outside the sukkah as long as his services are necessary. If his services are temporarily not necessary, then it depends on the above-quoted dispute, and, per the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch, he should restrict himself to eating snacks that do not require a sukkah.

WHAT ABOUT THE FIRST NIGHT OF SUKKOS?

Is a sufferer required to eat in the sukkah the first night of Sukkos? The Rama (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; Rama 639:5). Why must he eat in the sukkah this night, if a mitzta’er is absolved from fulfilling mitzvas sukkah?

The answer is that there are two aspects to the mitzvah of sukkah.

(1) The mitzvah to dwell in a sukkah all of Sukkos. However, one can theoretically avoid eating in the sukkah if one never eats a meal the entire holiday but survives on snacks that are exempt from the sukkah (Mishnah Sukkah 27a).

(2) The requirement to eat in a sukkah the first night of the Yom Tov. We derive this requirement hermeneutically from the mitzvah of eating matzoh the first night of Pesach (Sukkah 27a). This mitzvah is an obligation — even if one chooses to not eat a meal all of Sukkos, he is still required to eat a kezayis of bread in the sukkah the first night.

Many authorities contend that a halachic difference exists between these two mitzvos. 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). According to his opinion, the law of teishvu ke’ein taduru does not exempt eating in the sukkah the first night of Sukkos.

Other Rishonim disagree, contending that the rules of teishvu ke’ein taduru apply on the first night just as they apply the rest of the week (Shu’t Rashba, quoted by Beis Yosef). Ashkenazim consider this to be an unresolved halachic issue; therefore, if it rains the first night, we eat at least a kezayis of bread in the sukkah but do not recite a bracha leisheiv basukkah (consensus of most Acharonim, see Mishnah Berurah 639:35). Sefardim should ask their rav what to do, since Sefardic poskim dispute whether they are obligated to eat in the sukkah the first night of Yom Tov under these circumstances.

FIRST NIGHT FOR THE ILL

Is a sick person required to eat the first night in the sukkah? This should depend on the reasons mentioned earlier. If an ill person is exempt because he is considered oseik bemitzvah, then he is also exempt the first night. Similarly, if he is exempt because of mitzvos tzrichos kavanah — illness distracts his ability to focus and thereby fulfill the mitzvah — he is also exempt from the mitzvah. However, if his exemption is because of teishvu ke’ein taduru, Ashkenazic practice will obligate him to eat a kezayis in the sukkah, albeit without reciting a bracha.

Thus, whether Zeidie of Question #3 above is required to eat in the sukkah on the first night of Yom Tov is dependent on this dispute. (See the Ben Ish Chai, Haazinu #12, who rules that he is obligated to eat in the sukkah.)

FIRST NIGHT FOR THE ATTENDANT

What about someone attending the ill? Is he required to eat in the sukkah the first night of Yom Tov? Again, let us examine why an attendant is exempt from the mitzvah. I cited above two approaches:

(1) Teishvu ke’ein taduru.

(2) Oseik bemitzvah patur min hamitzvah.

If one assumes that the attendant is patur because of teishvu ke’ein taduru, and we rule that these exemptions do not apply on the first night of Sukkos, then the attendant is obligated to eat at least a kezayis of bread in the sukkah (Aruch Laneir, Sukkah 26a). However, if the attendant is exempt because he is oseik bemitzvah, he is not obligated (see Elyah Rabbah 640:8).

TO BLESS OR NOT TO BLESS

According to those who exempt an attendant from sukkah because of oseik bemitzvah, does he recite a bracha if he chooses to eat in the sukkah? This question will directly affect the medical resident who asked: “If I am able to eat in the sukkah while on duty, do I recite the bracha of leisheiv basukkah when doing so?” The question is whether someone performing a mitzvah when absolved because of oseik bemitzvah fulfills the second mitzvah (from which he has been absolved).

There is another case affected by this issue. If the resident eats in the sukkah while he is attending an ill person (and he is patur from the mitzvah), and later in the evening someone relieves him from duty – is he now required to eat a kezayis in the sukkah, since at the time he fulfilled the mitzvah, he was not obligated to do so?

Most poskim rule that someone who is oseik in one mitzvah and observes a second mitzvah has fulfilled his obligation to fulfill the second mitzvah; thus, he is not required to eat another kezayis in the sukkah later (Shu’t Rama MiFanu #102; Shaar HaTziyun 475:39; Oneg Yom Tov #41). However, Shu’t Ksav Sofer (Orach Chayim #99 s.v. vi’ayein) contends that he is not yotzei and must eat another kezayis.

May we all celebrate the upcoming Yom Tov and Mitzvos in the best of health!

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