Leishev Basukkah and Simchas Torah: Halachic Insights From Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l

by Rabbi Tuvia Freund


Inside But Outside

Suppose the halachah follows the opinion that mitzvos tzerichos kavanah, that one must be aware of the fact that one is performing a mitzvah in order for his act to count as a mitzvah. Regarding the mitzvah of sukkah, how do we view one who eats a meal in a sukkah but has no conscious intention of fulfilling the mitzvah of sukkah? He certainly has not fulfilled the mitzvah according to this opinion, and yet he was in the sukkah when he ate. Since the halachah expects a person to fulfill the mitzvah of sukkah each time he eats a meal, is this person who ate without kavanah as guilty as if he had eaten out of the sukkah? Perhaps we must say that although he receives no credit for eating the meal, he cannot be accused of eating somewhere else, since he was physically inside a sukkah.

Rav Shlomo Zalman directs us to the Bi’ur Halachah in 60:4 regarding this question, and to the Minchas Chinuch (#325).

Besides the standard kavanah to fulfill the mitzvah of sukkah, the Bayis Chadash (625) declared that when eating the first kazayis of bread on the first night of Sukkos it is necessary to think of the fact that Hashem provided our ancestors the protection of the Ananei Hakavod while they were in the wilderness after leaving Egypt. According to some Acharonim, it is vital to have this kavanah; without it one does not fulfill the mitzvah at all. The question is, as above, whether one who fails to think of this while he eats is guilty as if he ate outside the sukkah, or if he simply has failed to fulfill his obligation of sukkah.

(Minchas Shlomo, vol. I, #1)

The Yesod V’shoresh Haavodah asserts that the mitzvah of sukkah obligates us to spend all our time during Sukkos in a sukkah, except when it becomes necessary to go elsewhere. If one decides to spend time in his house instead of in the sukkah, when he could have spent that time in the sukkah, he is guilty of a bitul mitzvas aseh for every moment he spends outside the sukkah.

This seems to contradict the cardinal principle of the mitzvah of sukkah: teishvu kein taduru. The mitzvah is to treat the sukkah as if it was your house. Now, people often spend time out of their houses, even when they could just as well have stayed inside. Why should we not treat the sukkah in the same way? One could say that if someone chooses to stay in his house when he could just as well have stayed in the sukkah, he is guilty of belittling the mitzvah, but that is a far cry from saying that he is obligated by the Torah to remain in the sukkah.

Perhaps this can be explained in the following manner: If one’s home was furnished with every possible comfort and pleasure, he would never want to leave it unnecessarily. In the same way, one who is properly attuned to the sublime spiritual pleasure of being enclosed by the Canopy of Faith (the kabbalistic term for a sukkah) would not forgo the opportunity for a moment unless it was absolutely necessary. After all, it is a far greater pleasure than any material pleasure imaginable. Alternatively, we can look at it this way: If one knew he would earn a million dollars for every minute he spent in his home, he would not consider leaving home except for an emergency. Considering the enormous reward Hashem promised for the mitzvah of staying in a sukkah during Sukkos, it should be absurd to consider going out of the sukkah at any time. Therefore, one is to remain in the sukkah, and someone who spends his time somewhere else when he could be in his sukkah is simply being spiteful. Therefore he is guilty of ignoring his obligation to be in the sukkah.

Nevertheless, this explanation ignores the classic meaning of teishvu kein taduru. The promise of reward in the future or in the World to Come should not be part of the equation, especially since it is impossible to measure that reward. Apparently, the Yesod V’shoresh Ha’avodah interpreted this concept to mean that if one had engaged in any particular activity in his home during the rest of the year, he must engage in that activity in the sukkah during Sukkos.

(Minchas Shlomo, vol. II, 58:38; Sefer Hasukkah, p. 451)

Leisheiv Basukkah for Cake

Although the custom of Ashkenazic Jews is to recite the brachah of leisheiv basukkah when eating cake, the Mishnah Berurah (639:16) ruled that this is true only if the person eating the cake plans to stay in the sukkah for a while. If he entered the sukkah only for the sake of eating his cake, and he plans to leave the sukkah as soon as he finishes eating it, he must not recite the brachah. This is because, in this case, the main intent of the brachah is for the person’s time spent in the sukkah, not for eating the cake.

According to the Rambam, if he is staying in the sukkah, he should recite the brachah only after taking a bite of cake, since the brachah is mainly for staying there and not for eating the cake. In practice, however, it is best to recite the brachah of leisheiv basukkah before the brachah made on the food he is eating.

(Minchas Shlomo, vol. II, 58:38; Halichos Beisah 22, footnote 6; Maadanei Shlomo p. 70)

Havdalah During Sukkos

Those people who have the practice of reciting leisheiv basukkah for havdalah should not recite it after the brachah of hagafen, since it is possibly an interruption between the brachah and drinking the wine. Ordinarily we do not recite leisheiv basukkah when drinking wine. We recite it only when eating bread or making a meal of a food made of grain.

Nevertheless, there is a difference. People will normally snack on cake or cookies while outdoors or on the run. Therefore, when eating cake or cookies in a sukkah, we should make sure to take a bite before reciting leisheiv basukkah. In contrast, no one usually recites havdalah while on the run. Therefore, it is reasonable to say that havdalah must be recited in the sukkah, and if so the brachah of leisheiv basukkah is not an interruption. Despite this, it is recommended to play it safe and recite leisheiv basukkah before the brachah of hagafen.

(Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah, ch. 58, footnote 103)

When Learning or Going to Sleep

If one goes into his sukkah at night to sleep there, he should recite leisheiv basukkah even if he does not eat there. He need not be concerned that he might not be able to fall asleep; his brachah is justified when he lies down to go to sleep.

Also, when entering a sukkah for a Torah-study session, one should recite leisheiv basukkah even if one does not eat while there. Technically, it should be necessary to recite leisheiv basukkah even when spending only a minute or two in the sukkah, as when entering the sukkah only in order to perform the mitzvah of lulav. Nevertheless the common custom is not to recite the brachah in these cases.

(Halichos Shlomo, vol. II, Mo’adim ch. 9; Orchos Halachah, footnote 93)

From One Sukkah to Another

The Poskim debated the halachah for one who recited leisheiv basukkah and ate a meal in his sukkah, and then went to visit someone in another sukkah, planning to eat there as well. Some ruled that he must recite the brachah again in the friend’s sukkah, since the walk from one sukkah to another is an interruption. Others ruled that the first brachah counts for the second sukkah as well. In practice, we refrain from reciting the brachah a second time.

If this person goes back to his own sukkah later on to eat another meal, however, he definitely must repeat the brachah when beginning the new meal.

(Maadanei Shlomo, p. 73)

The Magen Avraham (8:18) points out that the Shulchan Aruch seems to contradict itself. Regarding the mitzvah of tzitzis, it rules (8:14) that if one was wearing a tallis and takes it off, he must recite the brachah of l’his’atef batzitzis again when he puts it on again, even if he had planned to put it back on only a few minutes later. (In practice, no one follows this ruling.) Regarding the mitzvah of sukkah, however, the Shulchan Aruch (629) follows the ruling of the Maggid Mishneh that if one leaves his sukkah for a short time while intending to come back to it, he does not have to repeat the brachah of leisheiv basukkah. Why is this different than the case of the tallis?

There is a subtle difference. The mitzvah of tzitzis (or of tefillin) is fulfilled by wearing the tallis (or tefillin) on one’s body. When one takes it off, he actively interrupts his fulfillment of the mitzvah. When he puts it on again, it is a new act of the mitzvah, requiring a new brachah. No one wears a sukkah, however. The sukkah is free-standing, and a person goes inside to fulfill the mitzvah. When he walks out of the sukkah, that does not change the sukkah whatsoever. As long as he intends to return to it shortly afterward, his excursion is not considered an interruption of the mitzvah to require another brachah.

If this resolution is correct, then if one pulls down a cover over the sukkah’s roof to protect it from the rain, he would need to repeat leisheiv basukkah when taking the cover off again, even if it is only several minutes later. Likewise, if the wind blew the sechach off the sukkah and one went outside to put it back on, he would have to repeat the brachah when he reenters.

This would be true according to the rulings of the Shulchan Aruch. In practice, we do not repeat the brachah when putting a tallis or tefillin back on after a short interruption. If so, we would not repeat the brachah for a sukkah regardless of the circumstances.

From One Meal to the Next

One year, when the first day of Yom Tov was Shabbos, a group of people ate the third Shabbos meal in the sukkah. When they finished, they continued with a minyan for Maariv in the sukkah, and afterward the table was set for the Yom Tov meal of the second evening. The question arose at that time whether they should recite the brachah of leisheiv basukkah during Kiddush, since they had recited it for the third Shabbos meal and they had not left the sukkah since that time.

Now, the Turei Zahav (629:20) ruled that whenever one eats a second meal in a sukkah he must repeat the brachah even though he never left the sukkah since his first meal. Generally, however, we do not follow that ruling.

In this case, however, there is a strong argument to require repeating the brachah. That is because we observe the second day of Yom Tov as if we assume that the first day was not Yom Tov and it begins only now. For this reason we recite Shehecheyanu during Kiddush of the second night. If so, we likewise cannot rely on the brachah of leishev basukkah that we recited during the third Shabbos meal. We view it as if Shabbos was not Sukkos, and Sukkos begins only on Motzoei Shabbos. Therefore, it should be necessary to recite leisheiv basukkah during Kiddush of the second night.

(Yom Tov Sheini Kehilchaso, ch. 1: footnote 239; Shulchan Shlomo Yom Tov v’Chol Hamo’ed, vol I, p. 18)

Women in the Sukkah

If an Ashkenazic woman recites Kiddush for herself on Sukkos night, she may recite the brachah of leisheiv basukkah in its proper place during Kiddush, just as men do. Likewise, when eating a meal during the week of Sukkos, she may recite leisheiv basukkah after the brachah of Hamotzi, just as the men do. When eating cake or other mezonos foods, however, it is advisable for a woman to recite leisheiv basukkah before the brachah of mezonos, even though men reverse the order.

(Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah 48:46; Halichos Beisah 22:2, 3)

If a woman listens to Kiddush on Sukkos from inside the house, she may nevertheless respond Amen to the brachah of leisheiv basukkah since it is incorporated into Kiddush. Likewise, she may respond Amen to the brachah of Shehecheyanu even if she had already recited the brachah for herself at the time of candle-lighting.

(Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah 48:8(42), 7)

Sephardic Women and Shehecheyanu

Sephardic Jews follow the opinion of the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch that a woman may not recite a brachah for fulfilling a mitzvah if she is exempt, such as shofar, sukkah and lulav. One reason for this is that a woman cannot declare v’tzivanu — and He commanded us — to perform this mitzvah if she is exempt from it. If this is the entire reason, it would still be permissible for her to recite the brachah of Shehecheyanu to thank Hashem for the opportunity to perform this mitzvah, even if she is not obligated to do it.

It may be, however, that a woman cannot recite the brachah for these mitzvos since her act is not a full-fledged mitzvah, since she is exempt from fulfilling it. If this is the case, she would not be able to recite Shehecheyanu either, for this brachah may be recited only to thank Hashem for the opportunity to fulfill the full-fledged mitzvah. Just as a woman is exempt from fulfilling a time-limited mitzvah, she is likewise exempt from reciting Shehecheyanu if she chooses to perform that mitzvah, and she may not recite that brachah.

(1 Halichos Beisah, Pesach Habayis 21)

Mixing One Simchah With Another

Shemini Atzeres seems to be a double celebration. First of all it is a Yom Tov, and the Torah requires us to be joyful on a Yom Tov. Second, we celebrate the completion of the year-long Torah readings on this Yom Tov. This bothered the Keren Orah (commentary to Mo’ed Katan 8b) since the halachah forbids mixing other celebrations with that of Yom Tov. The act of celebrating other events during Yom Tov diminishes the degree of our celebration of Yom Tov and belittles it.

One possible simple solution is that Chazal instituted Simchas Torah to be on Shemini Atzeres because people might not realize that it is necessary to be joyful on that day. The Talmud states that the night of the final Yom Tov must be joyful, but some people mistakenly thought that the day should be spent in quiet introspection, taking stock of how we spent the Sukkos holiday period. In order to promote the mitzvah of simchah on this day, Simchas Torah was established to coincide so that it would be celebrated as grandly as possible.

Furthermore, Shemini Atzeres is unlike any other Yom Tov. It does not commemorate any historical event and there is no special mitzvah to perform on that day. The only mitzvah of this Yom Tov is to be happy for the fact that it is Yom Tov. This does not mean to be mindlessly happy; it is likely that one who has a feast just for the fun of eating and drinking fails to fulfill the mitzvah of simchas Yom Tov altogether. The real mitzvah is to rejoice in the very fact that Hashem took us out of Egypt, that He chose us to be His nation, and that He gave us His holy Torah. And more, we are supposed to rejoice in the fact that we have completed the days of Yemei Hadin, and Hashem has forgiven our sins and granted us another year of life during which we can fulfill His Will.

Most of all we must rejoice in the fact that Hashem favors us, that He does not want our Yom Tov season to end so abruptly and therefore added this special day to it. We don’t need any particular symbol or activity to express this joy; we need only the awareness that Hashem holds us close to Him. It is the unadulterated joy of belonging to Him, representative of the joy we hope to experience in the World to Come. Therefore this celebration has no connection to the other nations, nor does it need the symbolism of a sukkah or lulav.

This pure joy can be conceived only through our attachment to Torah, for Torah is the expression of Hashem’s will. Our joy in having the Torah is synonymous with joy in our relationship with Hashem. For this reason, we have come to call this day Simchas Torah. It is something uniquely ours. Even if another nation had accepted the Torah along with us, they would be obligated to observe the 613 mitzvos but they would never become identified with the Torah in the manner that we are. Torah is the essence of the Jewish people. For this reason Hashem suspended the mountain over our ancestors’ heads. We had no choice but to accept the Torah, for it is our essence.

This answers the Keren Orah’s question. We are not mixing another celebration with that of Yom Tov on Simchas Torah. The celebration of the joy of Shemini Atzeres is in fact the celebration of our attachment to the Torah. It is a single celebration; there is only one joy to experience.

Now, Shavuos also is a Yom Tov without any special mitzvah attached to it, and our joy on that day is the joy of receiving the Torah. Even so, it is not the same as Shemini Atzeres when we specifically celebrate the fact that Hashem favors us and hold us close to Him. That should be enough cause for joy, but since many of us are incapable of conceiving such a sublime concept, Chazal made it easier by establishing Simchas Torah, the celebration of completing our year-long Torah readings, to coincide with this day.

The Torah commands us, “You shall be only happy,” on Yom Tov. Rabbeinu Ovadiah Seforno explained this to mean that our joy must be complete and total, without any worries to temper it. This is possible only when we celebrate the Torah, for any other cause for celebration always leaves regret and sadness in its wake. The celebration of Torah, on the other hand, can continue through the year unabated, renewed and reinforced each time we perform a mitzvah or achieve a goal in Torah study.

The measure of the genuine character of one’s joy for Torah is how much one’s devotion to Torah study is increased as a result of the Simchas Torah celebration. This is the meaning of Rashi’s comment on the words “You shall be only happy” — this is a promise that by celebrating properly on Yom Tov one will continue to be joyful throughout the year.

(Compiled from Halichos Shlomo, vol. II, Mo’adim 12; B’orchos Halachah, p. 48; Shalmei Mo’ed, ch. 42, p. 183)

Simchas Torah and Moshe Rabbeinu’s Passing

One reason for our custom of following the completion of V’zos Habrachah by immediately beginning Bereishis is to soften the blow of learning of Moshe Rabbeinu’s passing. The thought that even the mightiest, most spiritual of all human beings in history must also succumb to the inevitability of death is a most sobering thought. To counter it, we go straight to the passage of Bereishis bara…, which Chazal interpreted to mean that Hashem created the world for the sake of Moshe Rabbeinu (the term reishis refers to Moshe Rabbeinu, as he himself stated in Devarim 33:21). That being the case, it must be that he did not really die, but rather ascended to a higher plane of existence in Shamayim.

In fact Chazal taught (Sotah 13b) that Moshe Rabbeinu did not die. Creation — Bereishis — is a catalyst for life, so it is impossible for a mortal to be the raison d’être of Creation. In the same way, the Midrash (Tanchuma Vayigash) teaches that Avraham Avinu cannot be considered dead, since Moshe Rabbeinu invoked his name to persuade Hashem to grant life to our ancestors after the sin of the Eigel Hazahav.

(Halichos Shlomo, vol. II, Mo’adim 12; B’orchos Halachah, footnote 34)