The Uniqueness of the Sukkah

B’sukkos teishvu shivas yamim (Vayikra 23:42)

The Torah commands us in Parshas Emor to dwell in sukkos for seven days beginning on the 15th day of Tishrei. The Torah adds that the reason for this mitzvah is so that we will know that Hashem caused the Jewish people to dwell in booths when He took them out of Egypt. At first glance this information seems to merely be providing us with the rationale behind the mitzvah.

However, the Bach maintains (Orach Chaim 625) that although in general a person who performs a mitzvah without mentally concentrating on the mitzvah he is doing and the reason for it still fulfills his obligation, in a case such as sukkah —  where the Torah specifically writes that the mitzvah must be performed for a certain purpose — this reason becomes an integral part of the mitzvah. Therefore, a person who dwells in a sukkah without thinking about the underlying reason for doing so does not fulfill his obligation.

While it is important to be cognizant of this legal opinion, it nevertheless begs the question: Why is the mitzvah of dwelling in a sukkah different than other mitzvos, regarding which the rationales need not be focused on to fulfill one’s basic obligation to perform the mitzvah?

According to one opinion in the Gemara (Sukkah 11b), we are commanded to dwell in sukkos in order to remember the miracle of the Clouds of Glory that surrounded and protected the Jewish people during their travels through the wilderness. In light of the fact that this miracle began immediately after the Exodus from Egypt, a number of commentators question why the Yom Tov commemorating the miracle takes place in Tishrei and not in Nisan, when the miracle began.

The Tur (Orach Chaim 425) answers that the month of Nisan is in the spring, when people naturally go outdoors to enjoy the warm weather after a long, cold winter. As such, if the festival of Sukkos was celebrated in Nisan, leaving our homes to go to temporary outdoor dwellings would not demonstrate that we are doing so for the sake of the mitzvah, since at that time of year we would go outdoors anyway. Therefore, the Torah instead commanded us to observe Sukkos in Tishrei, when the weather begins to cool off and our natural inclination is to go indoors to stay warm, as at that time our decision to dwell in the sukkah clearly reveals our intention to perform a mitzvah.

Nevertheless, the Meged Yosef points out that even in Tishrei, the actions that we are required to do in the sukkah — eating and sleeping — are not inherently associated with the performance of mitzvos, as people eat and sleep every day even when it is not for the sake of a mitzvah.

The commentators explain that one of the central themes of Sukkos is to elevate the physical world by using it for spiritual purposes. Therefore, the Torah specifically insists that at the time that we are dwelling in the sukkah, we must consciously focus on the mitzvah we are performing and the reason behind it, in order to imbue our otherwise mundane actions with sanctity as we transform them into holy acts that connect us to Hashem.

 

Q:What should a person do if he crosses the International Date Line during the period of time known as Sefiras HaOmer (23:15–16), either in a manner that causes him to completely “miss” one of the days of the Omer or in a manner that causes him to “repeat” one of the days of the Omer?

 

Q: Even though the Torah seems to require (24:20) “an eye for an eye” — that somebody who harms another person shall be punished by having that same wound inflicted on him — the Gemara (Bava Kamma 84a) teaches that this is not meant literally. Rather, the damager must financially compensate his victim for the harm that he caused him. Why did the Torah write this law in a manner that could be misunderstood if this isn’t its true meaning?

 

A: Harav Betzalel Stern maintains that in the case where one will miss a day, he should continue his count based on the location to which he traveled, but he may not recite a blessing because he has missed a day. In the case where he will repeat a day, he should also count according to the new location, which means that on the first day he repeats the count that he already counted the day before.

He should do this without saying a blessing, since he has already counted that day, and he continues on the following day to count with a blessing according to the local count.

In the first case, Harav Menashe Klein disagrees and argues that after crossing the date line, one may count the day that he is skipping without a blessing and then resume counting with a blessing in his new location based on their count. There is a minority opinion that rules that one should continue to count with a blessing from where he left off, even though it differs from the count of his new location. This would have the unusual result of celebrating Shavuos on a different day than the local community. Several sources add that because this subject is so complex, one should try to avoid crossing the date line during Sefirah. For practical questions, a Rav should be consulted.

 

A: The Chazon Ish explains that one of the purposes of the Torah is to teach us proper character traits, and by studying its laws and mitzvos, a person can acquire accurate values and outlooks. The greater the punishment prescribed by the Torah for a sin, the more a person should be repulsed by it and distance himself from it. Therefore, even though the actual punishment for physically harming another person is financial in nature, the Torah expressed it in stronger terms, implying that the damager will be punished with the loss of whatever limb he injured, so that we should appreciate the severity of hurting another person and take the necessary precautions to avoid doing so.


 

Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.