If you don’t see this week’s issue by the end of the week, check which may be more up-to-date

Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues

 Sukkos - Vol. 2, Issue 47

V’chag ha’asif b’tzeis hashana b’asp’cha es ma’asecha min hasadeh (Shemos 23:16)

In first introducing us to the festival of Sukkos, why does the Torah refer to the holiday as chag ha’asif – the festival of the ingathering – and not by its more well-known name, “Sukkos,” which isn’t used in conjunction with the holiday until much later (Devorim 16:13)? Further, if the holiday of Sukkos commemorates the Ananei HaKavod which surrounded and protected the Jews, shouldn’t it be celebrated in the spring when they first began to miraculously escort the Jews after their Exodus from Egypt?

The Vilna Gaon explains that although the Ananei HaKavod first appeared in the month of Nissan, they subsequently departed after the sin of the golden calf. It wasn’t until 15 Tishrei, four days after the forgiveness of Yom Kippur, that the Clouds returned, this time to remain for the duration of the 40 years that the Jews traveled through the wilderness. It is this returning of the Clouds of Glory which is commemorated by celebrating the holiday of Sukkos at this time.

Based on this insight, the Meshech Chochmah explains that when Sukkos is first mentioned in Parshas Mishpatim, the Jews still hadn’t sinned with the golden calf and the initial Clouds of Glory were still present. The entire reason for celebrating Sukkos in the fall wasn’t yet applicable, and the Torah had to refer to it by an alternate name and reason based on the ingathering of the harvest. However, in Parshas Re’eh, the Clouds had already disappeared and returned, and it was appropriate to refer to the Yom Tov at that time as Chag HaSukkos, the festival which commemorates the restoration of the Clouds of Glory!


U’seir izim echad chatas milvad olas hatamid minchasa v’niskah … u’seir chatas echad milvad olas hatamid u’minchasa v’niskah (Bamidbar 29:16, 22)

            In the section describing the additional sacrifices which are to be brought on each day of Sukkos, there is a peculiar difference in phrasing in reference to the goat which is brought each day as a Korban Chatas. Although this sacrifice is identical on each day of Sukkos – one male goat – the Torah calls it a seir izim in connection with the 1st, 2nd, and 4th days of Sukkos, but calls it simply seir when it is discussed on the 3rd, 5th, 6th, and 7th days of the holiday. As the Torah is precise with every word that it uses, this repeated change is hard to understand.

            The Vilna Gaon offers a brilliant explanation for this linguistic curiosity. The Gemora in Sukkah (55b) teaches that beginning with 13 on the first day of Sukkos and declining by one on each successive day, a total of 70 bulls are sacrificed over the course of the holiday. These 70 bulls correspond to the 70 non-Jewish nations of the world. The Zohar HaKadosh states that all of the 70 nations are spiritually associated with either Yishmael or Eisav and derive their strength from them. The Zohar further teaches that Yishmael is mystically referred to as seir izim. Eisav is called simply seir, as the Torah refers to him as ish seir (Bereishis 27:11).

Since the Gemora explains that the 70 bulls represent the 70 nations of the world, all of whom descend spiritually from either Yishmael or Eisav, it is appropriate to offer 35 bulls corresponding to Yishmael and 35 for Eisav. Because Yishmael was the elder of the two, we begin by offering the 13 bulls on the first day on his behalf. The Torah therefore refers to the Korban Chatas of that day as seir izim, which refers to Yishmael, and this is repeated with the 12 bulls sacrificed on the 2nd day.

However, if the 11 bulls offered on the 3rd day also corresponded to Yishmael, he would have 36 bulls, leaving only 34 for Eisav. In order to allow each to have a total of 35, the 11 bulls on the 3rd day are brought on behalf of Eisav. The Torah therefore refers to the Korban Chatas on that day as seir. The 10 bulls which are brought on the 4th day may be brought for Yishmael, bringing his total number to the desired 35, and the goat on that day is referred to for the last time as seir izim. This leaves the bulls on the three remaining days to be offered on behalf of Eisav to bring his total to 35, and they are therefore all referred to as seir!

V’lakachtem lachem bayom harishon pri eitz hadar kapos temorim v’anaf eitz avos v’arvei nachal us’machtem lifnei Hashem Elokeichem shivas yamim (Vayikra 23:40)

The Shulchan Aruch rules (Orach Chaim 658:2) that the four species may not be taken on Shabbos. The Mishnah Berurah explains that the Rabbis made this enactment due to a fear that a Jew may be unfamiliar with the proper way to shake the four species. To learn how to do so, he may carry them to the house of a knowledgeable Rabbi, in the process violating the prohibition against carrying in the public domain on Shabbos. Although this would indeed be a tragedy, why did our Sages see fit to deny tens of thousands of people this tremendous mitzvah simply because a few Jews may unintentionally carry them to a Rabbi to learn how to shake them?

The Medrash notes (Vayikra Rabbah 30:12) that while the esrog has both a good taste and a pleasant smell, and the lulav and hadas each have one of these good qualities, the aravah which we are commanded to take together with them has neither taste nor smell. Each of the species represents a different kind of Jew: some have both Torah and good deeds, some have one but not the other, and sadly there are Jews – like the aravah – who have neither. In a beautiful lesson in the importance of unity among the Jewish nation, Hashem says that they should all be taken together to atone for one another.

The impending arrival of Sukkos is heralded by streets full of Jews purchasing the four species. Certainly when Sukkos arrives, everybody will be excited to bring his beautiful esrog and lulav to the synagogue to perform the mitzvah with great fervor. When the normal time for the taking of the species arrives on Shabbos but none are in sight, people will become curious about the omission.

Upon asking, they will be told that it is because of the aforementioned fear of another Jew accidentally carrying them outside. The questioner will wonder which uneducated Jew we could possibly be concerned about, as anybody who grew up with a proper education will know how to shake the species and will certainly know that they may not be carried outside on Shabbos for any reason.

The answer will be that we aren’t worried that a Jew in Jerusalem or Gateshead or Brooklyn would do such a thing, but there are Jews in Kansas City who may inadvertently transgress. The questioner will press on, challenging why the tens of thousands of learned Jews of B’nei B’rak, London, and Lakewood must lose out because of a few ignorant Jews in the Midwest?

However, from the fact that the Rabbis nevertheless made this decree, we see that they understood that there is more to mitzvos than just looking after oneself to do them properly. As much as we think Hashem will be happy if we do what we are supposed to, we forget that He doesn’t look at us as individuals but as part of His collective nation. If some of His children do His will with the greatest precision while a much larger group lags sorely behind, the overall picture from His perspective is grim.

The Sages appreciated that as much as Hashem would enjoy the taking of the four species by those who know how to do so, the pain caused by those who may accidentally transgress is so great that it outweighs the pleasure He would receive. Upon understanding this, the questioner will be left with a new appreciation of the sense of responsibility which we are required to feel toward our Jewish brethren. This new recognition will inspire him to a newfound commitment to reach out to educate and draw near those unfortunate and uneducated Midwestern Jews – of whom this author is one – in a manner which taking the four species could never have accomplished!


Ba’Sukkos teishvu shivas yamim kol haezrach b’Yisroel yeishvu ba’Sukkos (Vayikra 23:42)

The Torah commands us to dwell in the sukkah for seven days, eating and sleeping there as we would in our own homes. Unfortunately, the size and layout of many homes aren’t conducive to building sukkahs large enough to accommodate the family’s needs. If a person’s sukkah isn’t large enough for everybody to fit in it, meals can be eaten in shifts. However, sleeping in shifts isn’t very practical. Is it permitted to wait until some people are sleeping and then gently drag them out of the sukkah?

As far-fetched as this suggestion sounds, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach actually rules that it is permissible! He explains that the mitzvah is only to go to sleep in the sukkah, but once a person is already sleeping, he is unconscious and exempt from any further obligation in mitzvos until he awakens. Although permissible, this may not be so feasible, as if the person wakes up while being moved, he must once again return to the sukkah to fall asleep, thereby defeating the entire purpose of the plan.

Nevertheless, Rav Yisroel Reisman suggests a more practical application of this ruling. If the weather forecast calls for a torrential downpour in the middle of the night and a person doesn’t want to be awakened by it, he can simply go to sleep in the sukkah and once he is sound asleep, somebody can spread a cover across the top of the sukkah. Although this invalidates the sukkah, the person is already sleeping and exempt from the mitzvah, and doing so will allow him a warm and dry night’s sleep!


Sukkos Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     The Gemora in Avodah Zara (2b-3a) teaches that in the Messianic era, the non-Jewish nations will argue that they deserve reward like the Jews because if they had been given mitzvos to observe, they would have performed them. Hashem will respond by testing them with the mitzvah of dwelling in a sukkah, a test which they will fail and which will prove their unworthiness to receive reward. Why will Hashem specifically test them with this mitzvah? (Darash Moshe)

2)     Although one recites a blessing any time that he eats a fixed meal in the sukkah, the only time that he is required to do so is on the first night of Sukkos. Why didn’t Chazal coin a special blessing to be recited at that time (al achilah ba’sukkah – on eating in the sukkah) just as they did regarding the matzo one eats at the Pesach seder? (Sefer HaSukkah P’sakim and Haaros 19)

3)     The blessing recited when taking the four species is al netilas lulav – on the taking of the lulav. As the Torah equally commands us (Vayikra 23:40) to take all four species, why do we single out the lulav in the text of the blessing more than the other species?

4)     If somebody accidentally damages another person’s beautiful, expensive esrog and renders it invalid, is he required to replace it with another equally costly esrog, or may he suffice with a cheaper one which is still kosher?

5)     As a person is required to own the four species which he uses to perform the mitzvah on the 1st day of Sukkos, may he fulfill his obligation if one of his species (e.g. aravos) is worth less than one perutah and therefore doesn’t have sufficient monetary value to be considered transferable and belonging to him? (Minchas Chinuch 325:11, Mikraei Kodesh Sukkos 3:18-19, Halichos Shlomo, Shalmei Moed)

6)     The Rema rules (Orach Chaim 600:3) that the shehechiyanu blessing is said prior to the blowing of the shofar on the 2nd day of Rosh Hashana. Why isn’t it similarly said before taking the four species on the 2nd day of Sukkos?

7)     The Mishnah Berurah (661:2) writes that it is the custom of pious men to stay up at night during Chol HaMoed Sukkos and sing songs of praise to Hashem as a joyous commemoration of the Simchas Beis HaShoeivah which took place in the Beis Hamikdash on Sukkos. We have many customs through which we decrease our joy as a sign of mourning the destruction of the Temple, but how can one rejoice at a gathering which is predicated on the Temple’s destruction? (Rav Yechezkel Sarna quoted in Matnas Chaim Moadim)

8)     If a person doesn’t recite the invitation to the ushpizin (guests) to join him in the sukkah, do they still come? (Yesod V’Shoresh HaAvodah)

9)     When reciting the Grace after Meals on Sukkos, we pray, “May the Merciful One (Hashem) return to us the falling Sukkah of Dovid (i.e. the Temple). Why do we associate the Temple with Dovid instead of his son Shlomo, who actually built it?

10)  Why is no mention made in the mainstream halachic (legal) sources of the significance of Hoshanah Rabbah as the final day in which the judgment of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is completed? (Shalmei Moed, Siach Yitzchok)

 © 2007 by Oizer Alport. Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute as long as credit is given. To receive weekly via email or to send comments or suggestions, write to


Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel