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Together in the Sukkah

The mitzvah of joy on Sukkot includes not only family members, but also the poor and lonely. A primer for the holiday.


Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

Tishrei 12 5776
The Mitzvah to Be Happy, and Make Others Happy
The primary mitzvah of ‘simcha‘ (joy) on theChag (holiday) of Sukkot is to be happy and make others happy, for true joy is achieved only when one strives to share the joy with others, as the Torah says: "You shall rejoice on your festival along with your son and daughter, your male and female slave, and the Levite, proselyte, orphan and widow within your gates" (Deuteronomy 16:14).
Upon further observation, we find that this mitzvah has two components: First, to rejoice together with one’s family and household members. It should be pointed out that the word ‘ata‘ (you) in the above mentioned verse includes both husband and wife jointly – one’s spouse always comes before all other relatives. Also, we find indeed that a man’s primary ‘simcha’ is the festive meal which his wife customarily prepares, while a woman’s primary ‘simcha’ is for her husband to buy her new clothes or jewelry.
The responsibility of imparting their joy with members of the family is equally shared, for the ‘simcha’ of Chag is incomplete without the participation of the entire family. The time-honored custom of all Jews is sharing the joy of the holiday with the family.
The second component of the mitzvah is bringing joy to neighbors and friends, the poor and the lonely. The orphan and widow mentioned in the verse were typically poor having lost their main source of sustenance, and the mitzvah to gladden them is by giving them tzedakah (charity). The ger (convert), having left his homeland and family is liable to suffer from loneliness, and the mitzvah to make him happy is achieved by inviting him to participate in the festival meal.
It should further be noted that the Torah commanded including the Kohanim and Levi’im (Priests and Levites) in the joy. Their task was to teach and instruct B’nei Yisrael, both young and old. From this we can learn that nowadays, Torah scholars, i.e., the rabbis and teachers, should be made happy on the Chag, comparable to the Priests and Levites (Binyan Shleima, 1:33).
The Custom of ‘ Ushpizin ‘ from the Zohar HaKadosh
The poor, orphans, and widows are the special guests of the festival of Sukkot, who are called in Aramaic ‘ushpizin‘, and the more guests one brings joy to in his sukkah, the more praiseworthy he is.
In a similar manner, our Sages said in the Zohar that one should also invite to the sukkah ‘ushpizin ila’in‘ (supreme and holy guests), i.e., the souls of the seven tzadikim(righteous men), Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David, whose spiritual light shines on Chag Sukkot. In other words, having merited the mitzvah of sukkah and bringing joy to guests, particularly the poor and lonely, one is able to ascend spiritually and also invite supreme and holy guests to the sukkah, i.e., enlightenment from the souls of the righteous. Each day, the spiritual light of one the tzadikim shines bright, and he enters the sukkah first, followed by the other six tzadikim.
The Zohar also relates the custom of Rabbi Hamnuna Sabba, who, upon entering the sukkah, was extremely joyful and would stand in the inner threshold of the sukkahand bless, saying: ‘Sit down, supreme and holy guests, sit down. Sit down, guests of Faith, sit down.’ He joyfully raised his hands and said: ‘Happy is our lot, happy is the lot of Israel who sit in the sukkah. For whoever has a share in the nation and the Holy Land, dwells in the shadow of Faith to receive the light of the seven tzadikim hosted in the sukkah, to rejoice in this world and in the World to Come!’ (Emor, Chap.3, 103, 2-104:1).
The Zohar Concerning Those Who Are Not Hospitable
In continuation, the Zohar writes (translation and interpretation): ‘And although he merits receiving the souls of the righteous, he must be careful to gladden the poor, for the portion of the guests he invited to his meal, belongs to the poor. He sits in the shadow of Faith and invites these lofty guests, the guests of Faith, yet does not give them, namely the poor, their share of the meal. All the guests stand back from him and say: "Do not eat the bread of him who has an evil eye…" (Mishle 23:6).
Thus the table he set for a festive meal is a table made in honor of himself, and not in honor God, and of him it is written, "And spread on your faces, even the dung of your feasts" (Malachi 2:3). Woe to that man when the guests of Faith stand back from his table. Abraham , throughout his life used to stand at the crossroads to invite guests and set the table for them, and now, on Sukkot, if one invites him and all the other righteous, but does not give the poor their share, Abraham stands up from the table and cries: "Depart, I pray you,from the tents of these wicked men" (Numbers 16:26), and everyone walks away after him.
Isaac says: "The belly of the wicked should feel want" (Proverbs 13:25), and Jacob says: "The morsel which you have eaten you shall vomit up" (Proverbs 23:8). The rest of the righteous say, "Their tables are covered with vomit and filth, so that there is no place clean" (Isaiah 28:8).
Best to Make the Poor and Lonely Happy First
The Zohar goes on to say: ‘One must not say, ‘First I will eat and drink, and whatever is leftover I will give to the poor’, rather, the first part belongs to the poor. He who gladdens the poor and gives them to drink, The Holy One blessed be He, is happy with him, and Abraham says about him: "Then the Lord will be your delight, and I will see to it that you ride high" (Isaiah 58:14). The Zohar continues at length telling how all the tzadikim recite over him verses of blessings, each tzadik a special verse connected to the root of his soul. Happy is the person who merits all this.
It should be added that one who gives charity to the poor before the holiday, according to his ability, also fulfills the mitzvah, because he takes care to include the poor in the joy of the holiday. Nevertheless, it is a greater mitzvah to host them in the sukkah. Today, the mitzvah of hosting guests in the sukkah calls for even further strengthening. Nowadays, there are fewer people who are starving from a lack of food, but on the other hand, the number of sad and lonely people has increased, and it is a great mitzvah to make an effort to invite them to participate in the ‘simcha‘.
Q : A pergola is a fixed wooden structure built in yards and gardens to create a shady place to sit under. Can the wood of a permanent pergola be considered kosher schach?
A : Some poskim (Jewish law arbiters) permit this, opining that since the pergola is not intended for dwelling, and is also not suitable for dwelling seeing as rain can penetrate it, therefore the wood of a pergola is kosher for schach. Nevertheless, for the honor of the Chag, it would be appropriate to add on a little more schach so that the pergola is not considered a ‘sukkah yishina‘ (an old sukkah). If more sun light penetrates the pergola than shade, one should add more schach, until its shade is greater than its sunlight.
In contrast, some poskim are machmirim (stringent), believing that since the pergola is a strong and permanent structure, the ruling for the wood of a pergola is similar to that of permanent wood in the roof of a house, namely, they are pasul (disqualified) from the Torah, for indeed the main factor of schach of the sukkah is that it must be temporary, and a pergola is a permanent structure.
It appears that, according to ‘sevara‘ (logic), one should follow the machmir opinion. In addition, since it is a ‘safek‘ (a doubt) having to do with Torah law, one should be stringent, ‘machmir‘.
Thus, if the majority of the pergola roof area is covered with fixed boards, one should remove some of the boards, until most of the roof area is open and there is more sunlight than shade, and place on all the roof area kosher schach, so that even without the attached pergola boards, the shade of the kosher schach will be greater than its sunlight, and thus, the sukkah is kosher (Peninei Halakha: Sukkot 2:17).
Travelers are Obligated in the Mitzvah ofSukkah
A person who wishes to take a trip with his family must plan the trip in such a way that they can eat their meal in the sukkah. If they decided to go to a place where there is no sukkah, they must make sure not to eat a ‘seudat keva‘ while on the trip, but rather settle for fruits and vegetables and a little ‘mezanot‘ (foods made from the five grains).
Indeed, there are authorities who are of the opinion that a person who goes on a trip is permitted to eat a meal outside of the sukkah, because just as one who goes on a trip during the rest of the year is not meticulous to eat indoors, the same holds true on Sukkot – someone who decides to go on a trip does not need to be particular to eat in a sukkah. However, it appears that in practice, one should not be lenient in this matter, because only those required to travel are exempt from the sukkah. On the other hand, someone who decided to go for a pleasure trip thereby decides to annul himself from the mitzvah unnecessarily. Consequently, only if one is meticulous to eat a meal in the sukkah, may he go on a trip (Peninei Halakha: Sukkot 3:14).
Torah Study and Outings on Chol Hamoed
In general, one should be careful not to squander the sacred days of Chol HaMoed (intermediate days of Sukkot) on outings, because the holidays were given to Israel in order for them to joyfully engage in Torah study. During the year a person is preoccupied with work, and finds it difficult to concentrate on studying Torah. And thus we find in the Jerusalem Talmud: "Rabbi Abba bar Memal said: If there was someone else who would be counted [agree] with me, I would permit Israel to work on Chol HaMoed! Work is only forbidden on Chol HaMoed so that they, Israel, can eat, drink, be joyful, and labor in Torah, but now, they eat, drink, and are frivolous" (Moed Katan, chap.2, halacha 3).
When a person devotes the holidays for his personal enjoyment, God says of him: "These are not My appointed feasts, but rather your appointed feasts, concerning which it is said: "Your new moons and appointed feasts my soul hates; they are a trouble to me; I am weary of enduring them" (Isaiah 1:14). However, those who devote the holidays to Torah, prayer, and ‘seudot mitzvah‘ (festive meals) are loved and cherished by God, Blessed be He (Shla Hakadosh, Talmud Sukkah, Ner Mitzvah 31).
There are some outings which are a mitzvah, such as traveling to greet one’s rabbi who he does not normally meet once a month. Also, a person who travels to Jerusalem to spend time in the courtyards of the Holy City, to come close to the Temple Mount, and pray by the Western Wall – this is akin to the mitzvah of ‘aliyah l’regel‘ (pilgrimage). People who take such trips in which a mitzvahis involved, if it is difficult for them to find a sukkah to eat in may eat ‘achilat keva‘ outside the sukkah.
Cleaning a Stain is Permitted on Chol Hamoed
It is permissible to remove a stain with water and detergents during Chol Hamoed, because cleaning a stain is not is not included in the general gezera (decree) of not washing clothes on Chol Hamoed. All the same, as long as one has another article of clean clothing, it is preferable to wear it rather than clean the stain, but if there is an additional benefit in the stained garment, one may clean it in order to continue wearing it on Chol Hamoed (Peninei Halakha: Moadim 11:11).
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other translated articles by Rabbi Melamed, and all his books in Hebrew, can be found at:

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