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Beit Midrash שבת ומועדים הלכות כלליות

Undercover Mitzva

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Yossi and Leah had been planning for weeks. The logistics, the cooking, the packing, the traveling. It would all be worth it once they arrived in Jerusalem for Sukkot, and had the opportunity to spend the holiday there. Yossi had spoken with the owner of the apartment which Yossi and Leah would rent, and the owner had assured Yossi that he had a fully kosher sukkah, which would be set up and ready for use.
Finally, the special night arrived. Yossi looked around the sukkah, as the sparkling decorations reflected their glow onto his children’s beaming faces. He breathed deeply, and drew in the holiness of Sukkot in Jerusalem. From every direction, the family could hear snatches of Sukkot songs, mingling together into a harmonious whole. They agreed that Jerusalem was the best place to celebrate Sukkot.
Seven wonderful, inspirational days passed. The family prepared to return to their home town, to celebrate Simchat Torah in their own synagogue.
After Simchat Torah, Yossi’s phone rang. It was Moshe, the owner of the Jerusalem apartment. Yossi immediately launched into effusive praise of Moshe’s apartment and sukkah, when Moshe began speaking. Yossi stopped mid-monologue, as he tried to interpret Moshe’s stammering and mumbled words. "Listen, Yossi. I don’t know how to tell you this, but, but… not long before I left the apartment, it started to rain. I opened the rain cover for the Sukkah, to keep the Sukkah and the decorations dry. I had in mind to take it off before I left.
When I got home, I realized that… that… I forgot to take off the cover! That means that the entire Sukkot, you were using an invalid sukkah, because it had a cover on it!
After a very uncomfortable apology, Moshe hung up the phone, leaving Yossi alone with his thoughts. He just couldn’t believe it. They had put in so much time, effort and money, and it had all been for nothing! Rather than experiencing a lofty Sukkot in Jerusalem, he hadn’t eaten in a sukkah at all!
The next day, Yossi called back Moshe. "Moshe, my friend. I know that you intended to give us the use of your apartment and sukkah, and you had no intention to leave the rain cover on. We’re devastated that our whole family lost out on the mitzva of eating in a sukkah. In truth, the reality is that we had a financial agreement, in which you committed to providing us with a sukkah. My wife and I feel that it would be appropriate for you to refund our money.
Is Moshe obligated to return the money to Yossi and Leah?
Rabbi Dov Lior, shlita:
Because Moshe committed to providing Yossi an apartment with a proper sukkah, and, in the end, the proper sukkah did not materialize, it is clear that Moshe must compensate Yossi. On the other hand, Moshe did provide Yossi with the use of a fully functional apartment, which Yossi is obligated to pay for. Therefore, they must evaluate, or hire an appraiser to evaluate, the cost of renting an apartment with a sukkah for the week of Sukkot, as compared to the cost of renting an apartment without a sukkah, and then Moshe should return the difference to Yossi.
There is no basis for saying that it was Yossi’s responsibility to ascertain that the sukkah was uncovered, before using it. This is because Yossi had no reason to suspect that the sukkah would be covered. He requested to rent an apartment with a valid sukkah, and had no reason to think that there was an invalidating rain cover on the top of the sukkah.
It goes without saying that Yossi is not held liable for not performing the mitzva of sukkah properly, and for incorrectly making the blessing regarding sitting in the sukkah. This is because he had the status of one who was coerced, and, therefore, is not held responsible.
translated by Avigail Kirsch

Rabbi Daniel Kirsch
Rabbi Daniel Kirsch studied for many years at the famed Mercaz HaRav yeshiva in Jerusalem. He currently lives in Kedumim in the Shomron, where he studies at the yeshiva and teaches classes for adults. In addition, he teaches at an elementary school.
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