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10/02/2020 01:38:30 PM


Rabbi Barry Gelman

The Potter's Sukkah

10/02/2020 10:56:02 AM

Rabbi Barry Gelman

In the days of the Talmud, potters and perhaps other shop keepers would live in a Sukkah, within a sukkah. They would live , eat their meals and conduct their personal life in the smaller sukkah, while the outer, larger sukkah was reserved for business  - selling their wares, etc.

This interesting setup caught the attention of the Rabbis of the Talmud and they wondered if these various sukkot could be used to fulfill the Mitzvah of dwelling in sukkot on the holiday. The Talmud records the following answer:

אמר רבי לוי משום רבי מאיר: שתי סוכות של יוצרים זו לפנים מזו, הפנימית אינה סוכה... והחיצונה סוכה

Rabbi Levi said in the name of Rabbi Meir: With regard to two craftsmen’s booths,  one within the other, the inner one is not fit for fulfillment of the mitzvah of sukkah ...and the outer booth is fit for fulfillment of the mitzvah of sukkah.

Why is that? Both sukkot meet the technical requirement for a sukkah. They both are large enough, have the proper number of walls and are sufficiently covered with Kosher Schach. Why is the inner one not fit for use as a sukkah?

Rashi explains:

 דלא מינכרא מלתא דלשם סוכה הוא דר בו

The inner Sukkah is not kosher because it is not obvious that it is being used for the purpose of fulfilling the Mitzvah.

This is a fascinating and enlightening remark. In order for one to fulfill the Mitzvah of dwelling in a sukkah, not only must the technical requirements of a sukkah be met, but it must be clear that one is leaving their home in order to dwell in the sukkah.

This approach teaches us that the celebration of  Sukkot is supposed to send a message - to ourselves and to others - that we are leaving our regular home. 

Why?  What does this hyper awareness of leaving our homes accomplish? 

Every year, but especially this year, when we leave our homes (in which many of us have been confined for a long time) we see what others need.

There is an interesting architectural Halacha that requires a  synagogue to have windows. Some suggest that windows are required so that we can look outside towards the sky and think of God who dwells in the heavens. 

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, suggests, beautifully, that the purpose of the windows is not to focus on God, but to focus on others. When we look outside, he teaches, we must take stock of what is needed in the world. Only if we see what is wrong with the world can we earnestly pray for things to change. 

Once we see it, we will be inspired to act. Prayer, disconnected from the world is imperfect. 

Rav Yehuda Amital Z”L  founder of Yeshivat Har Etzion was fond of telling this story about the founder of Chabad, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, known as the Ba'al Ha-Tanya who was studying Torah in the end room of a railroad flat.  Two rooms away there was a baby sleeping.  In the middle room, his grandson, the Tzemach Tzedek, was learning.  Suddenly, the Ba'al Ha-tanya, heard the baby cry.  The elder rebbe rose from his studying, passed through the room where his grandson was studying, and went to the next room to soothe the baby to sleep.  Meanwhile, his grandson was too involved in his studies to notice the baby crying.  On returning to his room, the Ba’al Ha-Tanya told his grandson to stop learning.  He proclaimed, “If someone is studying Torah and fails to hear a baby’s cry, there is something very wrong with his learning.”   Rav Amital explained that this was a founding principle of the yeshiva – they would learn Torah but still hear the baby’s cry.  In this vein, Rav Amital told his students that when he saw the plans of the Beit Midrash and noted that it did not have windows, he immediately requested that the Beit Midrash have big windows.  A Beit Midrash must be connected to the outside world to hear the cries of Am Yisrael.

On Sukkot we are asked to take it one step further -  to not only look at the world from the comfort of our shul, our home or our office, but to exit these places of comfort and engage and encounter the world.  Sukkot reminds us to expand our horizons, to reach out, to, literally and figuratively, leave our comfort zone. 

As we leave our homes and enter our sukkot this year, let’s make sure to do it with others in mind. Look around and listen. Can we hear the baby crying? What do we see and hear that may clue us in to the needs of others? What are people saying or not saying that signals that they are in need? Does someone need help shopping? Is a friend struggling with a family issue? What actions or words can offer help and comfort?

The truth is that sukkot may even demand a more radical step

Leaving our home is supposed to make us feel insecure. The rickety hut with flimsy walls creates a simulated homelessness

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks puts it powerfully when he writes: “What makes a hut more beautiful than a home is that when it comes to Sukkot there is no difference between the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor.” That is precisely what we are supposed to feel on Sukkot. Precisely when the farmer was bringing in the harvest and feeling confident in abundance, God commands, “leave your home. Go outside and feel what it is like to be uncertain if you will have a place to live tomorrow.”

It is hard, maybe impossible to understand what it feels like to be homeless. Most of us, thank God,  do not know the feeling of anxiety and even peril felt by refugees. 

Sukkot, in a small way, comes to remedy that - to put us in that place. This is similar to what we try to achieve on Pesach when we are supposed to see ourselves as if we were leaving Egypt.

It is a tall order, but the dwelling and eating in the Sukkah can help us maintain a conversation about these issues.  You can learn about homelessness here and about the refugee crisis by visiting the website of HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society).

Just a few days ago, in the Haftorah for Yom Kippur, we read the words of  the prophet Isaiah. (57:4-7)

הֵ֣ן לְרִ֤יב וּמַצָּה֙ תָּצ֔וּמוּ וּלְהַכּ֖וֹת בְּאֶגְרֹ֣ף רֶ֑שַׁע לֹא־תָצ֣וּמוּ כַיּ֔וֹם לְהַשְׁמִ֥יעַ בַּמָּר֖וֹם קוֹלְכֶֽם׃

Because you fast in strife and contention, And you strike with a wicked fist! Your fasting today is not such As to make your voice heard on high.

הֲכָזֶ֗ה יִֽהְיֶה֙ צ֣וֹם אֶבְחָרֵ֔הוּ י֛וֹם עַנּ֥וֹת אָדָ֖ם נַפְשׁ֑וֹ הֲלָכֹ֨ף כְּאַגְמֹ֜ן רֹאשׁ֗וֹ וְשַׂ֤ק וָאֵ֙פֶר֙ יַצִּ֔יעַ הֲלָזֶה֙ תִּקְרָא־צ֔וֹם וְי֥וֹם רָצ֖וֹן לַיהוָֽה׃

Is such the fast I desire, A day for men to starve their bodies? Is it bowing the head like a bulrush And lying in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call that a fast, A day when the LORD is favorable?

הֲל֣וֹא זֶה֮ צ֣וֹם אֶבְחָרֵהוּ֒ פַּתֵּ֙חַ֙ חַרְצֻבּ֣וֹת רֶ֔שַׁע הַתֵּ֖ר אֲגֻדּ֣וֹת מוֹטָ֑ה וְשַׁלַּ֤ח רְצוּצִים֙ חָפְשִׁ֔ים וְכָל־מוֹטָ֖ה תְּנַתֵּֽקוּ׃

No, this is the fast I desire: To unlock fetters of wickedness, And untie the cords of the yoke To let the oppressed go free; To break off every yoke.

הֲל֨וֹא פָרֹ֤ס לָֽרָעֵב֙ לַחְמֶ֔ךָ וַעֲנִיִּ֥ים מְרוּדִ֖ים תָּ֣בִיא בָ֑יִת כִּֽי־תִרְאֶ֤ה עָרֹם֙ וְכִסִּית֔וֹ וּמִבְּשָׂרְךָ֖ לֹ֥א תִתְעַלָּֽם׃

It is to share your bread with the hungry, And to take the wretched poor into your home; When you see the naked, to clothe him, And not to ignore your own kin.

Isaiah defines relief of homelessness as a religious duty. In fact, the Talmud defines part of the verse regarding the Mitzvah of Tzedakah as a requirement to provide housing. The Torah says: (Deut. 15:8)

 כִּֽי־פָתֹ֧חַ תִּפְתַּ֛ח אֶת־יָדְךָ֖ ל֑וֹ וְהַעֲבֵט֙ תַּעֲבִיטֶ֔נּוּ דֵּ֚י מַחְסֹר֔וֹ אֲשֶׁ֥ר יֶחְסַ֖ר לֽוֹ׃

Rather, you must open your hand and lend him sufficient for whatever he needs.

די מחסורו אשר יחסר לו די מחסורו זה הבית 

With regard to the phrase “sufficient for his deficiency,” this is referring to the house.

My childhood Rabbi and teacher, Rabbi Benjamin Blech notes this outward nature of  Sukkot when he writes: Sukkot is the holiday of universalism par excellence. On this holiday we are commanded in the Torah to offer seventy-sacrifices - sacrifices on behalf of all the nations of the world. When waving the four plant species, we are told to direct the plants to the four corners of the earth. We are to leave the confines of our homes that separate ourselves from others and sit in booths under the heavens that look down upon all of God's children."

Strangely, we call this holiday - the holiday of insecurity and homelessness - Z’man Simchateinu. Why is that?  It is because real joy is experienced when we help others.  True happiness is found when I see others - really see them. 

Maimonides describes this. (Laws of Rest on the Holiday 6:18)

וּכְשֶׁהוּא אוֹכֵל וְשׁוֹתֶה חַיָּב לְהַאֲכִיל לַגֵּר לַיָּתוֹם וְלָאַלְמָנָה עִם שְׁאָר הָעֲנִיִּים הָאֻמְלָלִים. אֲבָל מִי שֶׁנּוֹעֵל דַּלְתוֹת חֲצֵרוֹ וְאוֹכֵל וְשׁוֹתֶה הוּא וּבָנָיו וְאִשְׁתּוֹ וְאֵינוֹ מַאֲכִיל וּמַשְׁקֶה לַעֲנִיִּים וּלְמָרֵי נֶפֶשׁ אֵין זוֹ שִׂמְחַת מִצְוָה אֶלָּא שִׂמְחַת כְּרֵסוֹ. וְעַל אֵלּוּ נֶאֱמַר (הושע ט ד) "זִבְחֵיהֶם כְּלֶחֶם אוֹנִים לָהֶם כָּל אֹכְלָיו יִטַּמָּאוּ כִּי לַחְמָם לְנַפְשָׁם". וְשִׂמְחָה כָּזוֹ קָלוֹן הִיא לָהֶם שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (מלאכי ב ג) "וְזֵרִיתִי פֶרֶשׁ עַל פְּנֵיכֶם פֶּרֶשׁ חַגֵּיכֶם":

While eating and drinking, one must feed the stranger, the orphan, the widow, and other poor unfortunates. Anyone, however, who locks the doors of his courtyard and eats and drinks along with his wife and children, without giving anything to eat and drink to the poor and the desperate, does not observe a religious celebration but indulges in the celebration of his stomach. And about such is it stated (Hosea 9:4), "their sacrifices are like the bread of mourners, all who eat it will be contaminated; for their bread is for their own appetites." Such joy is a disgrace for them, as it is stated (Malakhi 2:3), "I will spread dung on your faces, the dung of your festivals." 

The Talmudic ruling disqualifying the inner sukkah reminds us that we must be aware of why we are leaving our homes on Sukkot. Sukkot is the Holiday of opening our eyes and hearts to others so that we and all of God’s children can experience real joy.

Tue, May 18 2021 7 Sivan 5781