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New York - Halachic Musings: A Sukkos Overview

Published on: September 30, 2012 01:28 PM
By: VIN News By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
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New York -  One of the aspects of the Yom Tov of Sukkos is the Mitzvah of Aliyah L’Regel. Three times a year, the Jewish nation visited the Bais HaMikdash in Yerushalayim to greet the Presence of the Shechina. Nowadays, most authorities hold that this Mitzvah is no longer obligatory because, unfortunately, there is no Bais HaMikdash. The Midrash Yalkut Shimoni on Yishayahu explains that in the future Geulah the Mitzvah will not only be three times a year, but actually once a month!


But there is something else of interest to us in regard to Aliyah L’Regel. The Gemorah (Yuma 54a) tells us that when the Jewish nation would be Oleh Regel, they would open the Paroches and reveal the Kruvim smiling and facing each other. Then they would declare to them, “See how much Hashem loves you.”


This is also a thought that we declare before we recite the daily Shma, and one that should be reinforced. When we realize how much Hashem loves us, we look at events in our life differently. We appreciate what we have been given more, and we also come to value and understand the Hashgacha Pratis, the individual attention that we receive from Hashem. This perspective will in turn allow us to fulfill the special Avodah of Sukkos – Simcha – spiritual joy.


Each of Yomim Tovim has its own special Avodah, method in which to serve Hashem and become ever closer to Him. The Gemorah above tells us that it is reciprocal – Hashem comes ever closer to us on the Yom Tov. When we perform the special Avodah of Sukkos, let us have this in mind.

Pesach is called Zman Cherusainu, the time of our freedom. Shavuos is called Zman Matan Torasainu, the time when we received our Torah, and Sukkos is called Zman Simchasainu – the time of our joy. Although all Yomim Tovim are times of Simcha – Sukkos is singled out where Zman Simchasainu is the essence of the holiday. Why?

The Nesivos Shalom explains that the Sukkah is a manifestation of “HeviAni HaMelech Chadarav – The King has brought me into His inner room (Shir HaShirim 1:4).” After the Yomim Noraim where Klal Yisroel has been elevated and purified, Hashem has given us the Mitzvah of Sukkah. The Sukkah’s holiness is a revelation of Hashem’s intense love for His people—a love comparable to the love demonstrated when He was with us in the Bais HaMikdash itself.

This is why Sukkos has an extra dimension of Simcha to it. We are a nation whose very essence thrives upon Dveikus Bashem – closeness to Hashem. This is our true Simcha. Indeed, the Gemorah tells us (Sukkah 51b), “One who never witnessed the Simchas Beis HaSho-aivah, the all night celebration on Sukkos, never saw joy in his or her life.” The Gemorah cites Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Chananya (Sukkah 53a) whose words bear out that the Simcha, the joy, was so captivating that no one slept in a bed on Sukkos.


Another aspect of the Avodah on Sukkos, as on the other Regalim, is to see and greet one’s teacher. The Talmud (Rosh HaShana 16b) tells us, “Chayav Adam Lehakbil Pnei Rabo BaRegel.” A somewhat fascinating observation can be made.  It is a Mitzvah on Sukkos to visit one’s teacher. Shluchei Mitzvah – people on a Mitzvah mission are technically exempt from the Mitzvah of Sukkah (Shulchan Aruch OC 640:7) while on the road. We see how very important it is to visit and develop a bond with one’s Torah teachers! We also see that this is part of the Divine service of the three holidays known as the Regalim. Seeing one’s teacher helps connect one to the chain of Mesorah that connects to our birthright of Sinai.  This will further our “cleaving to G-d” - Dveikus Bashem, which is one of the themes of the three Regalim. Many people specifically try to see their teacher on Sukkos.


Dwelling in the Sukkah can make another change within us as well. The Gedolei HaMussar have explained that the Sefer Mesilas Yesharim, written by Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzato, can be learned on many levels. The Sefer carries the reader through different levels of spirituality. Each time one studies it carefully, one rises in that particular trait. Some of the traits discussed in Mesilas Yesharim are Zehirus, watchfulness, Zerizus – alacrity, Kedusha – holiness, and also Ruach HaKodesh- Divine wisdom. Chazal tell us that the Sukkah does this as well, to a degree. It can infuse us with a level of Ruach HaKodesh.


The Mitzvah of Sukkah is that one must dwell in the Sukkah for seven days. This is the meaning of the verse “Basukkos Tayshvu Shivas Yamim.”  Dwelling means eating, drinking, sleeping and performing all our activities there. The Gemorah expounds Tayshvu k’ain Taduru – dwell as you live.

There is also a concept of Mitztaer Patur Min HaSukkah – if one is suffering, then one is exempt from the Sukkah. Therefore, if it is raining one is exempt from being in the Sukkah. On the first night, however, one should try to make Kiddush in the Sukkah when it is not raining.

The Schach of a Sukkah must be under the sky and not under a house or tree. The Shoel UMaishiv explains that the fundamental essence of the Mitzvah of Sukkah is to expand our Bitachon, our trust in Hashem. If there are intermediaries of shelter in between, the effect of the Sukkah would thus be lost.

The Schach must have grown from the ground and should not be touching or held up by anything that is Mekabel Tumah – even susceptible to becoming impure. Thus it may not be nailed down or even held up by something metal.

The Sukkah must have walls – this is a halacha that we have learned Halacha l’Moshe MiSinai. The walls must be able to withstand a normal ordinary wind, a ruach Metzuyah. If it cannot stand in such a wind, then the Sukkah is not kosher – even if it is still up.

The minimum size of a Sukkah is 7 tefachim (handbreadths) by 7 tefachim. A tefach, according to Rav Moshe Feinstein is 3.54 inches. The maximum height of a Sukkah is twenty amos. An Ammah is 21.25 inches according to Rav Feinstein.




Generally speaking, the Halacha states that one should leave the Sukkah and go back into the house when it rains. This may not be true, however, on the first night of Sukkos.

Let’s understand why that is exactly. Pesach celebrates the exodus from Egypt and Sukkos celebrates the immediate aftermath. Yet they are connected even more deeply. The Gemorah tells us that many of the halachos that apply to Pesach also apply to Sukkos through the notion a Gzeras Shaveh. A Gzeras Shaveh is likened to a back-end circuit, lehavdil, connecting two words in the Torah to each other. The laws of one section of the Torah thus can be connected and derived from the other section of the Torah. There is such a connection between the words “the fifteenth” stated in Pesach to “the fifteenth” stated on Sukkos.

Just as there is a Mitzvah to eat Matzah on the first night of Pesach – there is also a Mitzvah to eat a K’zayis of bread on the first night of Sukkos. And we must eat it in the Sukkah. It must also be eaten at night.

The question arises as to whether this “back-end circuit” is dealing with a new aspect of the obligation of Sukkos or is it an extension of the Mitzvah of Sukkah that we knew already? According to the Ran – it is a new obligation – and therefore the general laws of Sukkah – don’t apply here. Therefore, even if one is Mitztaer – one is uncomfortable in the Sukkah – one must still eat in the Sukkah. According to the Rambam, it is the same obligation of the general laws of Sukkah that is being discussed. The exemption of rain, according to the Rambam still exists.

The Ramah (Orech Chaim 639:5) rules like the Ran. The Vilna Gaon rules like the Rambam. The Mishna Brurah rules that we must make an effort to wait in order to avoid any doubts.

How long should we wait? Rabbi Abraham Gumbiner, athor of the Mogain Avrohom writes that we should wait until the very last moment – midnight just like on Pesach! The Mishna Brurah, however, rules in accordance with other authorities that the waiting time has not been quantified and it depends upon each and every person.

Therefore on the first night of Sukkos a family should wait approximately one hour to see whether or not the rain will stop. If the rain does not stop, they should go into the Sukkah and recite Kiddush with the Shehecheyanu but without the Laishev BaSukkah. One should wash and say HaMotzi and eat a Kezayis of Challah in the Sukkah. They should then continue the meal in the house. If it stops, one should enter the Sukkah and eat a Kebaitza of Challah in the Sukkah and recite the Laishev BaSukkah. Even if the meal has ended, one should wash again and recite the hamotzi and the Laishev Basukkah. One should do this until Chatzos at night. This year 2011 Chatzos is 12:41 in New York City.

On the second night, one may start the meal in the house immediately – without waiting that hour, although the Mishna Brurah rules that it is also preferable to wait. We say Kiddush with the Shehecheyanu in the house, but have in mind that you may eat a kezayis of Challah in the sukkah at the end of the meal. At the end of the meal before bentching one should still go into the Sukkah and eat a kezayis of Challah, then you can come back and bentch in the house. While in the Sukkah do not recite a Laishev BaSukkah unless it has stopped raining. Once again the timing is until 12:41. If it stops raining before this time, wash and recite the bracha of Laishev in the Sukkah. Why? Because the Kezayis eaten in the rain does not count according to the Rambam, we must try again until 12:41.

Let’s not forget once again that the Sukkah is a manifestation of “HeviAni HaMelech Chadarav – The King has brought me into His inner room (Shir HaShirim 1:4).” After the Yomim Noraim where Klal Yisroel has been elevated and purified, Hashem has given this Mitzvah of Sukkah. The Sukkah’s holiness is a revelation of Hashem’s intense love for His people – a love comparable to the love demonstrated when He was with us in the Bais HaMikdash itself.  We should therefore make every effort to fulfill this Mitzvah in all the details explained above.


The Arba Minim are the Lulav, the Esrog, the Aravos and the Haddassim. The Mitzvah D’oraisah is to take one’s own Arba Minim in the hand on the first day of Sukkos. Women are not obligated in this Mitzvah but receive schar- merit if they perform it.


It is a little known halacha, but on the first day of Sukkos there is a requirement that the person who is performing the Mitzvah of Netilas Lulav should actually be the owner of it. This is because the verse in the Torah states, “ulekachtem Lachem” – Lachem indicates that they should own it.

If a woman wishes to fulfill the Mitzvah of Lulav on the first day of Sukkos she must receive it as a gift from someone else. Merely taking it will not suffice. This should be verbalized. It is even true between a husband and wife and a father and daughter. In other words, when a father or husband gives the Arba minim to his daughter or wife it must be verbalized that it is a gift.



In order to fulfill this Mitzvah in a situation where only one set of Arba Minim is purchased, the legal concept called, “Matana Al Menas L’hachzir” is used. This essentially means that the owner is gifting it to the person who wishes to perform the Mitzvah, but only on condition that it eventually be returned.

On the first two days of Sukkos one should not give an Arba Minim to a child because of the following problem. From a halachic perspective a child can receive a gift, but cannot give a gift – this creates a problem – even on the second day of Yom Tov.

On the other six days of Sukkos, there is a Mitzvah Derabanan to take the Arba Minim. On the other days there is no requirement of “Lachem” to own it – except for in Chutz LaAretz where the second day of Yom Tov must be just like the first.

When the Bais HaMikdash stood, it was also a Torah Mitzvah on the other six days to take the Arba Minim in the Bais HaMikdash itself. The Rambam is of the opinion that it was a Torah Mitzvah throughout all of Yerushalayim.


If any of the Arba Minim is missing a part of its wholeness – then that item is no longer usable for the first two days of Yom Tov.

Some of the issues in regard to the Esrog apply on the first two days, while others apply throughout the Yom Tov. For example, if there was an esrog with a Pitom, and the Pitom fell off but the rest of the Esrog was intact, the Esrog is unfit for the first two days, but may be used for the rest of Yom Tov.


There is a Mitzvah to beautify all the Mitzvos that we perform. This is called Hiddur Mitzvah. On Sukkos, however, the Arba Minim must all be beatified – all must be Pri Aitz Hadar throughout Chol HaMoed too. Chazal, however, were the arbiters of what is called “Hadar.”

If any of the Arba Minim are dried up or withered, they are no longer considered Hadar.


Whenever Yom Tov comes immediately before Shabbos, an Eiruv Tavshilin must be made. An Eiruv Tavshilim is a Rabbinic device that allows one to “continue preparing and cooking” for Shabbos on Yom Tov. One may ask, how could it be that a Rabbinic enactment allows one to get around a Biblical prohibition?

The answer is that, technically, it was permitted to cook on Yom Tov for Shabbos. Why was it permitted? There is an argument in the Gemorah. Rabbah said that it was permitted because “you never know when guests may drop in and eat.” Rav Chisda said that the Torah made an exception for Shabbos.

The Rabbis, however, forbade cooking on Yom Tov for Shabbos.

Why did they forbid it? Either because they were afraid that people would take the best items for Yom Tov and leave nothing significant for Shabbos (Rabbah’s explanation). Or because they were afraid that people would think that you could also cook for another day of the week too – not just Shabbos (Rav Chisda’s explanation).

There is a difference between the two approaches. According to Rabbah all the food would have to be cooked before Shabbos. According to Rav Chisda the food may still be cooking over Shabbos. Who do we Paskin like? Ideally, we should be concerned to make sure the food is all cooked from before Shabbos starts. Post fact, we can rely on the opinion of Rav Chisda.

The Eiruv Tavshilin should ideally have one cooked item and one baked item. The custom is to use an egg and a Matzah or a Challah. It is proper to use these foods at the Shabbos meal.  If one inadvertently left out the egg, the Eiruv Tavshilin must be made again. However, if one inadvertently left out the Challah or the Matzah, the Eiruv Tavshilin is valid.

A bracha is recited on the Eiruv and the text for the Eiruv is recited. It is in Aramaic. If the person performing the Eiruv understands Aramaic then there is no need to recite it in Hebrew or in English. If not, then it should be recited in English. The words mean:

With this eruv, we are permitted to bake, cook, keep warm, kindle fire, prepare and do all that is necessary on the holiday for Shabbos, for ourselves, and for all Jews who live in this city.


Like on Shabbos, there exists a prohibition of performing Malacha on Yom Tov. What is Malacha? Malacha is not defined as work, necessarily. Malacha is defined as a certain, specific type of creative act. More precisely, Malacha is defined as the specific creative acts that were necessary to create the Mishkan, the resting place for Hashem’s concentration of the Shechina Presence here on earth.  Our refraining from such creative acts on Shabbos and Yom Tov is the collective flag of the Jewish people. Just as any nation is proud and salutes its national flag, so too is the observance of Shabbos and the holidays the flag of the Jewish people. The flag symbolizes and embodies our belief that the world was created for a purpose by a kind and benevolent Being who rewards good and punishes evil.

While the definition of Malacha is the same for both Shabbos and Yom Tov, the Torah made some exceptions for Yom Tov. The Torah states that actions that are necessary for people to eat are permitted on Yom Tov. This is called “Ochel Nefesh.” Not all actions, however, are permitted for Ochel Nefesh purposes. If the food preparation could have been done with equal freshness and results before Yom Tov, and one had the time opportunity to do it then, then it may only be done with a shinui on Yom Tov itself. There are some Malachos on Yom Tov that are forbidden or very different even when it comes to food preparation.

It is also important to know that one may never do Malacha on Yom Tov during a Bain HaSh’mashos – twilight that immediately followed a Yom Tov. Why is this so? Because we do not know exactly when the day changes from one to the other. It is forbidden to do Malacha on Yom Tov for another day. Thus we might be doing Malacha on Yom Tov for another day which is forbidden.

One is also, of course, not permitted to perform any Malacha on the first day of Yom Tov for the second day of Yom Tov – even if the preparations involve no Malacha. This is called Hachana and something in which we must be very careful.


Chol HaMoed is a period of time that lies between Yom Tov and Chol. It is important to recall that many people do not wear Tefillin on Chol HaMoed because of its elevated stature – that it is Yom Tov. Gardening is forbidden during this time as well. On Chol HaMoed, one should wear better clothing then they do during the week. One should eat meat and drink wine during these times too.


Malacha work on Chol HaMoed is forbidden unless it fits into certain parameters. Unfortunately, the laws of Chol HaMoed are not well known. If any question comes up, a Rav should be consulted.  There are essentially only five heterim for work to be done on Chol HaMoed. They are:

1] Tzorchei HaMoed – for the needs of Yom Tov

2] Davar Ha’Aved – If something will be ruined or destroyed if the work is not done. Permanent damage to a business is included under this heter.

3] Tzorchei Rabim – A great communal need, such as a broken Mikvah, Eruv, street, sewage pipe.

4] Poel V’ain Lo Mah L’echol – If someone has no food to eat and requires to make money in order to buy food.

5] Maaseh Hedyot – If it is an amateur action as opposed to a Maaseh Uman – a professional action. Repairing a car, for example, is generally a Maaseh Uman and is forbidden. Changing a tire is a Maaseh hedyot. Ironing pleats on a skirt is a Maaseh Uman. Tailoring and dressmaking is a Maaseh uman and forbidden. Sometimes a temporary hem can be sewn very unprofessionally and that is a Maaseh hedyot. Driving a car would be a Maaseh uman but since everyone does it, the Poskim have explained that it is now considered a Maaseh hedyot.

A Rav should always be consulted whenever any question arises regarding Chol HaMoed.


On the first day of Chol HaMoed Sukkos every seven years, in the times of the Bais HaMikdash a special Mitzvah took place. All Jewish men, women, and children who were Oleh Regel would gather in the Chatzer of the Bais HaMikdash to hear the Jewish king read certain sections from the Torah. The Torah commands this Mitzvah in Sefer Dvarim ( 31:10-13) and it was done in the year following the Shmita year. After the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash the Mitzvah was discontinued.


Hoshanah Rabbah is a very holy and special day. It means the “great salvation” and is celebrated on the seventh day of Sukkos. The davening for Shacharis is like Shabbos morning and the Baal Tefillah wears a Kittel. The judgment which was written on Rosh haShana and sealed on Yom Kippur is handed down on this day. We circle the Bimah seven times on this day. During the regular days of Sukkos we circle the Bima only once. We also take a bundle of Aravos and hit them on the ground until the leaves fall off.

There is also a custom to stay up all night on Hoshana Rabbah and study Torah.


Shmini Atzeres is the culmination of Elul, the Yomim Noraim, and Sukkos, times and holidays where we have developed an intense closeness with Hashem. But Shmini Atzeres is actually a new and independent Yom Tov, where Hashem says to us, “Stop. Don’t go. Stay with Me one last day.” This is the explanation of the word “Atzeres – stop.”

The number eight, according to the Maharal, alludes to the fact that this Yom Tov lies beyond the natural. There are seven days of the natural order – the eighth is above and beyond the natural. Shmini Atzeres lies beyond the natural order of the world. On Shmini Atzeres there was a Gilui Shechina, a revelation of the Divine Presence, so great that it filled the entire Mishkan (See Shabbos 87b). It was a light far beyond the natural order of this world.

The new Yom Tov necessitates its own Shehecheyanu. The Bracha of Shehecheyanu should not just be said perfunctorily, Heaven forbid. Rather, we should use it to help us focus upon this idea – that Avinu Sh’bashamayim, our Father in Heaven has asked for our presence together with him, one last day.

All the other Yomim Tovim are connected somehow to this physical world, Shmini Atzeres is not, according to the Nesivos Shalom. It is for this reason that the reason for its observance is not stated directly in the Torah.

Shmini Atzeres alludes to the time of future salvation where all the Tikkunim, the fixing and the tweaking of the world’s Divine Service, will be perfected.


While in Eretz Yisroel Simchas Torah and Hoshana Rabbah are celebrated on the same day, in Chutz LaAretz Simchas Torah is on the second day of Yom Tov. The celebration of the completion of the reading of the Torah cycle is celebrated.

After Maariv Psukim are handed out by the Gabbai to be recited aloud. The first posuk is “Atta hareisa.” Then the Sifrei Torah are removed from the Aron and everyone joins in seven Hakafos, circling, with singing and dancing. In some communities the Torah is read at night as well.

In the morning, there are another seven Hakafos before the Torah is read. It is the custom for every man to receive an Aliyah to the Torah on Simchas Torah. Indeed, even the children receive an Aliyah which is called “Kol HaNearim.” A large Tallis is held over them as the Torah is read.

There are two important Aliyos that are given on this day, “Chassan Torah” who completes the Torah, and “Chassan Bereishis” who begins it anew. The “Bereishis Torah” is read immediately to show that we are never, heaven forbid, “done with Torah. A special prayer is recited by the Gabbaim for the people receiving these Aliyos before they are called up.

The author can be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com

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Read Comments (4)  —  Post Yours »


 Sep 30, 2012 at 01:37 PM Yasher Koach Says:

Thanks VIN!


 Sep 30, 2012 at 03:42 PM A M in the PM Says:

The Nesivos Shalom is one of the most inspiring Seforim in the past few hundred years! Thank you!


 Sep 30, 2012 at 05:19 PM Anonymous Says:

Given that we are told to eat “meat and wine” on the two days of yom tov, WHY would Rav Hoffman suggest there is also some chiyuv to eat more meat on chol hamoed?? Given that most doctors and nutritionists are advising that we limit our meat consumption to one or two times a week, why are we advocating eating meat for eight straight days (or seven in EY)? Sometimes, I worry that someone reading these articles will assume they are obligated to ignore the advice we have for eating year around. If you want to have meat on yom tov, fine but don’t extend that to chol hamoed as well.


 Oct 02, 2012 at 10:15 PM {Ploni Says:

Reply to #3  
Anonymous Says:

Given that we are told to eat “meat and wine” on the two days of yom tov, WHY would Rav Hoffman suggest there is also some chiyuv to eat more meat on chol hamoed?? Given that most doctors and nutritionists are advising that we limit our meat consumption to one or two times a week, why are we advocating eating meat for eight straight days (or seven in EY)? Sometimes, I worry that someone reading these articles will assume they are obligated to ignore the advice we have for eating year around. If you want to have meat on yom tov, fine but don’t extend that to chol hamoed as well.

Thank you, #3, for your doubtless well-meant advice but it is my belief that the average Jew in the street can (and most definitely will) make up his or her own mind on how many day a week meat will be served. They will not base their decision on your "psak" or anyone else's.

No, what will decide things is the depth of their change purses and how much money they have for such things.


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