Modern Commentary

Torah & Spirit
Family Life






Sukkot - The Booth

Hakham Yosef explained that the obligation to construct a booth is derived from what is implied in the Miqra’ [Scripture], and not from an expressed statement therein - namely the verse, “In Sukkot [arbour-booths] shall you dwell seven days" (Wayyiqra’ [Leviticus]23:42). If dwelling in the Sukkah indicates the obligation to build it, then we are indeed commanded to do so. The verse, “And you shall take by the first day the produce of beautiful trees” (Wayyiqra’ 23:40) does not, on the face of it, indicate the construction of a booth... that is why the views of commentators are in disagreement as to whether the verse was meant to imply that these things were to be used for the building of the Sukkah, in accordance with the ordinance to dwell in Sukkot, or whether the command to gather produce from beautiful trees was meant to signify some other purpose, and the construction of the Sukkah was to follow from the obligation to reside in it. However, he who prefers to see the implication of the building of the Sukkah in the verse commanding the gathering of the produce says that while The Miqra’ [Scripture] does not expressly direct its building, it is impossible that the ordinance of its building should not be manifestly indicated in the Miqra’; we must therefore say that this verse does direct its building, by implication.

This implication is strengthened by reference to the verse in the Book of Nehemyah [Nehemiah], “Go out to the mountain and bring leaves of the olive tree, and leaves of the oil tree ... to make booths...” (Nehemyah [Nehemiah] 8:15), showing that the Law somewhere does expressly indicate the making of the booth. Moreover, some of the same kinds of trees as are mentioned in the verse regarding the taking of produce from beautiful trees are mentioned in the Book of Nehemyah [Nehemiah] in the verse cited above.

Therefore, even though the construction of the booth is not expressly indicated in the verse commanding the gathering of the produce, the purpose of this taking must clearly be the preparation for the building...

Now, what is the meaning of the “produce of beautiful trees”? In reply to this, those who signify that the verse commanding the gathering of produce from beautiful trees are completed to interpret the word Peri [fruit/produce] in the sense of, “so it brought forth branches and shot forth sprigs...” (Yehezqel [Ezekiel] 17:6), which, they say, is parallel to the verse “tree bearing fruit” (Bere’shit [Genesis] 1:12), embracing both fruit-bearing trees and firewood trees.

This is the reason why the Miqra’ goes on to say, “branches of palm trees” (Wayyiqra’ [Leviticus] 23:40), without the conjunction Waw [and]; if “branches of date palm trees” were something other than “produce of beautiful trees”, the Miqra’ would have said “and branches of date palm trees”.

Furthermore, if the passage commanding the gathering of produce from beautiful trees signifies taking in order to construct the Sukkah, then all the species of trees mentioned in the Book of Nehemyah [Nehemiah] in the verse quoted above (Nehemyah [Nehemiah] 8.15) should have been mentioned in the verse about gathering produce (Wayyiqra’ [Leviticus] 23:40). However, this is not the case. Scholars have proposed various explanations in order to reconcile these two verses, to the effect that all species of trees mentioned in one are really mentioned in the other. The difference between them is that the “willows of the brook” (Wayyiqra’ [Leviticus] 23:40) mentioned in the Law are not mentioned in Nehemyah [Nehemiah], while “the olive tree, and leaves of the oil tree, and leaves of the myrtle” (Nehemyah [Nehemiah] 8:15) are mentioned in the Book of Nehemyah [Nehemiah] and not in the Law. If these two verses are as one, they must be made to signify the same thing. That is why scholars have been constrained to say that the “fruit of beautiful trees”, includes olive and oil trees because they found it written, “and his beauty shall be as the olive tree” (Hoshe’a‘ [Hosea] 14:7). As for the difference between “leaves of the olive tree and leaves of the oil tree”, ‘Anan said that, although both are olive trees, yet they are of two kinds: a tree that gives oil and one that does not. If this were so, however, the Miqra’ should have said, “and branches of date palm trees”.

Hakham Dani’el al-Qumisi said that “produce of beautiful trees”, more suitably applies as a synonym of “branches of date palm trees”, for it is written, “your stature is like a date palm tree” (Shir HaShirim [Song of Songs] 7:8).

As for the myrtle tree mentioned in the Book of Nehemyah [Nehemiah], they say that it is a synonym of the “willows of the brook” (Wayyiqra’ [Leviticus] 23:40), as it is written, “the myrtle trees which were in the bottomland" (Zekharyah [Zechariah] 1:8), which may fittingly signify willows. Hakham Binyamin an-Nahawandi said that the reason “willows of the brook” are not mentioned in the Book of Nehemyah [Nehemiah] is because it is written there, “Go out to the mountain...” in other words, “Go up to the mountain and fetch branches of such trees as are found upon the mountain, while we shall fetch the willows of the brook”.

In this way, Scholars have been constrained to bring these two verses into agreement. Those (i.e., the Rabbanites), however, who dispute with them and maintain that these two verses cannot possibly be synonymous, say that the verse concerning the gathering of fruit does not direct the construction of the booth, because the expression “produce of beautiful trees” does not fit the construction of the Sukkah. The fact that in the verse in Nehemyah [Nehemiah] there have been added three species of leaves: leaves of the olive tree, the oil tree, and the myrtle, while willows of the brook have been omitted shows, according to them, that the two verses are not as one...

It is clear that the Sukkah should be constructed of something similar to the species mentioned in the account of the making of the Sukkah in the Book of Nehemyah {Nehemiah], in the verse cited above (Nehemyah [Nehemiah] 8:15). It is evident also that the meaning is not that the Sukkah must be made only out of all these species alone, but rather that it may be built out of anything else, so long as it does not have any unpleasant odor; the species mentioned in the Book of Nehemyah [Nehemiah] were simply those available at that time and place. As for the order in the Book of Nehemyah [Nehemiah] implying that “leaves of the oil tree” are different from “leaves of the olive tree”, some interpret “leaves of the oil tree” as leaves of nut trees, while other say that it means a tree which burns brightly because of its abundant oil content. Regarding “thick/densely-leaved trees”, some think that it is a species of cedar, as it is written, “and its top was among the thick boughs” (Yehezqel [Ezekiel] 31:1). Others say that it is the pistachio tree, as hinted in the verse “and under every thick tree...” (Yehezqel [Ezekiel] 6:13).

As to the time of the building of the Sukkah, those who believe that the obligation to make the Sukkah is implied in the phrase, “And you shall take by the first day...” (Wayyiqra’ [Leviticus] 23:40) must assume that this phrase indicates that the booth should be constructed on the same day - however wouldn’t this violate the holiday? It could not, obviously, be constructed after the arrival of the holiday. Furthermore, the Miqra’ says, “Dwell in Sukkot seven days” (Wayyiqra’ [Leviticus] 23:42), which means days complete both at their beginning and at their end. The booth must, therefore, be ready before the holiday arrives.

As to where the booth is to be made, some people limit its construction to the Chosen Place (i.e., Yerushalayim [Jerusalem]), because the Sukkah was part of a pilgrimage festival held in Yerushalayim, and, in as much, pilgrimage festivals are bound to the Holy Land. Nevertheless, these things are obligatory even in the absence of the celebration of the festival in Yerushalayim, as it is written, “...that the generations through the ages may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in Sukkot” (Wayyiqra’ [Leviticus] 23:43), this included the generation of the desert and all the generations to come.

The command to dwell in Sukkot is a duty for native Israelites, but not for resident aliens, as it is written, “all that are native in Israel shall dwell in Sukkot” (Wayyiqra’ 23:42). While Hagh HaMassot [the festival of unleavened bread] is obligatory for resident aliens, this is not so with the Sukkah. That is why the entrance of strangers into the booth is permissible to them but is not obligatory for them. The reason native born Israelites alone were singled out is that resident aliens dwelt in Sukkoth at all times (see the Book of Yonah [Jonah] 4:5, where he was a resident alien in Assyria and lived in a Sukkah). This being so, what sense would there have been in the Miqra’ obligating them to dwell in a Sukkah? One might supply another reason, namely, that all ordinances have been handed down on the basis of the people’s ability to perform them. Consequently, dwelling in Sukkot has been made a duty only for those who have landed property of their own. It is written in the Book of Nehemyah [Nehemiah], “each one a Sukkah upon his roof, and in their courtyards” (Nehemyah [Nehemiah] 8:16). The resident alien owned no property. How could the Miqra’, then, make it a duty for him to build a Sukkah?

One ought to dwell in a Sukkah as one dwells in a house, except that one should not do base tasks in it. One should observe the Miswah of dwelling in the Sukkah with reverence.

The Sukkah should be built in the open (i.e., under the sky and not indoors and not under another structure). It should have the shape of a house, with a door and doorposts. Walls of branches are not necessary; and bare walls of stone, wood, or cloth may be used instead. The size of the Sukkah should be at least sufficient for a person to sit and lie comfortably, but one may make it as large as one is able.

If a man forgets to construct the Sukkah, or the Sukkah he has constructed collapses, he may build/rebuild it during the middle of the seven days of the holiday, between but not on the first or last day.