Succah and Manners
By Larry Fine
The Talmud tells us interesting stories about how to properly conduct arguments and what are proper behaviors. The tractate Succoth relates a story about Rav Nachman who had a disagreement with Rav Chisdah and Rabba bar Rav Huna regarding the decorations of a succah. According to Rav Nachman decorative sheets that were hung below the succah covering, the scach, (the roof of the succah which is made from branches of trees), does not cause the succah to be invalid, even if the distance was more that four tefachim, (a measure which is about 16 inches). Rav Chisdah and Rabba bar Rav Huna disagreed; they were of the opinion that decorative sheets which were suspended from the succah scach were acceptable only if they were within four tefachim of the scach, but greater than this distance it was considered to be a separate covering over the succah and caused the succah to be invalid and unfit for fulfilling one's obligation to dwell in a succah.
As it happened on one day of the Succoth holiday Rav Chisdah and Rabba bar Rav Huna came to pay their respects to the Exalarch, the leader of the Jewish communities in Babylonia. Rav Nachman was the official Rabbi in the Exararch's court and everything was done according to his rulings. When Rav Chisdah and Rabba bar Rav Huna came to visit they were given a succah in which to rest; a succah that was built according to the opinion of Rav Nachman and against their own opinion. There were decorative sheets hanging more than four tefachim below the scach. According to Rav Chisdah and Rabba bar Rav Huna this was not a fit Succoth to use during the Succoth holidays.
When Rav Nachman saw that these two rabbis who disagreed with him on this point resting in that succah, he asked them if they had changed their minds in regard to the halachic ruling. They replied no, they had not retracted from their opinion, but rather since they were performing a mitzvah of visiting the Exalarch and therefore the principle of being occupied with one mitzvah exempts them from another performing another mitzvah, they were exempt from performing the mitzvah of Succoth, therefore there was no reason that they could not rest in a succah such as the one that was provided for them.
Now the question arises that since Rav Nachman was aware that Rav Chisdah and Rabba bar Rav Huna said that a succah with such decorative sheets was not a proper succah and that they were of the belief that one did not fulfill there obligation in such a succah, why did he bring them into this type of succah? Would it not been more considerate of him to have hosted them in a succah that met their halachic perspective?
What would you have done in a similar case when you do not eat some food, and your host knowingly brought you food of this type? Would you not consider your host grossly inconsiderate? If so, how could Rav Nachman, who was one of the greatest rabbis of his time, have been so inconsiderate of his guests?
The answer is that as long as your guests can see clearly that the product does not meet their personal criterion, there is no inconsideration on the part of the host. It is only when the host knowingly gives them food which he knows they do not eat and that they can not easily determine the status of this food, only then has the host's behavior exceeded proper bounds.
In our case, both Rav Chisdah and Rabba bar Rav Huna could easily determine that the succah did not meet their specifications and could have gone elsewhere. Therefore there was no impropriety on the part of Rav Nachman.
Succah is the time for inviting guests and visiting old friends. Therefore we must learn what are the limits of being a good host, and just as important, to know how to be a good guest.
from the October 2006 Edition of the Jewish Magazine