A Lesson from the Talmud on the Succah



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The Polymorphic Pluralistic Succah

By Arye Leib

I think that everybody must have a friend like Larry. He is one of those people who seem to live in another world and just walks through reality like some one who is going from his bed to the bathroom.

Larry is into thought. Jewish thought to be specific - how about Talmud to be even more specific.

He built a succah and invited me over. Fine, I thought, haven't seen him in a while. Let's see what he is up to now. As long as he has a cold beer or a shot of bourbon, it can't be that bad. So I gave him a back up excuse, just-in-case type talk, that I will be happy to come, but I have to leave early, I told him, like I have to meet some one. Some times with him, you need an escape latch.

So there he was sitting in his succah smiling like a new father about to show you some twenty-eight pictures of his new son. The 'I gatcha captured' grin.

He motioned me to sit down in a chair – a specific chair opposite of him, not next to him.

"Wanna hear something interesting?" he asked as if I had a choice.

"Yea, sure," I said, like what was I to say. He had some peanuts and a cold beer waiting for me, so what the heck, what ever was on his mind was okay with me.

"What do you know about Succot?" he began.

"You sit in it on Succot. Right?" I knew that was not the answer he was looking for, but in all cases, I felt it a safe reply.

"Ah, I am referring to the construction. Do you know that the average Succah has three sides?"

Hmmm, I thought, this boy has been reading the Guinness book of Jewish records.

"Do you know that there is kosher s'chach and non-kosher s'chach?"

"I kind of figured that our on my own." I said smugly, carefully pouring my beer into my glass. I like foam, but too much makes it hard to sip.

"Look a succah can have three walls, just like this one." He moved his arms and my eyes began to pan the space around me.


"O.K. so?"

"What you don't know is that there is a limit of non-kosher s'chach that you can have on top of your succah that can ruin your succah."

"Why would I want non-kosher s'chach on the top of my succah?"

"Why, is not the question, the question is how much is too much"

"Dunno." The conversation was not quite intriguing to me, but Larry always had weird ideas so let him go on.

"Four tefachim - which is about twelve inches - of non-kosher s'chach can ruin a succah. If you have a long patch of non-kosher s'chach that runs from one wall to the other wall and is four tefachim wide, it spits the succah in half.

"Since it runs parallel to the middle wall, the area bounded by the middle wall, the two side walls becomes one succah area, extending from the middle wall to the non-kosher s'chach. The area on the other side of the non-kosher s'chach becomes another separate succah area."

Top View

"So?" I munched on his peanuts, nice, crunchy and salty; they go great with cold beer, especially on a hot day. He was getting a bit too technical for me, but the beer was refreshing.

"The problem is that although both areas are large enough to be separate succahs, yet the area that is by the entrance, like where I am sitting, only has two walls enclosing it. The third wall, by your back, cannot help me since the succah is split in two by non-kosher s'chach." He pointed with his finger upwards, leading my eye to the s'chach above our heads.

"See there, in the center of the succah, there is a long piece of metal, non-kosher s'chach that is four tefachim wide, twelve inches. It goes from side to side – splits the succah into two pieces. I know I put it there on purpose."

"What the heck for?"

"I want to show you something interesting."

"Like I told you, you are sitting with your back to the wall, so you are sitting under the kosher part of the succah, but me, I am sitting here, under kosher s'chach, but with only two walls. That is because the non-kosher s'chach interrupts the unity of this succah and divides it into two"


"Well, why do you have to sit there? There is room here on the kosher side for you too. Move over here."

"Oh no! That would spoil everything."

Man, I thought, this is going to be one of those crazy evenings again. But like the beer was cold and the peanuts salty, and I have an excuse to leave, but let him go on.

"There is such a law, a special rule, that is called the rule of the 'dofen akumah'. The dofen akumah is 'the rule of the bent wall'. If, for instance, this non-kosher s'chach was instead of in the middle, on the side, next to the wall, we would say that the succah has a bent wall and it is as if the wall of the succah 'leans' over an touches the kosher s'chach – this gives the succah the ability to unite kosher s'chach with a wall that is distant from the s'chach. In effect it makes the non-kosher s'chach into a wall!"


"But you must not eat or sleep under this 'bent wall'; since it is now considered a wall. It is like you are under a leaning wall - not a wall that goes up and turns. This rule actually comes from Moses; when he explained the Torah to the Jews after he came down from Mount Sinai, he explained this and it has been part of the Talmud ever since."

"Nu?" I was wondering where this conversation was leading to.

"Where you are sitting is next to the middle walls. You have three walls, two on the sides of you and one behind you. That is great – it makes a kosher succah. But the non-kosher s'chach interrupts this flow. I am sitting on the other side of the succah, on the other side of the non-kosher s'chach. Since the non-kosher s'chach interrupts the succah, in effect I am sitting in another succah – but my succah only has two walls! It cannot be kosher.

"Now listen, this is the great part. You think that I am sitting in the part of the succah which is not kosher, correct? And you think that you are sitting in the kosher part of the succah, right?"

"Well, didn't you just tell me that yourself?"

"Right! But at that time, I did not tell you about the power of the dofen akumah, the rule of the bent wall. I, being the owner of this succah am using the rule of the bent wall to change this succah. I hereby declare that I want the dofen akumah to extend from the wall behind you, to include the non-kosher s'chach! This means that I now have three walls: the two on the side of me, plus the dofen akumah, the extended wall from behind you extends all the way from behind you to be my third wall. You, kiddo, are no sitting under a wall and that is not kosher!!"


"You're kidding!?"

"I kid you not"

"So, that isn't very nice. Why do you invite me over and have me sit in the non-kosher section of succah?"

"Sneaky, aren't I?" I could see by his grin that he was enjoying this. "It is either you are in the kosher succah or me. But I am the owner, right, so I want to enjoy the legal rule of the dofen akumah. What do you say?"

I raised my eyebrows, wondering what should I say. I knew that he was not finished. Should I just get up and move over to his side, the kosher side, or just wait it out for the out come of Larry's succah fun?

"Ha ha," he laughed at seeing my displeasure with the thought of eating outside of the succah. "Don't worry, it is OK, the law of the dofen akumah only comes to kasher the succah, but not to invalidate it. Therefore we both can sit in the succah together even though we are separated by non-kosher s'chach, which should really invalidate my part."

"So, we are both O.K?"

"Right, no problem both of us sitting here on opposite sides. Even though it looked as if each of us would disqualify the other, it is not so, we both can validate not just ourselves, but the other side too.

"You see that the rule that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai comes to give validity to a succah, but not to disqualify part of it. You can sit on your side and me on mine. It may look as though if you are under the kosher side, then I am under the non-kosher side, but that is not true. We are both O.K. We are both sitting in a kosher succah.

"Hmm," interesting I thought. Larry always has something interesting to say. Perhaps there is more in this than meets the eye.

"That is the greatness of the succah. It comes to include people not to exclude them. Even though you have a different perspective than me, still we can share in the same succah with out disqualifying the other."

* * * * *

Perhaps what this tells us is that really this is a principle in life: When two people choose two different venues to serve G-d, sometimes it may seem like one person's way invalidates the other. If my way is correct, then your way must be invalid. Conversely, if your manner of serving G-d is correct then my way is invalid.

Nothing can be further from the truth. There is more than one way to serve G-d. One manner does not invalidate the other. This is the lesson we learn from the succah. Let us all just be sincere in our manner of serving G-d and we will all eventually merit to sit in the great succah that G-d Himself will construct for the righteous.


from the September-October 2007 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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