Strange things from out of the Code of Jewish laws.


Walls, a humorous, yet penetrating story about the walls of a succah


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A tale truer than life as related to us
by Zvi Levine.

Now this I overheard from a old, bearded fellow. I think quite possibly his name was Hirsh. I might be wrong though. But I remember I came to visit a friend in his Succa, and this fellow Hirsh was there. I sort of knew his face from here and there, but not what you can really call knowing him. They were talking about the laws of the Succa, so after the normal cordiality, I sat down and listened to them, that is Hirsh. He was talking about a part of Jewish law concerning the usage of animals and people as walls.

Hirsh was very animated and continued speaking: "The usage of animals is permitted as a wall if the animal is tied up, because otherwise the animal may walk away. But a person, a friend," he said eyeing me, "may be used as a wall. Like in the case when a wall has fallen down on Yom-Tov and you for sure aren't allowed to build on Yom-Tov. So you can request your friend to stand in the place where the wall fell down, in order to make up the missing partition. However the only restriction is that your friend doesn't know that he is a wall! Ya got that!?"

I was fascinated. I never heard of such an idea. "Why?" I blurted out.

Hirsh kind of eyed me again. I began to feel uneasy about my own lacking in anything other than the basics in Jewish laws and customs.

Hirsh kind of took a deep breath, sort of condescendingly, and answered me. "It is forbidden to make a wall on Shabbos or Yom-Tov, OK, but that is because you are building in a conventional manner. You know, the normal building, hammer, nails etc. But to ask a person to stand in the place where the wall fell in, is not exactly making a wall, even though the person temporarily becomes one! The only condition is that the person doesn't know that he is a wall. But if he knows that he is a wall, then he can't be a wall!"

"This was like unbelievable. "I never heard such a thing!" I resisted.

Hirsh merely mumbled something to the effect that if I didn't hear of such a thing, does this mean that it doesn't exist?

"The Rabbis were afraid that if the person who became the wall knew that he was being used for a wall, he might come to a wrongful conclusion."

"What's the wrong conclusion?"

"That it is permissible to make a wall on Shabbos or Yom-Tov! Therefore they forbade a person from being a wall if he knows that he is a wall; only if the person doesn't know that he is a wall can he function as a wall!".

"Now in the case of a person unknowingly being used as a wall, you might fear, that like an animal, he might just pick up and walk away. Right?" He looked at me as if to suggest that I had some answer. "But no, the rabbis said that we don't have to fear that a person who is unknowingly used as a wall will walk away. Why?" He kept looking at me as if I was supposed to come up with the answer. He pulled on his scraggly beard and then he continued: "Because a person who doesn't know what's going on, will stay in his place. So therefore the person eating in the Succa can carry on with his meal - with out fear that his Succa may be rendered unfit. That means that he doesn't have to worry about the man who is the wall, that he shouldn't walk away. Because if the man-wall walks away then he won't have the required amount of walls hence no Succa"
Hirsh dipped his bread in the honey bowl and chewed a bit, stared out of the open Succa door and reflecting on what he had said. I and my friend sat quietly waiting to hear what Hirsh was thinking. In a distance we heard some Jewish music being played on a tape recorder. We just sat there quiet, waiting.

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Then finally Hirsh began to speak. "Now if we think it, it turns out that we have three categories: the first is an animal, the second is a person who doesn't know that he is a wall and the third is a person who knows that he is a wall."

"An animal, even though he is an animal with a minimal degree of intelligence, must be bound up for fear that he may walk away. A person on the other hand if he doesn't know that he is a wall is a wall and doesn't need to be tied up. Only if he realizes that he is a wall then he isn't a wall. So if he doesn't know that he is a wall, meaning that he possesses no knowledge about his status - then he is a wall. If he knows that he is a wall, meaning that he possesses full knowledge of his status - then he isn't a wall.

"What comes out from this is: if you don't know who you are - you have no true self knowledge, then your are a wall. Like a bunch of stone blocks that lack the inherent ability to make something out of themselves. However one a person realizes truly who he his, that he possess true self-knowledge, then he is a person and not a wall!

Then Hirsh turned to me; his piercing eyes caught mine, "Who are you?."

Look in the laws of the Succa, the chapter dealing with the construction of the walls, chapter 630, paragraphs 11 and 12, and tell me if he is correct. I can't do it myself, I'm stuck here standing in my friends Succa.

Walls, a humorous, yet penetrating story about the walls of a succah


from the October 1997 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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