What is the Succah


The Essential and Existential Succah


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The Essential and Existential Succah

By Avi Lazerson

Who does not know about Succah? Every Jewish child knows about the thrill of being in a Succah. Eating, sleeping and even decorating the Succah is a big thrill for everyone.

But what exactly are the requirements of being in a Succah? What exactly are we supposed to do there besides eating and sleeping? And just how are we to determine when it is proper not to be in the Succah?

Interestingly enough, this topic is discussed in the Talmud in a 'round about manner. In a seemingly unrelated argument about the requirements of a person who must watch his fields from thieves, Rava and Abaye, two of the more famous sages from the period of the Talmud have an argument.

Abaye rules that the person who must watch his fields is not obligated to eat or sleep in a succah. Why? Because Abaye contends that the obligation of Succah is one that requires one to dwell in his succah just as he dwells in his house. Just like he has his table and chairs, his bed and linens, his meals, etc in his house, similarly, he is required to live in the Succah.

This, according to Abaye, is just impossible to do in the field. We can not expect a man to bring all of his furnishings out to the field. That is not the manner of the man during the entire year, how can we obligate him to do so for succah?

Rova gives a different rationale. Rova is of the opinion that if we were to require him to eat and drink in the succah while he is guarding his field, the thieves would know where he is, and steal from a different part of the field.

Now this opinion of Rova is really an eye raiser. Why? Because the concept of dwelling in a Succah as one dwells in one's house is not a new concept. This idea was accepted by the great sages and rabbis that preceded Rova by several generations. Rova can not possibly go against this concept.

So, we must ask, why does Rova rule that if it were not for the thieves, the farmer would have to build a succah out there in his field as he guarded his crops. Rova himself, states that if he must guard a pile of grain that is in one place in the same field, he must build a succah out in the field since we do not worry about the thieves. Since the produce is in a pile next to his Succah in the field, they can not steal it.

So the question remains: what does Rova do about the concept of dwelling in the Succah as we live in our house?

The concept here is that Rova does not dispute the concept of dwelling in the Succah as we live in our house. Rova accepts it but does not accept Abaye's interpetation of its meaning. Abaye sees the concept of dwelling in the Succah as we live in our house exactly as we live in our house, we must live in the Succah. If we can not do so, then we are under no obligation to dwell, meaning eating, sleeping, resting, etc in the Succah.

He is of the opinion that the Succah is to be the domicile during the seven days of Succah. Just like you live in the house, so you must live in the Succah. If you can not live in the succah as you live in your house, then there is no obligation to just merely eat in the succah or just sleep there.

Rova, however, has a different concept of what the Torah meant when it required us to dwell in the Succah as we live in our house. Rova did not understand it meaning exactly as we dwell in the house, so we should dwell in the Succah, furnishings included. Rather the Torah wanted us to perform those acts which we perform in the home: eating, sleeping, resting, etc., we are to perform those in the succah.

But Rova did not understand the requirement to dwell in the Succah as we live in our house to come to relieve us of our obligations if we are only able to perform part of the requirement. That means if we can not sleep there, that does not exempt us from eating there and visa versa.

At this point we must emphasis that the ruling that is at stake here has a tremendous impact on our own lives in our succah. According to Abaye, we must procure a succah that can accommodate all of our choice possessions, otherwise, we will not fulfill our obligation. Rova, on the other hand, teaches that it is only "like" we live in our home, so we must live in our succah, but not "exactly."

Fortunately, the Jewish law accepts the opinion of Rova. We are not obligated to bring all of our furnishings into the Succah, although that certainly is a desired act.

Going further, we could state that the difference between Rova and Abaye is the difference between the internal service to G-d and the external service. To Abaye, we must duplicate in our succah the state in which we live in our house. If we have a fancy table and chairs, a nice comfortable bed, we must bring them to the succah. Rova argues that what is necessary, is the form in which we live, not the props which we use. If we have a table and chairs and bed, so we need in the succah a table, chairs and bed, but it is not necessarily the same that is in the house.

Where as in the service of G-d, props are important, just as we must have matzah on Passover, and a luluv and etrog during succah, tephilin and talit during the year, it is not the props that make the service, it is the heart. A lacking of a prop does not necessarily mean that the service is lacking. It just means that a prop was missing, but as long as the heart is totally given over to G-d, then really nothing is lacking.

So may it be for all Jews, may we realize a true service to G-d, when we sit in our succah, simple though it may be.


from the October 2003 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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