– Author: Rav Ezra Patchino

The halachic measurements for the structure of the Succah, are not only physical dimensions for a material structure. They also hint to a paradigm in the spiritual realm. The physical measurements parallel our sprirtual well-being, erecting upright and holy souls in each one of us. In this article we will try and reveal some of these hidden secrets that the Torah embedded in the seemingly mundane measurements of the Succah.

Masechet Succah opens[1] with the Mishna that states.

“A Succah that is higher than 20 amot is not valid”

Three reasons are brought in the gemara as to why such a succah is invalid.

Raba says: For the verse[2] states “So  that the generations will know that I gave them booths to dwell in“…Until twenty amot, one realizes that he is in a booth; above twenty amot, one doesn’t realize that he is living in a booth for the eye does not gaze there”

Raba learns out from the word “know” that the Torah wanted us to be cognizant of the fact that we are dwelling in a booth. In the words of Rashi[3] “make for yourselves a Succah where dwelling in it is recognizable”. How does one do such a thing? Through sight! But one’s eyes naturally, do not gaze higher than twenty amot.

Rabi Zeira says: from the verse[4] “And the Succah should be for shade”.

Since Schach is the main part of the succah[5], Rabi Zeira learnsformt eh verse in Yeshayahu that the main  purpose of the Succah is for shade. Up to twenty amot, a person sits under the shade of the schach. However higher than that, a person would sit under the shade of the walls instead of the Schach.

Rava states: from the verse[6] “In Succot you shall dwell for seven days”. The Torah states that for seven days one should leave ones permanent house and dwell in a temporary dwelling. “Up until 20 amot, a person builds a structure that is temporary. But more than twenty amot, one doesn’t build it in a temporary manner but rather a permanent one”.

The paradigm of building in the spiritual realm

The differing opinions are not only a halachic dispute regarding the reason for the measurements for the Succah[7]. They  are not less important, a window that gives us a glimpse into the inner meaning of the mitzva of Succah as well as being a paradigm for the building of our spiritual world.

This is pointed out by Rav Etlinger[8] the “Aruch Lner” in his commentary at the very end of Masechet Succah.

Rav Etlinger explains that each Amora is stressing a different  spiritual  attribute that a person should be focusing on whilst performing the mitzva of Succah. According to Raba – it is Yirat Shamayim – the fear of Heaven. According to Rabi Zeira – it is Bitachon -trust in G-d, and according to Rava it is humility. Let’s elaborate these opinions based on the understanding of the Aruch Lner.

Raba argues that when one enters the Succah, one must be able to see and be cognizant of the schach, or in his words “where the eyes gaze upon”. It is human nature that one’s eyes lead one to think and feel certain things. This premise is stressed in the mitzvah of tzitzit[9]; as we are commanded “and you shall see it and you shall remember”. Seeing brings one to remember …On the flipside we find the Torah admonishing us “And you shall not be led after your hearts and eyes” …Here too we see that sight can lead to thoughts and emotions (albeit a negative one in this context)

Here too according to Raba, the Torah is guiding our thoughts, by ordering us to be able to see the Schach . Why is the Schach worthy of gazing at, and what thoughts shall it lead us to have?

According to the Aruch Lner – the Succah symbolizes nothing less than G-ds name. His revealed essence and his hidden essence (The Name of Adnut and the Name of Y H V K)[10]

Rabba understands that constant gazing and awareness of the Succah – is in essence constantly gazing at the name of Hakadosh Baruch Hu. When a person is constantly thinking about Hashem, this leads to true –Yirat Shamayim., as seeing leads to fearing. This is how the Aruch Lner put it:

The main part of the mitzvah of fear of Heaven, is to  place the awareness of G-d in front of him always; and think that G-d sees all ones actions. Through this all of ones actions will be done for the sake of Heaven and to be glorified by in the eyes of people.

This is the argument of Raba: The Succah must bring a person to fear of Heavenand this is why the eye has to be able to gaze at the Succah…I shall place G-d before me always

“והנה עיקר מצות יראת ד’ להשוות ד’ תמיד נגד עיניו ולחשוב שהקב”ה עומד נגדו ורואה מעשיו ועי”ז יהיו כל מעשיו לשם שמים ולא לעיני בני אדם להתפאר”.

זו א”כ טענת רבה סוכה צריכה להביא ליראה וזו הסיבה שהעין חייבת לשלוט בסוכה. “שיותי ה’ לנגדי תמיד”.

Rabbi Zeira on the other hand explains that the main focus – is trust in Hashem..as the verse states “God is my shade” . Rav Etlinger outlines three models of trust in G-d.

The first is when a person is in trouble and thinks that he can get out of his dire situation if only a certain event would happen. He pursues ways to make this event a reality, and his trust in G-d is that Hashem will make that event happen.

The second is that a person in the same situation – is completely passive and trusts that  Hashem  will save him in some way.

The third and correct way is that a person puts in effort to try and make that event happen. But he trusts that G-d will save him either by making that event happen or any other way. G-d is not limited in how He decides to save us. We have to do our effort trying to work out what is the best possible way to save ourselves, but we should never limit G-d to the method that we have chosen[11].

When a person enters the Succah – one must be cognizant that G-d is our shade and although we must put in our own effort, ultimately we must have complete faith that G-d will save us and He is unlimited.

השתדלות מול בטחון

Our own effort versus our trust in G-d

As we pointed out above, the Aruch Lner states that one needs to do both (hishtadlut and bitachon) but that one must ultimately place ones trust in G-d. Perhaps we can see this idea expressed in other measurements and halachot of the Succah.

The Schach which represents our trust in G-d must be made of completely natural material that has not been shaped by man[12].  On the other hand, the walls which represent our part of the building can be made from any material[13] ; man-made or not[14]. However there is a stark contrast in terms of the halachic requirements of the walls and the schach.

The walls can even be two full walls and a tefach[15] for the third wall. If we have a miminum height wall of 10 tefachim, there can be a huge gap of meters between the top of the wall and the actual schach. (applying the principal of Gud Asik).There can be more gaps than wall[16].

But when it comes to the Schach – if there is a minute hole of even 3 tefachim of air, it will invalidate the succah.

The message from these halachot is clear. Although one needs to put in effort, (symbolized by the walls which are man-made and susceptible to impurity); ultimately G-d will decide to save us through our effort or another way. Hence 2 walls and a tefach suffice to highlight that our part in this is really very partial. However when it comes to our abslolute trust in G-d; here there is no room for even the slightest gaps and holes in our faith.                                                                                                                                     Finally Rava explains that the focus of the Succah is to internalize the message that this world is transient – a temporary dwelling. Therefore one who builds his succah higher than 20 amot making his succah a permanent building; hints to the fact that this world is the main point of life and therefore runs after honor and all physical pleasures. But one who builds a temporary dwelling is reminded that his life here is temporary, and will be imbued with a deep sense of humility.

This year as we enter our Succot, let us gaze at the schach and B”H, may we all be filled with a deep sense of feeling G-ds presence before us – as Raba taught us; with a resolute faith in G-d – as Rabi Zeira expounded; and with a deep sense of humility, understanding our transience – as Rava imparted to us.

Chag Sameach

[1] Masechet Succah 2b

[2] Vayikra 23/43

[3] Rashi D.H “lmaan yedu”

[4] Yeshayahu 4/10

[5] See Rashi on Mishna 12a D.H “vkulan ksheirot” and on daf 2a D.H “dlo shalta “ and many other places in Masechet Succah

[6] Vayikra 23/42

[7] The gemara 2b learns out practical ramifications regarding each opinion.

[8] Rav Yaakov Etlinger (1798 – 1871) was a leading Posek in his generation. He was a prolific writer and is best known for his classic work on a few Masechtot on the Talmud called “Aruch Lner”. He also authored the Bikurei Yaacov, a halachic work on hilchot Succot and the Arba Minim which is quoted extensively by the Mishna Brura, and his responsa the Binyan Tzion. His most famous student was Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch.

[9] See the Achronim on chp 626 of the shulchan Aruch O.C on the special relationship between the mitzvah of tzizit, Succah and Tefilin

[10] The gematria of the name Adnut and YKVH together is 91. This is the same value of Succah.

11 Based on this Rav Etlinger explains the sin of Yosef Hatzaddik and his interpretation of the Midrash Parshat Vayiketz..see his commnetray for a full elaboration on the subject

[12] Gidulo min haaretz and not raui lkabel Tuma(not susceptible to impurity)

[13] Simple understanding Sukka 12b

[14] There is one opinion of the Or Zarua brought in the Hagahot Ashri – that if the walls are susceptible to impurity Midoraita, they are also invalid. However the Eliya Raba and Bikurei Yaakov state that no one takes this opinion into account. The Vilna Gaon also rejected this opinion although see the Biur Halacha O.C 630, regarding the Gaons opinion.

[15] Masechet Sukka 7b

[16]O.C 630  But see the Rambam’s limitation on this law

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