In the Torah, it is written, "But on the fifteenth day of the Seventh Month, when you harvest the produce of the Land, celebrate the Holiday of Hashem for seven days... You shall stay in "Sukkot" for seven days; every resident of Israel shall stay in "Sukkot." In order that your generations shall know that I housed the Children of Israel in "Sukkot" when I took them out of the Land of Egypt." (Vayikra 39: 42-43)
Our Sages have interpreted the expression "stay in" to mean "stay in your Sukkah, temporarily, in the manner that you live in your permanent homes."
How should this be done?
Eat your meals in the Sukkah, study Torah in the Sukkah, entertain your guests in the Sukkah, relax in the Sukkah and, very importantly, unless for some reason you find it very uncomfortable, sleep in the Sukkah.
What type of meal is one obligated to eat in the Sukkah?
Answering the question from the reverse side, a person is not supposed to eat an "achilat keva," a "substantial meal," outside of the Sukkah.
What is the definition of a "Seudat Keva?"
A "Seudat Keva" is a "regular meal including bread" or some "significant other" type of eating, such as pasta or mini-pizza, chicken or meat, as opposed to a fruit or juice snack, a cup of coffee, soda, Snapple (unless that's considered more significant since it's made of "the best stuff on earth,") or water.
Others are careful not to eat anything outside of the Sukkah.
What blessing should be made before eating in the Sukkah?
The following blessing should be made before eating in the Sukkah:
"Blessed are You, O L-rd our G-d Who made us holy by Obligating us to perform His Commandments, and Commanded us to Stay In the Sukkah!"
First, the "Birchat HaNehenin," is recited; afterwards, the Sukkah-related Berachah. The Birchat HaNehenin is the blessing made before partaking of an item in G-d's world, such as a tuna-fish sandwich (in this case, the blessing is "…HaMotzi Lechem min HaAretz," "…(that G-d is the One)… Who causes "bread" to be produced from the ground." (I sometimes think that if G-d had only created the tuna-fish for the enjoyment of Man, it would have been enough!))
When is the Obligation Strongest?
The obligation to be in the Sukkah on the first two nights of the Holiday is the strongest (in Israel, it is only the first night). The practical difference between the "strong" obligation and the "weaker" obligation is when it is raining. In general one applies the principle "One who is suffering is not obligated to eat in the Sukkah."
However, on the first night, one must make a great effort to make Kiddush in the Sukkah and to wash "Netilat Yadayim," the washing of the hands before the eating of a minimal amount from the "Challah." "Challah" is the special "bread" baked for Shabbat and the Holidays. The amount to be eaten is the size of an egg. Only thereafter may one retreat to the house, to complete the meal!
How Should One Feel in Such a Case?
Interestingly, the Talmud discusses the above question, even though one might be tempted to dismiss it with "What do you mean, it just rained - that's all!" Apparently, the Talmud is of the opinion that the relationship between G-d and the Jewish People should be so close that at a time when in order to fulfill a Command of the Torah, it is necessary for it not to rain, then we could expect that Hashem, strange though it may seem, would not let it rain!
In any case, the answer given in the Talmud to the above question is that a person should feel like a servant who has poured a cup of wine for his master, and his master threw it in his face!
Other times than the first night of Sukkot, when it is raining moderately, enough to cause drops of water to fall from the "Sechach" into one's food, or if it is VERY cold, or VERY hot, or if stinging insects have set up residence in the Sukkah, the obligation to eat in the Sukkah is cancelled. In fact, if one remains in the Sukkah while suffering, it is not like a situation which one would allow to exist in his own house and, since that is the basic measure of whether something should be done in the Sukkah, rather than being considered praiseworthy, that person is considered foolish.
- The "Sechach" must be made from some product of the earth, that is no longer attached to the earth. Therefore,
- Wood of all kinds, including bamboo poles, leafy branches, branches of pine trees (very aromatic, but pine needles tend to wind up in one's soup), are all good.
- However, the actual branches and leaves of a living tree, still attached to the ground, are not acceptable. It might be interesting as a "treehouse," but it doesn't make it as a Sukkah.
- "Sechach" cannot be made from utensils; even wooden utensils, such as spoons and forks.
- Metal and plastic and glass, in any form, utensil or not, are invalid as "sechach." Thus, strips of aluminum foil, thin stained glass rods, and plastic straws or mats, are all nono's.
An "amah" is a length somewhere between eighteen inches and two feet. The maximum height of a Sukkah; that is, of its "Sechach" above the floor, is twenty "amot;" that is, a height somewhere between thirty and forty feet. (Mishnah 1 in Chapter 1 of Masechet Sukkah)
The minimum height of a Sukkah is ten "tefachim," where the "tefach," derived from a measure of the fist, is between 8 and 9.6 centimeters, or about 3.2 - 3.8 inches. The height is therefore between 32 and 38 inches, approximately, one yard, or meter. (Sukkah 1:1)
The thickness of the "Sechach" must be such that in the daytime it provides more shade than it allows sunlight to pass through.
On the other hand, it cannot be so thick that it would completely obscure the brightest stars at night.
There is a verse in the Torah from which is derived the requirement that the "Sechach" should be applied "actively" and not "passively." This principle is called "Ta'Aseh v'lo Min he'Asuy." Using other words, positive, intentional action on the part of the one who lays the "Sechach" is required, rather than the passive allowing of the arrival of the "Sechach" to occur.
This principle, the requirement of positive action, rather than passive involvement, has application in various areas of the Torah. Here, we will suffice with two examples of its application in the World of the "Sukkah:"
1. One who hollows out space within a large haystack, hoping to use the hay on top of the space as "Sechach," has not succeeded in creating a valid Sukkah, because that hay was not placed there for the purpose of "Sechach," but for some other hay-related purpose. (Of course, this is not to imply that hay is not valid as "Sechach" (watch that double negative!); it certainly is valid "Sechach" when it is placed properly.)
2. One may not use bundles of hay or some other valid "Sechach"-material as "Sechach." You ask, "Why not?" The answer given by the Talmud, perhaps somewhat more relevant in those times, or perhaps in the modern State of Israel, where there are many Jewish farmers, is that sometimes a farmer will put a bundle of hay on top of the Sukkah for the sole purpose of drying it in preparation for some purpose unrelated to "Sechach." Only afterwards will he decide to use those bundles as "Sechach!" But we would then be caught again in the trap of passive placement rather that active covering!
And because of that fear of someone initially putting up bundles to dry, and later deciding to use them as "Sechach," the Sages also said that even if the builder of the Sukkah wanted from the beginning to use the bundles as "Sechach," he is not permitted to do so.
As mentioned above, any material is valid for wall construction, with the only requirement being that the structure be capable of withstanding an "average" wind, that blows in that location (the requirements for a Sukkah on the top of Mt. Washington, where the highest recorded wind velocity (231 MPH) was measured, would probably be different from the requirements in an area of gentle wind).
If, say, the canvas walls of one's Sukkah were improperly designed, or done in this manner as an example of modern "Sukkah" architecture, but in any case don't quite reach the floor, what is the "shiur," or measure for validity, that is required?
According to the Sages, if the walls are within 3 "tefachim" of the ground, the Sukkah is acceptable. In centimeters, this measure is approximately 24 - 29 cm., about one foot. The explanation of this measurement is that it corresponds to the height under which a goat could run in and out, "adding" to the calm and peacefulness of the Holiday meals, and "rest periods."
The overall size of any object, or thing, is given by the combination of the height and the area. For example, a city skyscraper and a flagpole might have the same height. But the fact that they have different areas makes the skyscraper much bigger than the flagpole!
The minimum area of a Sukkah is defined in the Talmud to be seven-by-seven "tefachim," or about two feet by two feet. When we combine this with the minimum height, ten "tefachim, or about one yard, we find that the mimimum overall size of a "Sukkah" is just about large enough to accommodate the "head and most of the body of a man, and the "mini" - table from which the man eats," to use the definition of the Talmud. This corresponds to the size of a small refrigerator, or the space needed to accommodate a short, seated adult.
There is no maximum for the overall size of a Sukkah. It could be so large, made so by vast lengths and widths, to accommodate the entire Jewish People, or the population of the world. The Midrash speaks of the Sukkah made for the righteous in the World-to-Come as being made from the skin of the Leviathan, the giant sea-creature. To use a much smaller, but perhaps more familiar example, consider Godzilla.
1. Note that the twenty "amot" mentioned above as the maximum height of the Sukkah are measured from the surface on which the Sukkah stands, not necessarily from the ground. Thus, if for example Sukkot are built on top of a city skyscraper or the Shalom Tower in Tel Aviv, and the height of the Sukkah itself is, say, ten "amot." The Sukkot are perfectly "kosher," or valid, and the heights of those two skyscrapers are temporarily augmented by the amount of ten "amot" for the duration of Sukkot.
2. One can make a valid Sukkah on the top of a wagon in motion, or on the top deck of a ship at sail; or for that matter, on the back of a flatbed truck traveling along a superhighway or the wing of a v--e--r--y s--l--o--w airplane in flight. The above statement is true despite the fact that the Sukkah is in motion with respect to the ground in the case of the wagon, and the ocean in the case of the ship, the highway or the air in the last two cases.
That motion is irrelevant! Why so? Because in all the cases, the Sukkah is at rest with respect to the wagon or the ship or the truck or the wing. That means that the Sukkah is not moving around on the wagon, or on the deck of the ship; it is not skipping around on the back of the truck, or scampering back and forth on the wing. Rather, it is quite still. And from the point of view of the occupants of the Sukkah, it is just as if the Sukkah were at rest in their own backyard!
It is for the same reason that a person inside a plane can walk leisurely along the aisle of a jet plane traveling smoothly through the air at 600 miles per hour. "Not to beat a dead horse," on whose back if it were alive, one could also construct a minimum-size Sukkah, It is because the occupants of the Sukkah as well as the passengers on the jet are traveling at the same speed as the Sukkah or the jet.
3. Speaking of constructing Sukkot on the backs of animals, the Talmud does also address the question of making one on the back of a camel. The conclusion is that the Sukkah would be valid, for the reasons given above, except that one could not climb up into it on the first days of the Holiday, because of a side reason. The Sages enacted a "gezera" against riding on animals on Shabbat and the Holidays, out of concern lest a rider unwittingly break off a branch as he or she rode along an overgrown trail, and that (the breaking of the branch) would be a violation of a "Melacha."