July 18, 2024
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The holiday of Sukkot has at least two names. The first, Sukkot, is typically translated as Festival of Tabernacles, a reference to the little structures we build. In this regard, other appropriate names might include the Holiday of Huts, the Festival of Phone-booths or the Tent Revival.

The second name for Sukkot is Chag HaAsif, which means Festival of Ingathering or Harvest Festival, a reference to the end of the harvest period in Israel. Of course, many other names could be given to the holiday of Sukkot including the (i) Festival of Eating Outside Even When It Rains, (ii) Festival of Eating While Swatting Ignoring Annoying Insects or (iii) Festival of Spending an Inordinate Amount of Time Elaborately Decorating a Temporary Structure That Is Used for Only One Week.

When it comes to inclement weather on Sukkot, the Talmud has many rules and instructions. For example, Sukkah 29a states that “[i]f rain fell, it is permitted to leave the sukkah from the point that it is raining so hard that the congealed dish will spoil… The measure is from when a congealed dish of pounded grain, a dish ruined by even slight rainfall, will spoil.” This arguably might be one of the most Jewish rules of all-time: if the rain is going to ruin your meal, then ditch the sukkah and head inside to continue essen and fressen without fear of spoilage.

The laws governing the Sukkah also protect another major facet in Jewish life: uninterrupted naps. Sukkah 29a further states that “if one was sleeping under the roofing of the sukkah, and rain fell, and he descended to sleep in the house, one does not burden him to ascend back to the sukkah once the rain ceases; rather, he may sleep in the house until it becomes light.” In other words, the Sages understood the value of R.E.M. sleep and the importance of power napping. They also appreciated the discomfort of sleeping in a soggy sukkah.

The Talmud also dishes out rules regarding the type of sukkah that may used. Sukkah 9a tells us that one should not attempt to fulfill the mitzvah of building a sukkah by using a stolen sukkah. That probably is a good rule of thumb for the entire holiday. You should not use a stolen lulav, a stolen etrog or stolen s’chach. In fact, on Sukkot the only thing you may steal is a glance or someone’s heart.

The Talmud also addresses whether it is kosher to build one sukkah on top of another sukkah. In Sukkah 9b, Rabbi Yirmeya provides an epic answer that seems to address every possibility: “There are times when both of the sukkot one atop the other are fit; there are times when both of the sukkot are unfit; there are times when the lower sukkah is fit and the upper sukka is unfit; and there are times when the lower sukkah is unfit and the upper sukka is fit.” Of course, there also are times when this situation does not even arise in the first place because who in their right mind is building a double-decker sukkah? Suffice it to say, if your sukkah requires input from a structural engineer, you may have gone too far.

The rules for Sukkot leave no stone or etrog unturned. For example, in Sukkah 36b there is some discussion about etrog size, with some Sages arguing about the maximum measure for a kosher etrog. In that discussion, a somewhat unusual tale is told: “Rabbi Yosei said: There was an incident involving Rabbi Akiva, who came to the synagogue, and his etrog was so large that he carried it on his shoulder.” This begs the question: if Rabbi Akiva transported his enormous etrog on his shoulder, then how many people did it take to carry his lulav?

Speaking of the lulav, the Talmud also has much to say about how to wave it properly. In Sukkah 38, the Talmud relays another unusual tale: “When Rav Aḥa bar Ya’akov would move the lulav to and fro, he would say: This is an arrow in the eye of Satan, as despite his best efforts, the Jewish people continue to joyously fulfill mitzvot. The Gemara notes: That is not a proper manner of conduct, as it will induce Satan to come to incite him to sin. Gloating due to his victory over the evil inclination will lead Satan to redouble his efforts to corrupt him.” This story is sort of the Talmud’s version of an anti-taunting rule. To put it in football terms, if Satan is the quarterback and you sack him, do not start shimmying (even if your name is Shimi).

Final thought: On Sukkot, Jews are supposed to shake their lulavs. That does not mean, however, that shaking other items is a good idea. For example, on Sukkot you should not shake open containers holding liquids or someone who is already nauseous.

By Jon Kranz

 

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