TALMUD.The 7th Massekhet – Sukka

The name used in the Torah for the month of Tishrei is the Seventh Month, HaĤodesh HaShevi’i. The Sages interpreted the name homiletically and said that the month is replete with mitzvot, where the word for replete, mesuba, is from the same root as hashevi’i (Vayikra Rabba 29). More specifically, they characterized Sukkot as a Festival whose mitzvot are abundant. This wealth of mitzvot is manifest in the Torah in the numerous verses devoted to the halakhot governing the Festival. However, beyond the mitzvot explicitly mentioned in the Torah, there are additional mitzvot that were received as halakhot transmitted to Moses from Sinai, and they too impart a unique character to the Festival.

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56 Responses to TALMUD.The 7th Massekhet – Sukka

  1. Sukka 51a-b – The return to Egypt

    The Mishnah on our daf (page) states: Anyone who has not seen the simhat bet ha-sho’eva – the joyousness of the water libation ceremony – has not seen true joy in their lifetime. The Mishnah describes how the Sages would sing songs and juggle torches, accompanied by an orchestra of levi’im, all to the light of large candelabra, which were large bowls of oil lit by the young kohanim who climbed ladders to do so.

    Another impressive sight described by the baraita was the great synagogue in Alexandria, Egypt, which held double 600,000 people (the number 600,000 is significant because it was the number of people who left Egypt to come to Israel). The synagogue was so large that someone was appointed by the congregants to stand on a wooden platform in the middle and wave a flag so that everyone would know when it was time to respond “Amen” to the hazzan. Furthermore, every guild had its own section in the synagogue so that when a stranger would come, he could find his fellow tradesmen who would help support him and his family.

    With this grand introduction, the Gemara concludes by quoting Abaye, who says that this entire community was destroyed by Alexander Mokdon because of their disregard for the passage forbidding Jews to return to Egypt (see Devarim 17:16).

    In the Jerusalem Talmud, Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai is quoted as saying that the prohibition against returning to Egypt appears three times in the Torah, and when Jews returned for the third time, their fate was sealed. The Maharsha connects this with the story at the end of Sefer Yirmiyahu, where the prophet not only forbids the people from leaving Israel and going to Egypt, but also tells them that if they choose to return they will be killed by sword, starvation and disease (Yirmiyahu 42:17).

    It should be noted that Alexander Mokdon cannot possibly be the general who wiped out the Jewish community in Alexandria, something already pointed out by the rishonim. The story apparently refers to the Roman Caesar Targenos (Trajan), who put down a Jewish rebellion against Rome about 60 years after the destruction of the second Temple.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  2. Sukka 52a-b – The evil inclination

    Most of today’s daf (page) focuses on the yetzer ha-ra – the evil inclination.

    Rav Avira expounds: There are seven names given to the yetzer ha-ra:
    1.God called it ra – evil (see Bereshit 8:21)
    2.Moshe called it arel – uncircumcised (see Devarim 10:16)
    3.King David called it tameh – defiled (see Tehillim 51:12)
    4.King Solomon called it soneh – hated (see Mishle 25:21-22)
    5.Yeshayahu called it mikhshol – a stumbling block (see Yeshayahu 57:14)
    6.Yehezkel called it even – a stone (see Yehezkel 36:26)
    7.Yo’el called it hatzefoni – the hidden one (see Yo’el 2:20)

    One explanation for the different names is that they express different levels of evil, ranging from the latent evil that exists in every person (ra), to the ability of the yetzer ha-ra to hide the good from a person (arel), to act as an enemy by encouraging evil behaviors. Furthermore, even someone who tries to avoid it by casting it aside will find himself stumbling over it (mikhshol) in the form of a difficult to remove (even) temptation that is hard to even locate in order to avoid it, since it is hidden (tzafun) deeply in one’s heart.

    The Gemara also introduces us to a passage in Zekhariah (12:12) that describes a eulogy that is attended by all the people of the land. According to one opinion, this is the funeral of the yetzer ha-ra in the next world. At that time it will appear before the righteous as a huge mountain, which leads them to lament, “how could we have overcome this great mountain,” and before the sinners as a strand of hair, leading them to lament, “it would have been so easy to overcome this thin strand of hair.”

    Why does the yetzer ha-ra appear differently to different groups of people? The Ri”af suggests that, as time passes, the yetzer ha-ra grows larger and larger. The sinners who trip up right away cannot comprehend how they were felled by something so small. The righteous, who withstand temptation, see it as a huge obstacle that they still managed to overcome.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  3. Sukka 53a-b – Are you here?

    As we learned in the Mishnah at the beginning of the perek (chapter – see 50a), the Sages and other members of the community would dance and sing as part of the simhat bet ha-sho’evah (joyous water libation) procession. The Gemara on our daf (page) quotes a tosefta that recorded some of the songs. According to the tosefta, those dancers who grew up devoted to Torah would sing praise for the fact that their youth did not embarrass their old age. The ba’ale teshuvah – those who became committed to keeping the Torah only later in life – sang in praise of their old age, which made up for the sins of their youth. All sang together, praising those who did not sin and encouraging those who did to repent.

    It is taught in the Tosefta: They said about Hillel the Elder that when he was rejoicing at the Celebration of the Place of the Drawing of the Water he said this: If I am here, everyone is here; and if I am not here, who is here? In other words, one must consider himself as the one upon whom it is incumbent to fulfill obligations, and he must not rely on others to do so.

    Hillel ha-Zaken lived during the second Temple period and participated in these processions. His unusual comment is interpreted by Rashi to refer to God – i.e., Hillel is speaking on behalf of God, that when His presence is in a given place, then everything is there, but if His presence is missing, then there is nothing of value in that place.

    Some explain that Hillel was speaking on behalf of the community at large, and was simply including himself among them.

    The Talmud Yerushalmi explains that Hillel’s statement reflected what he saw going on in the crowd. If the people were dancing for their own pleasure and not for the joy of the holiday, then he would sing that if the community were not gathered for the appropriate purpose, then who was there? Does God need crowds of people in the Temple? Does He not have an infinite number of angels who praise him? On the other hand, if Hillel saw that the people were dancing with the proper intent in praise of God, he would sing out that since the community is here, God desires the Jewish People more than anything else and it is as though everything is here.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  4. Sukka 54a-b – The timing of the holidays

    Our Gemara discusses the timing of Sukkot and comments that the first day cannot fall out on a Friday. If the new moon of the month of Tishrei appears on a Friday, which would cause the 15th of the month (the first day of Sukkot) to fall out on Friday, as well, we push off the first day of the month – Rosh HaShana – to Shabbat. The Gemara explains that this reconfiguration of the lunar calendar is necessary because we want to avoid having Yom Kippur, which is on the tenth day of Tishrei, fall out on a Sunday.

    The discussion in the Gemara is based on the contemporary lunar calendar which is a set calendar and is not based on testimony from witnesses who come to the Sanhedrin to report on their seeing the new moon. According to our calendar, Rosh HaShana can never fall out on Sunday, Wednesday, or Friday, so Sukkot, which is exactly two weeks later on the 15th of the month, cannot fall on those days either. This arrangement is made in order to avoid having Yom Kippur fall on either Friday or Sunday, since two days in a row (including Shabbat) on which all work – even cooking – is forbidden, would be difficult for people.

    According to some sources, it appears that even when the calendar was based on witnesses who came to testify that they saw the new moon, various methods were employed to insure that Yom Kippur would not fall out immediately before or after Shabbat. Nevertheless, it is likely that, on occasion, it would be impossible to shift the day, since a month cannot be less than 29 days long (according to our present-day calendar, Rosh HaShana is sometimes pushed off from the actual new moon by two full days to accommodate the needs of these holidays) and Yom Kippur would fall out on Friday or Sunday.

    According to the Rambam, the shift in the calendar serves another purpose, as well. He believes that pushing off Rosh HaShana allows for a more precise correlation between the solar calendar and the lunar months, correcting minor discrepancies that exist even when the leap year is added at the correct time.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  5. Sukka 55a-b – The song of the day

    We traditionally close our daily morning prayers with one of the mizmorei Tehillim – Psalms. This mizmor is taken from the daily Psalm sung when the morning sacrifice – the tamid shel shahar – was brought. Our Gemara quotes a baraita that describes how, in the Bet ha-Mikdash, a special mizmor was sung in connection with the musaf sacrifice on each day of Sukkot. It is interesting to note that only the mizmorim for hol ha-mo’ed – the intermediary days – are enumerated in the baraita, while the holidays themselves are not explained. Although it does not appear in our Gemara, Massekhet Soferim does offer Psalms for the holidays, as well; mizmor 76, which refers to God’s sukka (see verse 3) is mentioned as the mizmor sung on the first day, and mizmor 12, entitled lamenatze’ah al ha-sheminit was the Psalm of Shemini Atzeret, the eighth day of the Sukkot celebrations.

    There are a number of explanations given for the choice of particular mizmorim for each day of Sukkot. The Me’iri summarizes them as follows:

    •Day one (as referred to by the Gemara, but it is actually the second day of Sukkot): Mizmor 29, which includes “the voice of God over the waters” and is understood as referring to nisukh ha-mayim – the water libation.
    •Day two (third day): Mizmor 50, which mentions the obligation to fulfill the vows that were made to God (see verse 14), something that was traditionally taken care of while in Jerusalem for the holiday.
    •Day three and Day four (fourth and fifth days): Mizmor 94, whose focus is on God taking vengeance against the enemies of the Jewish people. During second Temple times, when the Jews were subject to oppression by outside forces, this would have been an appropriate Psalm to say in prayer.
    •Day five (sixth day): Mizmor 81, whose closing passage discusses the generous produce yielded by the Land of Israel (see verse 17).
    •Day six (Hoshanah Rabbah – the seventh day): Mizmor 82, whose focus is on God sitting in judgment. This is appropriate, for the last day of hol ha-mo’ed Sukkot – Hoshanah Rabbah – is traditionally seen as a day of judgment for the year’s supply of water.

    According to Rashi, aside from days three and four (when a single mizmor was split in half), the entire psalm was sung together with the musaf sacrifice. The Ritva argues that only a selection of the mizmor was chosen to accompany the korban.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  6. Sukka 56a-b – The family of Bilga

    The closing story in Massekhet Sukka is a sad one.

    In it we learn of the priestly family of Bilga, whose rights and privileges in the Temple were curtailed. Rav Shlomo Adani explains in his Melekhet Shlomo that the punishments – receiving their portion of the lehem ha-panim (the shewbread) in the south, and having their ring for slaughtering and their window sealed up – all indicated that they were finished with their work in the Temple and were about to leave.

    What led to these restrictions? The Gemara gives two explanations:
    1.When it was their turn to serve in the Temple the family came late – or perhaps, as suggested by the Rashash, not all of them came – and the next family was forced to work a double shift to make up for their absence.
    2.Miriam the daughter of Bilga rejected Judaism and married a Greek soldier. When the Greeks entered the Temple sanctuary and defiled it, Miriam kicked the altar with her shoe and shouted “Lokos, Lokos [wolf, wolf], until when will you consume the property of the Jewish people, and yet you do not stand with them when they face exigent circumstances?” (The Maharsha explains that the metaphor of the altar as a wolf stemmed from the parallel between a wolf that attacked and ate sheep and the altar upon which the daily korban tamid – a sheep – was brought regularly.)

    The Jerusalem Talmud sees her behavior as so problematic that it asks why the family of Bilga did not lose their rights entirely, answering that the 24 family mishmarot (watches) were an essential part of the order of the Temple service and could not be easily done away with.

    Do we penalize the entire watch of Bilga because of his daughter? Abaye said: Yes, as people say, the speech of a child in the marketplace is learned either from that of his father or from that of his mother. Miriam would never have said such things had she not heard talk of that kind in her parents’ home.

    The Gemara asks: And due to Miriam’s father and mother, do we penalize an entire watch? Abaye said: Woe unto the wicked, woe unto his neighbor.

    In order to end the Massekhet on a happier note, the Gemara also quotes Abaye as teaching, “Good fortune to a tzaddik (a righteous person), and to his neighbor, as well.”

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

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