It has been said by Rav Chaim of Volozhin (see his Ruach Chaim commentary on Avot 5:22) that the study of Hilchot Sukkah (the Laws of Sukkah) can provide us with the necessary insight to solve the hardest of halachic problems. But what is so unique about Hilchot Sukkah that prompted R’ Chaim to make this comment?
I believe that the answer to this question can be found in a teaching of Rav Kook (as cited in Moadei HaRe’iyah) who discusses the phrase וּפְרוֹשׂ עָלֵֽינוּ סֻכַּת שְׁלוֹמֶֽךָ – meaning “and spread upon us a canopy of peace” which we recite in the Ma’ariv service and who considers the connection between the Sukkah and peace.
Rav Kook answers by noting how Hilchot Sukkah contains numerous unique rules. For example, while most other areas of Jewish law define a house as one that is entirely surrounded by walls, a sukkah need only have 2 full walls and a ‘tefach’ long third wall. While we would expect that the s’chach for a sukkah must reach the walls of the sukkah, we are taught that as long as the gap between the kosher s’chach and the wall is no more than four amot, then the wall is considered to ‘bend’ (דופן עקומה) to meet the kosher s’chach. And similarly, if the walls of a sukkah do not entirely reach the floor or the roof, we are taught that the walls ‘stretch’ above or below respectively (גוד אסיק וגוד אחית).
Similarly, continues Rav Kook, the value of peace is so precious, and so necessary, that even if we cannot attain absolute peace, we should strive as best we can to achieve partial peace with other people and within and beyond our communities. And even if our peace has ‘gaps’, we pray that the gaps won’t be too large and that, just like the laws of the sukkah, we can ‘bend’ and ‘stretch’ to close those gaps.
Of course, one of the reasons for me sharing this insight is because tonight we begin celebrating Sukkot. However, a further reason relates to today’s daf (Ketubot 95a) where we are taught in the Mishna (Ketubot 10:6) about a complicated situation where there is a dispute about the sale of a field and where we are told that, וחוזרות חלילה עד שיעשו פשרה ביניהם – ‘they go around in circles [trying to resolve this question] until they reach a compromise between themselves’.
Considering this point, we often think that the halachic life demands that we are uncompromising. Yet what we learn, especially from Hilchot Sukkah, is how halacha contains compromises and how there are situations when we can – and should – ‘bend’, ‘stretch’ and ‘compromise’. No wonder Rav Chaim of Volozhin teaches us that the study of Hilchot Sukkah can provide us with the necessary insight to solve the hardest of halachic problems!