July 24, 2021

Sukkah 17

Today’s daf (Sukkah 17a) continues to discuss the laws of constructing a sukkah and how our Sages imagined relatively small gaps in the roofs and walls of a sukkah as being closed. For example, we learn about the rule of ‘Dofen Akuma’ (literally ‘bent wall’) which asserts that an area of roof above a sukkah wall can be regarded as being a continuation of that wall.

In fact, it is noteworthy that many laws of Sukkah involve a broad range of halachic ‘compromises’. For example, the Sukkah itself need only have 2 full walls and a third symbolic wall. Additionally, there is the principle of ‘Lavud’ which teaches us to view an empty space without schach as if there is schach. And the rule of Gud Asik teaches that walls that are of a significant height need not touch the s’chach.

Significantly, every Friday night we pray that G-d ‘spread a sukkah of peace upon us’, which prompted Rav Kook to ask about the connection between a sukkah and peace, to which he responded as follows: ‘Just as the laws of Sukkah validate incomplete walls and missing parts of roofs, so too, peace is so precious and so necessary in our world that even if comprehensive peace is unachievable, it is still worthy to pursue partial peace’ (Moadei HaR’aiyah p. 97). As Rabbi Sacks similarly explains, ‘there is a fundamental difference between the end-of-days peace of religious unity and the historical peace of compromise and coexistence. The pursuit of the former can sometimes be the most formidable enemy of the latter.’ (The Dignity of Difference p. 10)

Yet this distinction between comprehensive and partial walls, and between comprehensive and partial peace, also applies to other areas of halacha as well. For example, Rav Chaim of Volozhin writes on the principle of הפוך בה והפוך בה (turn it over and turn it over, for everything is in it – Avot 5:22) that ‘it is possible that a concept found in the laws of Sukkah may be helpful in enabling an agunah to remarry’ (Ruach Chaim on Avot 5:22).

While this statement could be interpreted in a variety of ways, what I believe it alludes to is the fact that there are times when the needs of an individual should push us to settle with a good enough halachic solution that works according to many halachic opinions, rather than wait for a so-called perfect solution according to all halachic opinions.

Nowadays, there are many who pursue perfect halachic solutions over imperfect ones, but like Rabbi Sacks emphasizes, ‘the pursuit of the former can sometimes be the most formidable enemy of the latter’. And this is why, every Friday night when we experience the peace that we seek to create in our home, we pray that G-d ‘spread a sukkah of peace upon us’ – and in doing so we remind ourselves that we can learn much about peace – and so much more aswell – from the laws of the sukkah.

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