Having previously been taught that ‘the sick and their attendants are exempt from the mitzvah of sukkah’ (see Mishna Sukkah 2:4, 25a), and having previously been introduced to the principle that מצטער פטור מן הסוכה – ‘someone who experiences discomfort by being in the Sukkah is exempt from the duty of being in a sukkah’ (see Sukkah 25b), today’s daf (Sukkah 26a) explains that not only is someone who is dangerously sick (חולה שיש בו סכנה) exempt from the mitzvah of sukkah, but even someone who is feeling unwell (חולה שאין בו סכנה).
Moreover, we are also taught in today’s daf how Rav ruled that Rav Acha Bardela could sleep under a canopy in the sukkah (thereby, not fulfilling the mitzvah of sukkah according to most opinions) due to the mosquitoes, and that he also ruled that Rav Acha Bar Adda was exempt from the mitzvah of sukkah due to a foul odour emanating from within the sukkah.
In terms of the situations when we apply the principle of מצטער פטור מן הסוכה (someone who experiences discomfort by being in the Sukkah is exempt from the duty of being in a sukkah), the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 640:4) rules that it applies to those ‘who cannot sleep in the sukkah because of the wind, or because of flies, fleas, or anything similar, or because of a foul odour.’
The Rema (ibid.), quoting the Trumat HaDeshen (Siman 92), then adds an interesting factor. What if someone says that they don’t sleep as well in the sukkah as they do at home. For example, they can’t stretch out in the same way that they do at home. Are they exempt? The Rema answers that this is not defined as מצטער.
However, the Chacham Tzvi (Siman 94) is perplexed by this ruling, asserting – and these are my words – ‘a textbook definition of מצטער is not being able to sleep comfortably!’. However, in considering this challenge from the Chacham Tzvi, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach says that the Rema is correct. This is because a sukkah is a דירת עראי – a temporary dwelling – and to claim that not sleeping so well in a temporary dwelling is מצטער misses the point. As he says ‘this level of discomfort is part and parcel of the mitzvah of sukkah. It is as if the Torah directly tells you to experience this level of discomfort’ (Halichot Shlomo: Moadim p. 168).
But how far does this go? And how much discomfort are we expected to tolerate while fulfilling mitzvot? For one perspective on this important question, I would like to share a fascinating question asked of R’ Auerbach (see Sefer Maadnei Shlomo: Moadim pp. 79-80) relating to the principle of מצטער פטור מן הסוכה:
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach was once approached by a Baal Teshuvah who described how his family made fun of him and teased him about dwelling in a sukkah. This teasing caused him great anguish, and he asked whether he was exempt from the mitzvah of sukkah as he was a מצטער.
Rav Auerbach analysed this question, and he explained that this man’s situation is not comparable to the case of the flies in the sukkah since the flies cause physical discomfort which stop a person from entering a sukkah, whereas this man’s family is the cause of his discomfort which itself does not directly stop him from dwelling in a sukkah.
Consequently, Rav Auerbach encouraged the man to meditate on the words of Rabbeinu Yonah (in his ‘Yesod HaTeshuvah’), who writes that: ‘someone who is shamed for performing the mitzvot should not put aside this mitzvah due to the shame. Instead, they should be bold and should perform the mitzvah without paying attention to those who make fun of them’ and told him that this too should be our approach to the mitzvah of sukkah.
Undoubtedly, there are some mitzvot which are physically hard for us, and there are certainly occasions when such hardship means that we are exempt from their performance. At the same time, the Arba Turim (Orach Chaim 1) opens by informing us that we should be as bold as a leopard to serve our Creator, which means that while there may be times when people make light of the mitzvot that we perform, we should not cease performing the mitzvot, but instead, should be bold in our service of God.
(nb. the accompanying photo is from Benny Freidman’s song ‘Ivri Anochi – I’m a Jew and I’m Proud’ which can be watched at https://youtu.be/aii3fDdZnrM)