July 13, 2021

Sukkah 6

In addition to considerable discussion about the authority of the Oral Torah, today’s daf (Sukkah 6b) teaches that while a sukkah can have either four of three full walls, a sukkah must minimally have just two full walls and a third mini-wall (which need only be as long as a tefach – approx. 10 cm).
Yet, as Rabbi Moshe Sofer – otherwise known as the Chatam Sofer – explains (see Torat Moshe, Sukkot), while the Torah Sheb’al Peh (the Oral explanation of the Torah) is clear that two-and-a-bit walls is halachically permitted (as derived from the spelling of the word sukkot סכת without a ‘vav’), most Jews throughout history have generally built their sukkot with three of four walls, while only those for whom it was logistically necessary adopted the two-and-a-bit wall model. Nevertheless, there was a time in history when the Jewish people were urged to build two-and-a-bit wall sukkot, and this was in the time of Ezra HaSofer when some of the Jewish people returned to Israel to rebuild the Temple.
Ezra was a unique Torah leader whose mission it was to promote Torah living and encourage commitment to the people with respect to both the Written and Oral Torah – which was particularly necessary given their 52-year exile in Babylon which led to the assimilation of many Jews. Given this, having now returned to Jerusalem, Ezra taught the people about Sukkot and instructed them to ‘go out to the mountain and bring back olive branches… to make sukkot (סכת) as it is written’ (Nechemiah 8:15). We are then told that this is what they did, and that ‘they had not done it this way since the days of ..[Yehoshua] bin Nun’ (ibid. v. 17).
Considering these verses, and noting the spelling of the word סכת (without a ‘vav’), the Chatam Sofer explains how there were people and groups at that time who challenged the authenticity of the Oral Torah. In response to this, Ezra instructed the people to ‘make sukkot (סכת) as it is written’ (i.e. make sukkot according to the way our Rabbis interpreted the way this word is written) in order to encourage them to publicly commit themselves to both the Written and Oral Torah.
Today, there are many who discount and dismiss the authenticity of the Oral Torah. Yet, as Rabbi Sacks explains in his book ‘Crisis and Covenant’ (p. 255), such an attitude highlights a profound misunderstanding of Judaism. This is because, ‘since religious truth is absolute but not universal, it cannot be arrived at through (universal) reason but only through (particular) revelation. And since revelation is to be applied to the concrete human situation it must contain within itself the rules of its own interpretation, namely an oral as well as a written law. These ideas made no sense to Enlightenment thought with its implicit assumption that either (religious) truth is universal or it is not truth but subjective decision.’
As we know, there has been a steady growth in recent years of men and women studying daf yomi, and with this has also brought an increase in understanding and appreciation of the Written and Oral Torah. And so, by learning daf yomi – and especially Massechet Sukkah – we are not only engaged in the study of the Oral Torah, but also in our appreciation of what makes Judaism unique as well.
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