July 16, 2021

Sukkah 9

The Mishna in today’s daf (Sukkah 9a) presents a disagreement regarding the halachic validity of a ‘sukkah yeshana’ (literally, ‘an old sukkah’) – which actually means a sukkah on which s’chach has sat for over 30 days prior to Sukkot that had not expressly been placed there for the sake of the upcoming Sukkot festival.

According to Beit Shammai, this ‘old’ s’chach renders the sukkah invalid and must be renewed, while Beit Hillel permits the use a sukkah with ‘old’ s’chach. Significantly, we follow the position of Beit Hillel. Still, the Yerushalmi (Sukkah 1:2, 4b) stipulates that some minor act of ‘hitchadshut’ (renewal) must still be performed on a small section of the ‘old’ s’chach.

Admittedly, this requirement is not evident from the conclusion in the Bavli. Consequently, both the Rambam and the Rif make no reference to performing any renewal act on ‘old’ s’chach.

Other authorities (Rav Yehudai Gaon, Tosfot, the Rosh, the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch) state that the Yerushalmi’s demand ‘l’chadesh ba davar’ – to renew an element of [the s’chach] –  is an absolute requirement.

While others (Meiri, Ran, Ritva, Magen Avraham and Mishna Berura) rule that while a renewal act should, lechatchila (ideally) be performed on ‘old’ s’chach to demonstrate the intentionality of using it for the mitzvah, this is not an absolute requirement. Given this debate debate, where ‘old s’chach’ is sitting on a sukkah, common practice is to shake or momentarily lift a small section as an act of renewal. But what is the meaning behind such an act?

We have previously explained that s’chach reminds us of how God protected Bnei Yisrael as they journeyed through the wilderness, and that its shade represents our faith in God. Yet while the s’chach can technically fulfill its function even if it has been sitting on a sukkah for more than 30 days, its long-term presence on a sukkah can often mean that we forget its core message – which this is why we are required (according to some), and strongly encouraged (according to others), to perform a renewal act on the s’chach to ensure that we haven’t forgotten what it is spiritually intended to teach us.

Applying this to our lives, just as ‘old’ s’chach ideally needs a renewal act to help us remember its function and message, so too, people of faith can, at times, forget what it means to have faith, because anything that is perpetually present in our lives runs the risk that we take it for granted and forget its core message. But while we shake or momentarily lift up a small part of the s’chach as an act of renewal, what sort of renewal act should we be performing on our faith?

Faith, like s’chach, is often fragile; and faith, like s’chach, is always porous, and unfortunately the mistake we often make is that we view faith as if it is a solid concrete building with a watertight roof. But faith is not comparable to a ‘solid’ house, and faith is not ‘watertight.’ Instead, faith is like a sukkah – whose test of strength is, as the Gemara (Sukkah 24b) states, whether it can stay standing in response to a ‘ruach metzuya’ (literally, ‘a typical wind’, but which also translates as ‘the current spirit of the times’), and whose roof, which represents the protective shade of faith, can protect its inhabitants – notwithstanding the fact that it is both fragile and porous to the elements.

Just like the s’chach is shaken or momentarily lifted as an act of renewal, our faith is often renewed when we have undergone a challenging experience that has ‘shaken’ us, or an experience which has ‘lifted’ us, because through these events we are reminded that faith is not something that is fixed but is, instead, something that can be moved.

And this is why, if a sukkah has s’chach which has been there for over 30 days, it should be symbolically moved, because through doing this we are reminded that true faith must be something that moves us too.

Shabbat Shalom and wishing you a meaningful fast.

(nb. I won’t be posting my regular daf yomi insight on Motzei Shabbat or Sunday morning given that it is Tisha B’Av, but will בע”ה post thoughts on Sukkah 10-11 on Sunday night, Motzei Tisha B’Av)

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