Succos is the holiday in which we move out of our home into the succah. Which activities are included in the obligation to “live” in the succah? Is simply sitting there doing nothing a mitzva? Why do we use nice dishes in the succah? Can a pot be brought into the succah? Can an oven-to-table dish be used to serve it in the succah? What foods must be eaten in a succah, and which do not require one? Can a gluten-free meal be eaten outside the succah? Which beverages require a succah? Where is it preferable to sit and visit with friends? What must be done to maintain the succah’s sanctity? Is sleeping in the succah compulsory? Why didn’t most people sleep in the succah in Europe? Of this and more in the following article.
Suffering in the Succah
The mitzva of succah requires us to actually make it our temporary home-base for the duration of the holiday. On the other hand, halacha exempts one who suffers in his succah environment. What suffering means is different for every person and in every context, and providing a blanket halacha is difficult. Chazal outlined several general examples which we will discuss.
This week’s article will provide the broad definitions and background for the mitzva of dwelling in the succah; next week’s article will discuss various scenarios defined as “suffering in the succah”.
The Mitzva of Dwelling in a Succah
What is the essence of the mitzva of succah? Eating, sleeping, and spending time there are a result of the mitzva, but how is the mitzva itself defined? The mitzva of dwelling in the succah, halacha tells us, is transferring our living quarters from our regular home to a succah for the full seven (or eight, outside of Eretz Yisroel) days of the holiday.
As a result of the succah being a home, we must accord it with the same honor we do our homes. One who keeps his tabletop covered with a tablecloth at all times should do so for the table in the succah. One who decorates his home with pictures, throw covers etc., should decorate his succah in a similar manner – a succah should be a home in every way.
Every extra feature added to the succah to establish it as a home enhances the mitzva, and every additional action done in the succah, even if not halachically required, adds to the mitzva of living in the succah.
A required mitzva on Succos is to eat a kezayis of bread in the succah on the first night of the holiday.
Home Sweet Home
Homes, as we know them, are a collection of rooms, each designated for another purpose – in bedrooms people sleep; in kitchens they cook; dining rooms are for special meals; and living rooms are for socializing. Bathrooms, storage rooms, and laundry rooms all serve their own purpose.
In earlier times, houses were built with an outer room in which activities such as cooking, cleaning, washing etc. took place, and an inner room in which people slept, ate, and lived. Which of the areas is the succah meant to exchange?
This question has two practical ramifications: it defines how the succah is supposed to look, and which activities should be done inside.
For example – industrious housewives might understand that moving into the succah means bringing in the kitchen sink. However, when we understand what living space the succah is meant to exchange, we can easily understand what to do and what not to do in the succah (washing dishes, for example!).
In modern terms we could say the succah is meant to be our living quarters: a cross between a living room-dining room and bedroom. As a result, we must arrange the succah as we would arrange this living space at home.
The succah is not intended to exchange our storage, office, kitchen, or laundry room. These rooms were used for the activities Chazal define as those done in the “outer room”, not in the living area.
Activities in the Succah
All activities commonly done in a family room – eating, playing, talking, reading — should be done in the succah. As the Shulchan Aruch writes (OC 639:1): “The succah must be used for all our living activities – eating, drinking, sleeping, resting, reading, talking, learning and praying as one would usually do at home.”
Eating a meal or settling down to sleep are activities that have another status – doing so outside the succah is forbidden since it demonstrates one’s main living space is elsewhere, not in the succah.
One who temporarily, due to external reasons, cannot conduct certain activities in the succah – the classic example is adverse weather – should conduct these activities inside the house. This temporary transfer of activity location does not run counter to the succah that one must consider his succa as his home since even at home if the rain would be pouring in through a window or the first floor would be flooded one would transfer his activities elsewhere.
This explains why the poskim write that one who built his succah originally in a place where he knew that dwelling in it will cause him anguish, suffering, or discomfort did not fulfil the mitzva of succah. Only if it was built where dwelling in it will not necessarily cause harm, danger, or anguish can one be exonerated from dwelling in it due to a sudden onset of one of the above.
The second halacha we learn from this principle is the obligation to honor the succah and set it up and decorate it as one would do to his home. Beautiful dishes, home décor, tablescapes… everything we do to make our homes beautiful, homey and inviting should be done for the succah (OC 639:1). The Chayei Adam (147:2) adds that preferably, one should even leave his table at home bare to clearly establish that his home is now only in the succah. Howevrer, there is no problem if housewife who finds this offensive covers her tabletop since she is not commanded to dwelling in the succah and therefore, she may decide that her home is not the succah.
Utensils people don’t usually bring to the table (measuring cups, mixer parts, cutting boards, etc.) should not be brought into the succah. As for pots and oven-to-tableware, it depends on the culture and utensils. Some decorative pots are used for serving respected guests or at important occasions, and therefore can be used to serve in the succah despite being used to cook in. Other pots or trays are never used for serving or eating — they are reserved exclusively for food preparation. These should not be brought into the succah. Even those utensils used in the kitchen but not for respectable meals (old plastic dishes) should not be brought into the succah (Mishna Brura 639:5). The Mishna Brura adds that one who must eat from the pot because he lacks other dishes can do so in the succah, if it is his normal behavior.
Dirty dishes, silverware, used paper goods which people don’t leave on the table after mealtime should be removed from the succah immediately after use. Drinking glasses which are used throughout the day may be left in the succah (Shulchan Aruch OC 639:1).
Any regular full meal cannot be eaten outside the succah (OC 639:2) unless it meets the criteria which we will outline in next week’s instalment. A temporary meal or snack which people do eat outside their home can be eaten outside the succah. At the same time, one who is careful not to even drink a sip of water outside the succah is praiseworthy.
How is temporary meal defined? Anything between 50-100 cubic centimetres of baked or cooked grain from the five species (wheat, barley, spelt, rye, oats).
A gluten-free meal, even if it is a full breakfast, lunch, or supper is halachically considered a temporary meal, and does not require a succah (Mishna Brura 639:38). However, some poskim are stringent (Chayei Adam) and require them to be eaten in the succah. Ideally, one should be scrupulous to eat all meals in the succah, especially if it is the main meal of the day, whether it is gluten-free or not.
When cooking, one is permitted to taste the dish in the kitchen, even numerous times. Even if at the end the amount adds up to a full meal, going into the succah to taste is not necessary since tasting during cooking is considered a temporary eating, not a meal. Since tasting is done in the kitchen, not in the main living area no succah is necessary for it (Mishna Brura 639:12).
The Ran (Succah 11a) quotes the Gemara where we are told of various Tana’im and how they observed the mitzva of dwelling in the succah: Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai would taste dishes in the succah (despite them being cooked in the kitchen); Rabban Gamliel took two dates and water up to eat in the succah; on the other hand Rabbi Tzadok would eat less than an egg-size of bread outside the succah. These examples teach us that even when not halachically obligated, taking even small amounts of food to eat in the succah is praiseworthy. At the same time, one who is not scrupulous and eats a temporary meal outside the succah is not seen as one who disregards the mitzvos, since even Rabbi Tzadok did so. This ruling is noted by the Mishna Brura (Biur Halacha 639:2).
The Brisker Rav defined it this way: one who would forgo the snack if he had to take it to eat in the succah, can eat it outside the succah. But one hungry enough to go to the bother to take his food to eat in the succah – should indeed do so. In both cases, one who is scrupulous and eats everything in the succah is praiseworthy.
The Mishna Brura writes (639:13) that one who made an appointment to sit with friends and talk over a glass of wine must do so in the succah since it is considered a set drinking date. Similarly, the cup of Kiddush or Havdalah is considered a permanent drinking meeting and must be done in the succah (ibid, footnote 30). The Mishna Brura writes that for other beverages which people also make up to meet to drink together such as beer or liquor (and today also tea and coffee) doing so in the succah is preferable. However, since reciting he bracha of “leishev b’succah” is questionable in this situation, it is preferable to do so with a food that requires the bracha (one made of the five grains).
Drinking in a temporary manner (even wine) can be done outside the succah.
The Brisker Rav, who was known to be very scrupulous in his mitzva observance, would drink water outside the succah when he felt he would be willing to forgo the water if he had to take it to the succah.
Spending Time in the Succah
Spending time in the succah is a mitzva, as is doing as many activities as possible there. Visiting a friend, talking on the phone, resting, reading, learning Torah — should all be done in the succah. (See next instalment what to do if the succah is too noisy for these activities). The Chazon Ish writes (Succahs Chaim p.324) that although everything should be done in the succah, a succah is not a prison, and one need not feel tied to his succah. Rather, one should try to do anything he would do at home – in the succah.
The Mishna Brura (639:2) writes that the succah is a very holy place, and talking of mundane matters should be limited. One should make every effort to only speak of spiritual matters in the succah, and certainly nothing forbidden such as lashon hara, rechilus, etc. One who feels himself unworthy of entering the succah due to its holiness, though, is getting it wrong – in using his succah properly, its holiness will inspire him to infuse his own interactions with holiness and become worthy of dwelling in it.
The Mate Ephraim (chapter 625:65) writes that one who can only speak words of Torah in the succah is praiseworthy, but even one who cannot, should not sit in his succah quiet as a rock because it negates his joy of the holiday, and one should not take on practices beyond one’s spiritual level. One should try to make spiritual reference in his conversation, such as discuss why we sit in a succah, what a succah means, etc.
The week of Succos is spent immersed in a holy environment, but fear of desecrating it should not chase us out. On the contrary – we must make every effort to elevate ourselves to become worthy of this precious mitzva. And the more effort we invest in it, that much more we will reap.
The Shulchan Aruch writes (OC 639:2) that sleeping, even a temporary nap, outside the succah is forbidden. However, the Rama writes that in Europe it was acceptable to be lenient not to sleep in the Succah. In his opinion the reason is because succahs didn’t allow for couples to sleep together. Most poskim argue with this reasoning, maintaining that only in extreme weather or where there were safety concerns was it customary to be lenient. For practical ruling in specific situations, we recommend seeking rabbinic guidance.