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Q & A: Noy Sukka – Sukka Decorations (Conclusion)


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QUESTION: Is decorating the sukka part of the mitzva, or does the mitzva only require the sukka itself?
Moshe Jakobowitz
Brooklyn, NY
ANSWER: Last week we referred to the biblical commandment to dwell in booths on Sukkot (Leviticus 23:42). A covering of sechach (thatch), defined as any substance that grows in the ground, has to be used, as discussed in the Gemara (Sukka 36b-37a).While we understand that the walls and sechach together, form a halachically acceptable sukka, mention is made (Sukka 10a-b) of decorations hung on the walls and from the sechach. In fact, R. Yitzhak Yosef in (Yalkut Yosef) informs us that decorations are part of the commandment to “beautify” and glorify G-d, “zeh keli ve’anvehu”. Rambam, however, applies that to the Four Species (including the lulav and etrog) that we are commanded to take on Sukkot, rather than to the sukka decorations. If the decorations are seen as an integral part of the mitzva, that will affect their muktzeh status on the holiday as well.

* * *

The Gaon R. Moshe Sternbuch (Responsa Teshuvot Ve’Hanhagot, Orach Chayyim 307) comments on the baraita (Sukka 102-116) which we cited last week: “Therefore it seems that there is a din (a Halachic requirement) of noy sukka as a mitzva, and therefore [the decorations] are forbidden [to be used] since they are muktzeh because they were set apart for a mitzva.”

R. Sternbuch then cites the Mishna Berura (638:11), who quotes Elyahu Rabbah stating that it is a mitzva to hang up decorations in the sukka. The Mishna Berura also quotes the Shelah, who says that it is “proper” to beautify the sukka and decorate it (we understand the Shelah’s usage of the word “proper” to mean “a mitzva”). R. Sternbuch also notes that he has seen some Gedolei Yisrael who refrain from decorating the sukka.

We also have to make note of the minhag (custom) of Chabad to refrain from decorating the sukka, according to the hosafot (additions) at the end of Seder Orach Chayyim in Shulchan Aruch HaRav – Chabad edition of the Codes. We also find it in a sicha, a halachic discourse (Sukkot 1943) of the Rebbe Maharitz (Grand Rabbi Joseph I. Schneersohn, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, zt”l).

Therefore, continues R. Sternbuch, we have to explain this matter according to Teshuvot HaRashba (Volume 1:55): “The main matter here, according to my understanding, is what we derive from the verse (Leviticus 23:42), “Basukkot teshvu shiv’at yamim kol ha’ezrach beYisrael yeshvu basukkot – You shall dwell in booths for seven days; all who are natives in Israel shall dwell in booths.’” Commenting on that verse, the Gemara (Sukka 27a) explains “basukkot teshvu to mean “teshvu ke’ein taduru” – to sit (in the sukka) just as we dwell (in our house).

As for what may be used for thatch, the Torah has commanded us regarding the Festival of Sukkot (Deuteronomy 16:13), “Chag hasukkot ta’aseh lecha shiv’at yamim be’ospecha migornecha umi’yikvecha – You shall make the festival of Sukkot for seven days, when (after) you gather in from your threshing floor and from your winepress.” The Gemara (Sukka 12a) explains that this refers to the pesolet, leftover twigs and empty grape clusters remaining after the gathering in from the threshing floor and the winepress. Just as a person may hang up, in his home, decorations which are not part of the ceiling’s structure and are only secondary to it, strictly for the purpose of beautifying his house, so, too, is it allowed in the sukka to hang up items that are not part of the sechach and serve only to beautify the sukka and make the mitzva of sitting in it more pleasant.

Additionally, it is a choice mitzva to hang up beautiful items to endear the mitzva to oneself so that his [temporary] dwelling, the sukka, should be beautiful. These decorations are specifically not being hung for the purpose of sechach. The difference is explained (as we learned in the Mishna, 10a) regarding a sheet that is spread (above or below the sechach to protect those in the sukka from the sun’s heat or from falling twigs), where the sheet appears to be part of the sechach and its utilisation, and therefore it is not allowed. Decorations, however, which are used to beautify the dwelling and endear the mitzva of sukka, do not create a chatzitza, a separation between the people and the sechach, and they are allowed.

R. Sternbuch points out an unusual innovative approach (chiddush) in the Rashba’s words: the decorations are only permitted because they directly serve the purpose of the essence of the mitzva by enhancing the mitzva for the individual. Decorations would not be considered a separation between the individual and the sechach, a matter that would invalidate the sukka.

R. Sternbuch does not cite Tractate Shabbat (133b) to which R. Yitzhak Yosef refers, where decorating the sukka is seen as a fufillment of  “Zeh keli ve’anvehu.. – This is my G-d, I shall glorify him…” (Exodus 15:2). The Gemara considers a beautiful sukka to be a requirement, but Rashba explains that decorations serve to beautify and endear the sukka to the individual. His reasoning seems to indicate that other than for this purpose, no additional mitzva of hiddur is fulfilled when decorating the sukka. The rule of “Zeh keli ve’anvehu” applies only to the object itself that is used for a mitzva, such as tefillin, shofar, tzitzit, or an etrog, which we should all seek to beautify for the purpose of hiddur mitzva.

However, sukka decorations are not part of the object; rather, they are appendages. Therefore we must say that if it does not seem beautiful to the individual (or if a sukka with decorations does not appeal to him), it would not fulfill, for him, the requirement of “teshvu ke’ein taduru - sitting as one dwells,” and therefore it would serve as a separation between him and his sechach and would not be allowed.

R. Sternbuch concludes that the Gemara (loc. cit.) refers to the actual walls of the sukka, which are to be whole and of the best material.

R. Sternbuch then takes issue with the recent proliferation of paper and foil decorations that are hung under the sechach, which he feels to be of gentile origin. He would rather that decorations be hung at the sides and on the walls.

We can understand the sages who do not decorate the sukka. To them decorations do not beautify (indeed, beauty is in the eye of the beholder). However, each custom has its source, and even those who use large quantities of decorations have upon whom to rely. Everyone searches out Hashem in his own way.

In closing, I will mention a story told to me by my uncle, HaRav Sholom Klass, zt”l, and, yibbadel l’chayyim, my father, le’orech yamim tovim, about my great-grandfather, HaRav Yaakov Epstein, zt”l. When R. Epstein sought housing for his large family, he was known to skip the tour of the apartments and go straight to the backyards. After he had looked at a specific spacious backyard, he smiled and said, “Mir vel es nemen - We’ll take it.” R. Epstein was looking ahead for space fit for a sukka, which was more important to him than the apartment itself. He would always comment that the more beautiful one’s sukka is [to oneself], the more beautiful his actual home will be.

May the care we give our temporary dwellings, where we sit for a week at G-d’s command, bring us rewards in our present year-round homes as well as in our future homes, when Moshiach comes.

About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com.


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Question: My young daughter was recently diagnosed with autism. She does not function well socially and is extremely introverted, but we have noticed that she reacts very well to small animals. We reported this to her therapist who suggested that we get a dog or cat as a pet. We know that most religious people frown upon having pets, but we hate to see our daughter suffer and want to do anything that would make her happy. Would it be okay to own a pet in the circumstances we described?

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