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The Proper Way to Hold a Mitzvah

If one holds the object of a mitzvah upside down he has not fulfilled the mitzvah.

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This column is dedicated to the refuah sheleimah of Shlomo Eliezer ben Chaya Sarah Elka.

The Gemara in Sukkah 45b derives from the pasuk in this week’s parshah – that the k’rashim (vertical beams) of the Mishkan must be made of cedar wood standing upward – that all mitzvos must be performed while the item is in the upward position (the way it grew). If one holds the object of a mitzvah upside down he has not fulfilled the mitzvah. The Gemara says that it is for this reason that if one holds any of his four minim that we take on Sukkos upside down, he has not fulfilled the mitzvah.

The Acharonim are bothered by the following question: Why do we not find a requirement to have the cedar wood that is used for the other vessels of the Mishkan standing erect, the way it grew? Why do we only find this requirement by the k’rashim? After all, since the Gemara in Sukkah based all other mitzvos from the k’rashim, why do we not find this requirement by the other vessels of the Mishkan?

The Panim Yafos (written by the Haflah) suggests that all the vessels of the Mishkan did indeed require that the wood be erected standing upward, the way it grew. However, it is implicit from the absence of this halacha in the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah that he was of the opinion that this was not a requirement by the other vessels of the Mishkan. The Rambam only writes that the k’rashim must be made with the wood erect and standing upward. the way it grew.

The Meshech Chochmah posits that only the k’rashim were required to be erected upward, the way the wood grew. He explains that the reason that the other vessels do not have this requirement is because the rule only applies to freestanding items. For example, when the Bnei Yisrael traveled, the k’rashim would dissemble the Mishkan and the k’rashim would stand alone. Therefore, they are required to be erected standing upward. However, the other vessels, e.g. the aron, shulchan and mizbeach, were never dissembled and included other materials – such as gold – that did not grow. Thus, they were not required to be erected upward, the way the wood grew.

The Tur (Orach Chaim 630) writes that there are some who are careful to erect the walls of the sukkah with the wood in an upward position, the way it grew. The Tur argues with them and says that this is unnecessary since the walls of a sukkah may be erected from any material – even from something that did not grow at all – and that the requirement of erecting something the way it grew does not apply, even when using something that did grow. The Bach says that according to the Tur one should be required to place the sechach in an upward position since sechach may only be comprised of materials that grew.

The Meshech Chochmah quoted above concludes by mentioning that one should look at the abovementioned Tur and Bach. Presumably he intended to answer the Bach’s question with the same principle that he applied earlier, namely that we only apply the rule that something must be erected or held in an upright position the way it grew when, at least occasionally, the item is freestanding. The sechach of a sukkah is not meant to ever be removed and thus is connected to the walls that are not required to be comprised of material that grew. Therefore, according to the Meshech Chochmah, the sechach of a sukkah does not have to be standing upward the way it grew.

The Machatzis HaShekel (651:21) says in the name of the Rama, and the sefer, Binyan Shlomo (siman 48) quotes from the Maharlach in Orach Chaim 630, that if one holds his lulav sideways he has fulfilled his obligation in the mitzvah. This is because even sideways is considered the way it grew; only if one turns the item upside down does he not fulfill his obligation. The reason they cite is because occasionally a tree will tilt sideways, thus placing or holding the item sideways is not contradictory to the way it grew.

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