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It’s All About The Clouds
‘Have You Seen My Slave, Tabi, Who Is A Scholar…’
(Sukkah 20b)



The Tanna Kamma of the Mishna says that one who sleeps under a bed in a sukkah does not fulfill the mitzva of yeshivas sukkah, dwelling in a sukkah (because he is not beneath a valid sechach). To substantiate this halacha, the Mishna cites an incident where Rabban Gamaliel’s Canaanite slave, named Tabi, slept under a bed in the sukkah, prompting Rabban Gamaliel to praise his slave’s Torah scholarship. Tabi’s choice of a sleeping spot indicated that he was aware of the fact that Canaanite slaves are exempt from the mitzva of sukkah.

When a Jew purchases a Canaanite slave, he undergoes a conversion process through which he partially acquires the status of Israelite, albeit with certain conditions. Canaanite slaves have the same constraints as women regarding the performance of precepts. Rashi explains that women are exempt from yeshivas sukkah because it is a time-related mitzva, and therefore Canaanite slaves are exempt as well.


An Unusual Slave Retreats Under the Bed

The Yerushalmi (Sukkah 2:1) notes that even though women and Canaanite slaves are exempt from yeshivas sukkah, they are still permitted to perform the mitzva. [Indeed, the Ran (to Sukkah 20b s.v. “U’le’inyan halacha”) says that a woman or a Canaanite slave who dwells in a sukkah should recite a blessing because they fulfill a mitzva, even though they are exempt (see Rema, Orach Chayim 589:6).] Consequently, the Yerushalmi asks why Tabi slept under a bed. The Yerushalmi answers that there were many scholars using the sukkah and Tabi retreated under the bed to make room for those who were obligated in the mitzva. The reason he did not leave the sukkah entirely was that he wanted to listen in on the scholars’ Torah discussion, as he had an unquestionable thirst for Torah.


Quid Pro Quo

The Gemara (Shabbos 23a; Megillah 4a) states that women are obligated to kindle Chanukah lights and hear the Megillah even though these are time-related mitzvos because women, too, were included in the miracle of Chanukah and of Purim and were spared from danger. Tosafos (Pesachim 108b s.v “hayu be’oso ha’nes”) ask why women are exempt from yeshivas sukkah. Since they were included in the miracle of yetzias Mitzrayim and were protected by the Clouds of Glory – the Ananei HaKavod – they too should be obligated to commemorate the miracle by dwelling in the sukkah.


Sign Of Forgiveness

The Vilna Gaon (in his commentary to Shir HaShirim 1:4) explains that we are commanded to dwell in a sukkah to commemorate the return of the Ananei HaKavod after Bnei Yisrael were forgiven (on the 15th of Tishrei) for the sin of the Golden Calf.


Righteous Women

The Chasam Sofer (Otzar Mefarshei HaTalmud to Sukkah 10b – see Responsa Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim 188, where he offers a different explanation) remarks that according to the Vilna Gaon, the question of Tosafos is answered. Chazal tell us that while the men donated golden ornaments for the making of the Golden Calf, their wives righteously refused to participate (see Midrash Tanchuma, Ki Tissa 19; Targum Yonasan to Shemos 23:3; and Rabbenu Bachya to Shemos 35:21). The Chasam Sofer suggest that since the women did not take part in the sin of the Golden Calf, they were never excluded from Ananei HaKavod. Therefore, saying that they, too, were included in the miracle is not applicable to the mitzva of sukkah, because the women never experienced the loss of Ananei HaKavod and their subsequent reappearance on the 15th of Tishrei, as did the men.


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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.