The Talmud in Tractate Megilla [32a] teaches that a person should begin reviewing the laws of a holiday 30 days before the holiday. I usually do this by studying “Hararei Kedem”, a two-volume collation of shiurim given by Rav J.B. Soloveichik on the holidays. This year, a particular shiur regarding Sukkot caused my eyebrows to shoot skywards.

To understand why, we require some background. The Mishnah in Tractate Kiddushin [Chapter 3] teaches that women are exempt from the performance of all time-related positive mitzvot. Examples of these mitzvot include shaking the lulav (performed only on Sukkot) and wearing tefillin (performed only during the daytime)[1]. One of the mitzvot that women are exempt from is the mitzvah of sukkah. That is to say, while I must hunt for a sukkah in order to eat a slice of pizza, my wife does not. Rav Soloveichik compares the mitzvah of eating in a sukkah, from which women are exempt, to the mitzvah of drinking four cups of wine on Pesach, from which they are not exempt. The reason that women must drink four cups wine on Pesach, even though it is a time-related positive mitzvah, is discussed in the Talmud in Tractate Pesachim [108a].The Talmud rules that women are not exempt from this mitzvah because “they were part of the miracle” (Af hem hayu b’oto ha’ness) – both men and women experienced the shock and the awe of the exodus. Rav Soloveichik asks why women should not be required to sit in the sukkah for the very same reason. After all, the Torah unequivocally states that we must sit in the sukkah [Vayikra 23:43]: “so that your generations should know that I housed the Children of Israel in sukkot when I took them out of Egypt”. Both men and women lived in sukkot during their forty-year sojourn in the desert. So why doesn’t my wife have to eat pizza in the sukkah me?

Rav Soloveichik answers that the principle of “they were part of the miracle” is actually a subset of another principle called “Pirsumei Nisa” – “Publicizing a miracle”. Examples of Pirsumei Nisa include the lighting of Chanukah candles and the reading of the megilla on Purim. These mitzvot are performed in ways that maximize the exposure that the mitzvah receives. For instance, Chanukah candles are lit in a location (outdoors) and at a time (immediately after dark while people are still walking the streets) that maximize their visibility[2]. The reason that women must drink four cups of wine on Pesach stems from Pirsumei Nisa: by drinking four cups of wine as part of the Pesach Seder, we re-enact the exodus, showing how Am Yisrael left Egypt “with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm”. For this reason, women are required to perform the mitzvah.

What about sukkah? Here’s where things get hairy. Here is how Rav Soloveichik differentiates between the mitzvah of sukkah and the mitzvah of drinking four cups of wine at the Seder: For a mitzvah to be considered Pirsumei Nisa, the performance of the mitzvah has to be a part of publicizing the mitzvah, and this is not the case when we sit in the sukkah. He writes, “When the Torah says ‘so that your generations should know’, this knowledge is not a part of the mitzvah, rather, it is a reason for the mitzvah, and therefore the participation of the women in this particular miracle is insufficient to make them liable for its performance”. Huh[3]?

I’d like to try to elucidate Rav Soloveichik’s answer by taking a closer look at the concept of Pirsumei Nisa. Who is the intended recipient of the publicity? Are we trying to impress the nations of the world? Perhaps the message is being addressed to our Jewish neighbours? Rav Simcha Zissel (“The Elder”) of Kelm, writing in “Chochma u’Mussar”, suggests that intended audience in none other than ourselves. When we light the Chanukah candles, we are reminding ourselves that the victory over the Greek Seleucids was not a result of military strategy or crafty use of the topography, but, rather, it was the Hand of Hashem. When we read the megilla in a packed shul we are reminding ourselves that the victory over the Persians was not a result of political intrigue or circumstance, but, rather, it was the Hand of Hashem. What about four cups of wine on Pesach? The shock and awe of the miracles at the exodus were undoubtedly the Hand of Hashem. Even we know that! The Elder of Kelm answers that this is precisely the point: just as we are absolutely certain that it was Hashem that took us out of Egypt, we should have the same certainty that it was Hashem, and not the Maccabees, that defeated Antiochus, and that it was Hashem, and not Mordechai or Esther, that spoiled Haman’s plot to exterminate World Jewry.

What does the Torah mean when it commands us to “know” that Hashem housed Am Yisrael in sukkot when they were in the Sinai Desert? Why doesn’t the Torah command us to “remember”, the same way that we are commanded [Devarim 16:3] “to remember the day you left Egypt”? Rav Soloveichik, writing in “Al HaTeshuva”, teaches that “knowledge” is more than data stored in the brain. To use twenty-first century slang, “knowing” something means “getting your head around” something. When Hashem tells Avraham [Bereishit 15:13] “You shall surely know that your children will be strangers in a strange land…”, Hashem is telling Avraham that he must understand that in order for Am Yisrael to reach their destiny, they must undergo four hundred painful years of slavery and torment. But you must understand – you must internalize – that this phase is critical and that it cannot be avoided.

How can we implement this understanding on the “knowledge” required in the sukkah?  The Talmud in Tractate Sukkah [11b] brings a disagreement as to the “sukkot” that were used to house Am Yisrael in the desert. According to one opinion the sukkot of the wilderness were the miraculous protective “Clouds of Glory”. Others teach that Hashem’s sukkot were real huts made out of real cloth and real leather in which Am Yisrael lived during their years of sojourning in the wilderness. Assuming that the sukkot were real huts, it would be extremely easy to leave Hashem out of the picture. The sukkot had real walls offering real protection. Nothing extraordinary occurred, and so there should be nothing to celebrate.  But even if the sukkot were the Clouds of Glory, people get used to miracles very quickly and forty years is a long time. Iron Dome is perhaps the most complex system I have ever worked on. When it was first used successfully in combat, most Israelis, myself included, considered it a miracle. Nearly two thousand intercepts later, we expect it to work. Apparently Hashem has left the Iron Dome and has moved on to bigger and better things.

On Sukkot we must get our heads around the fact that the survival of Am Yisrael for forty years in the Sinai Desert was anything but certain. Without constant supervision Am Yisrael would have withered and become just another Bedouin tribe. Our survival for sixty-seven years in the modern State of Israel is no different. These statements are not easy to internalize. It takes tremendous effort and a large measure of intellectual honesty, but this is our mission over the seven days of Sukkot.

Women are required to perform time-related mitzvot on Purim and on Chanukah because women, just like men, need to realize that these miracles were the Hand of Hashem. For the same reason they are required to drink four cups of wine at the Pesach Seder. On these holidays we realize that something special happened. But Sukkot is different. On Sukkot we are not attributing a miracle to Hashem. On Sukkot our mission is to first recognize something miraculous has transpired, and that the laws of nature have been tampered with. When the Torah says ‘so that your generations should know’, this knowledge is not a part of the mitzvah, rather, it is a reason for the mitzvah. The fact that we celebrate Sukkot serves as a wake-up call. After we rise from our slumber, we can try to figure out who is at the door.

Chag Sameach,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5777

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Moshe Dov ben Malka and Adi bat Ravit.

[1] The reason for the exemption is unclear but it is irrelevant for the purposes of this shiur.

[2] One year friends of mine lit Chanukah candles on the peak of Mount Atzmon, the highest point in the Lower Galilee. The lights must have been visible to hundreds of thousands of people.

[3] I’m sure there are plenty of people out there that fully understand Rav Soloveichik’s answer. For these people, the shiur ends here. Chag Sameach.