Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Regarding "Succah Intentions"

Recently, on the blog Hirhurim, Simcha posted:
The Tur (Orah Hayim, 625; and later the Shulhan Arukh, ad loc.) introduces the laws of living in a sukkah by saying that the mitzvah is so that we remember that God had us live in sukkos in the desert after the exodus from Egypt. R. Yoel Sirkes, the Bah, asks why the Tur mentions this theological idea in his practical compendium. He answers that this idea has a practical application. The Torah tells us that we must live in a sukkah "in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt" (Lev. 23:43). Therefore, writes the Bah, when one sits in a sukkah one must consciously remember the historical origin of the sukkah in order to fulfill the commandment.

This innovation of the Bah is accepted by all major posekim, with the only debate centering around the case of someone who failed to remember this historical origin. Has this person ex post facto (be-di-avad) fulfilled the commandment or must he repeat it? Many (e.g. Bah, Bikkurei Ya'akov, Derekh Pekudekha) hold that he has not fulfilled the commandment while others (e.g. Peri Megadim, Mishnah Berurah) hold that he has and need not repeat the mitzvah act.

What leaves me dumbfounded is not the details of this matter but its methodology. Without any mention in the Talmud or medieval literature, this innovation was accepted unanimously. The Bah essentially created his own exegesis of a biblical verse in order to create an obligation (granted, in order to solve a textual problem in the Tur).

I am not the first to notice this anomaly. R. Moshe Shternbuch (Mo'adim U-Zemanim, vol. 1 no. 85) also expressed surprise at this innovation... and therefore concluded that this can only be an ab initio (lekhatehilah) obligation but not ex post facto.

I simply fail to understand how this methodology of post-talmudic biblical hermeneutics can be used. However, since the posekim have unanimously accepted this innovation, no one has the right to ignore it and I certainly defer to their authority and expertise.

I recently saw another Bach on the Tur explaining the Tur's mentioning of a "theological idea in his practical compendium," or in this case, a drasha in a legal text - in the opening siman of the hilchot milah.(Yoreh Deah 260), where the Bach takes the Tur's foray in drash as a polemic of sorts (see there). I wonder if the Bach does this regularly.

At any rate, my initial reaction to this was that it is not entirely clear that this is in fact a post-Talmudic derasha. In fact, a derasha in Bavli Succah immediately came to mind.

On the first daf of Bavli Succah, 2a, different derivations are given for the law that the schach of a succah may not be more than 20 cubits off the ground. One derivation is given by Rabba:

מנה"מ אמר רבה דאמר קרא (ויקרא כג) למען ידעו דורותיכם כי בסוכות הושבתי את בני ישראל עד עשרים אמה אדם יודע שהוא דר בסוכה למעלה מעשרים אמה אין אדם יודע שדר בסוכה משום דלא שלטא בה עינא
From whence these words? Rabba says, since the verse states (Vayikra 23:43) "לְמַעַן, יֵדְעוּ דֹרֹתֵיכֶם, כִּי בַסֻּכּוֹת הוֹשַׁבְתִּי אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּהוֹצִיאִי אוֹתָם מֵאֶרֶץ ..." - "that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt..." Until 20 cubits a man knows that he is dwelling in a succah; higher than 20 cubits a man does not know that he is dwelling in the succah, for the eye does not rule over it {he cannot see it}.

The context of the pasuk is (Vayikra 23:42-43)
בַּסֻּכֹּת תֵּשְׁבוּ, שִׁבְעַת יָמִים; כָּל-הָאֶזְרָח, בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל, יֵשְׁבוּ, בַּסֻּכֹּת.
לְמַעַן, יֵדְעוּ דֹרֹתֵיכֶם, כִּי בַסֻּכּוֹת הוֹשַׁבְתִּי אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּהוֹצִיאִי אוֹתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם: אֲנִי, ה אֱלֹקֵיכֶם.
"Ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are home-born in Israel shall dwell in booths;
that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God."

The simple reading of the text is that there is a commandment for all time to sit in a succah, so that those future generations will sit in the succah and recall that *in the past*, Hashem sat their ancestors in succot when He took them out of Egypt.

How do you get from a command that talks about sitting now to cause recollection of the past, to Rabba's derasha that one in the present must know he is sitting in the succah? After all, the verse says "that generations should know that I caused (in the past) to sit - הוֹשַׁבְתִּי - the Israelites, and specifies also that this causing to sit was when they left Egypt!"

Several explanations are possible, but I would suggest the following, which I think deviates least from the peshat level of the text: the verse says to sit in the succah now so that we will remember our ancestors sitting in the past. It can clearly only serve as such a reminder if the people sitting there in the present day know they are sitting in a succah. Those people will recognize their surroundings and recollect the sitting of their ancestors in succot in the past. Thus, Rabba says, to attain the requisite recollection of the past one must be congnizant of his surroundings in the present. {One could make an interesting homily out of the previous sentence, I think.} Further, that others disagree with Rabba in his derivation of the law of the 20 cubit succah does not mean they necessarily disagree with him in his basic assumption that such a kavana and recollection of the past is required.

This basic assumption could be said to be in fact encoded in the peshat level of the text, such that reading the recollection as a requirement is not necessarily a derasha. However, requiring the kavana as a matter of practical law is in fact derasha-like. But is Rabba, and perhaps others' basic assumption even in Talmudic times was that a specific kavana is required, then it is not post-Talmudic Biblical hermeneutics.

And, whether or not this is in fact Rabba's take of the pasuk and derasha, it is possible that it is the Tur's, or else the Bach's which he relied upon in interpreting the Tur.

While on the subject of the derasha, I may as well mention my other way of interpreting it - as an al tikra. That is, we read the verse with different vowels. Rabba cites the verse לְמַעַן יֵדְעוּ דֹרֹתֵיכֶם. The word דֹרֹתֵיכֶם is written chaser (defective) rather than maleh (plene). That is, the cholam after the daledh has no vav consonant to mark its presence in the unvowelized text of the Torah. Therefore, one can easily read another vowel in its place. I would suggest we place a chirik vowel there and then read לְמַעַן יֵדְעוּ דִרֹתֵיכֶם - "so that you should know your *dwellings*", rather than "so that that your *generations* show know." This would also account for the emphasis on the word yodea' in Rabba's derasha, as well as the emphasis on the word dar. The derasha would then be: "so that you should *know* your *dwellings*" - until 20 cubits man *knows* (yodea') that he *dwells* (dar) in a succah; higher than 20 cubits, a man *knows* (yodea') not that he *dwells* (dar) in a succah for his eyes do not rule over it (the schach). Note the word choice - dar instead of yoshev, as we find in the word hoshavti later in the verse.

Even though I think this may be the actual derasha of Rabba, this does not preclude the Tur, or the Bach, from reading it differently, in a way that I suggested above would introduce the requirement of the specific intent as a Talmudic hermeneutical derivation.

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