1. Why are we commanded to sit in a Sukkah?
The Torah says "You shall dwell in booths for seven days, every citizen of Israel shall dwell in booths -- in order that your generations shall know that I caused the children of Israel to dwell in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt (Leviticus 23:42-43).
When the Jewish people left Egypt and traveled into the wilderness they numbered about 3 million people. The wilderness was a place of great desolation inhabited by deadly snakes and serpents, and there was no protection from the burning heat of the sun. God therefore miraculously protected His chosen nation by surrounding them with seven clouds of glory -- four around the sides, one above them, one below them like a carpet and one to lead the way. We are commanded to sit in a Sukkah to remember this wonderful and miraculous act of kindness.
2. Why is this mitzvah performed in the month of Tishrei?
Although the Jewish people left Egypt in the month of Nissan and experienced the protection of God's clouds of glory immediately, nevertheless the mitzvah of Sukkah was postponed until Tishrei. Among the many reasons given are:
Nissan marks the beginning of spring when the weather becomes warmer, and people naturally leave their houses to sit outdoors. Tishrei marks the beginning of fall when the weather becomes colder and people naturally return to the shelter of their homes and no longer sit outdoors. It is God's wish that we sit in a Sukkah in Tishrei to demonstrate that we do so solely to fulfill his commandment and not for our own convenience.
The clouds of glory, which initially accompanied the Jewish people in the month of Nissan, were later removed when the golden calf was made. They returned permanently in the month of Tishrei when the construction of the tabernacle began, remaining with them for the entire forty years in the wilderness.
On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, God sits in judgment and decrees the fate of all mankind. In case some people were sentenced to be exiled from their homes, we build a Sukkah and leave our houses.
3. How much time should one spend in the Sukkah?
The Sages say, "For the entire seven days, a person should consider the Sukkah to be his permanent home and his house to be a temporary place." Therefore, a person should eat, sleep and spend his time in the Sukkah in the same way that he does in the house during the year. He fulfills a Torah commandment every single moment that he spends in the Sukkah, both day and night.
4. Is it forbidden to leave the Sukkah unnecessarily?
A person should live in the Sukkah in the same manner that he lives at home during the year. Just as he naturally leaves his home to do certain activities and attend to various needs, so too may he leave the Sukkah when the occasion demands it. Nevertheless, it is praiseworthy to maximize the amount of time spent in the Sukkah since every moment brings eternal reward. If a person would be promised a vast sum of money for remaining in his house, would he not stay there as long as possible? Certainly he should stay in the Sukkah where the reward is immeasurable! In certain circumstances, a person should leave the Sukkah (e.g. rain, sickness).
5. When is one obligated to be in the Sukkah?
On three occasions:
- the first night of Sukkot
- when eating a meal
- when sleeping
6. Where should a woman kindle the Shabbat and Yom Tov lights?
She should kindle them in the Sukkah, since the main mitzvah is to enjoy the lights during the meal. However, if there is a concern that they may be extinguished by the wind, or they may be a fire risk, she should kindle them in the house. In this case, they should be placed near a window that faces the Sukkah, if this is possible.
7. Is one obligated to eat everything inside the Sukkah?
Strictly speaking, only meals must be eaten in the Sukkah, but not snacks or drinks. However, it is praiseworthy to eat and drink everything inside the Sukkah.
A meal is defined as eating a piece of bread larger than a kebeitza (about 58 cc). According to some opinions, a piece of bread the size of a kezayit (about 29 cc) when accompanied by other foods constitutes a meal.
If one eats an entire meal without bread, then strictly speaking, he is not required to eat in the Sukkah, but it is strongly recommended to do so.
Regarding other grain foods (e.g. cake, crackers), there are different opinions, but the prevalent custom is to be strict and to eat it only in the Sukkah, as is done with bread. (In this context, rice is not regarded as a grain food.)
8. May one eat or drink outside the Sukkah during a meal?
If a person is eating a meal in the Sukkah, everything he eats is considered to be part of the meal. Therefore, he is forbidden to have any food or drink outside the Sukkah. He must be particularly careful to remember this when going to and from the house during the meal.
9. How is the first night different from the rest of Sukkot?
By a comparison of verses, we deduce that the mitzvah of eating in the Sukkah on the first night of Sukkot is parallel to the mitzvah of eating matzah on the first night of Passover. One should preferably a piece of bread 100cc in size. Therefore, on the first night of Sukkot, one is obligated by the Torah to eat in the Sukkah. (As well, this applies rabbinically on the second night in the diaspora, though one need only eat 58cc.)
The bread must be eaten within two minutes if possible, or at least four minutes. Special care should be taken not to speak until the piece has been eaten.
During the rest of Sukkot, one is obligated to eat in the Sukkah only if he wants to have a meal.
10. Is one obligated to sleep in the Sukkah?
During the week of Sukkot, the Sukkah is to be considered as a person's home. Since the primary activities of the home are eating and sleeping, a man is obligated to sleep in the Sukkah. According to some opinions, sleeping in the Sukkah is even more important than eating there.
Some are lenient and sleep in the house because:
In many countries, the weather is cold at this time of year, and sleeping in the Sukkah would cause much discomfort. (However, it is praiseworthy to organize a way to heat the Sukkah at night in order to be able to perform this important mitzvah.)
Women do not usually sleep in the Sukkah, and if a married man would sleep in the Sukkah leaving his wife alone in the house, this may cause him distress.
Whoever is meticulous to sleep in the Sukkah and fulfill the mitzvah properly will merit seeing the Divine Presence.
11. What if a person is nevertheless afraid to sleep in the Sukkah?
According to most opinions, a Sukkah that is suitable only for eating but not for sleeping is invalid. Since a Sukkah is intended to be a person's home, it must be suitable for both eating and sleeping. Therefore, every effort should be made to build the Sukkah in a location that is safe enough for sleeping.
If a person lives in a dangerous area and sleeping in the Sukkah is an obvious danger, he should act sensibly and not rely upon miracles.
12. May one sleep in the Sukkah with his legs outside the Sukkah (or in an invalid section of the Sukkah)?
If his head and most of his body are inside the Sukkah, he fulfills the mitzvah, and he is obligated to sleep in the Sukkah in that manner.
13. May one sleep underneath a table in the Sukkah?
Ideally, one should eat and sleep in the Sukkah with nothing intervening between him and the s'chach. However, if necessary, it is permitted to sleep under a standard table (since it is less than 80cm high).
Similarly, one may sleep in the lower bed of a bunk bed, if the space between the beds is less than 80cm. This is true even if the upper bed is more than this distance from the ground, and even if someone is sleeping in the upper bed.
14. May one take a short nap outside the Sukkah?
No, this is forbidden. Although a person may eat a snack outside the Sukkah, he may not sleep even for a few moments outside the Sukkah. The reason is that sometimes even a short nap is satisfying and beneficial to a person and is equivalent to a proper sleep.
Although initially it may have been forbidden for one to doze outside the Sukkah, nevertheless he needn't be awakened by others since he is now exempt and it is a distress to be awakened and moved.
15. Is the blessing "laishev b'Sukah" always recited when eating in the Sukkah?
No. It is usually recited only when eating a piece of bread larger than 100cc.
If one is eating other grain foods as a meal, he should recite the blessing. In such a case, it is preferable to remain a while in the Sukkah and not leave immediately after eating, so that the blessing can also apply to the continued sitting in the Sukkah.
16. Is the blessing recited when sleeping or when just sitting in the Sukkah?
According to the widely accepted custom, the blessing is recited only when eating bread or grains. Although a person fulfills a Torah mitzvah every moment that he is inside the Sukkah, the blessing was ordained to be recited only when doing a significant action. Eating was chosen as the most significant activity, and all other activities such as sitting and sleeping are included in the blessing that is recited when eating.
Some have the custom to recite the blessing every time they enter the Sukkah (after a significant break) even if they do not intend to eat bread or grains. Ideally, a person should eat some grains in order to recite the blessing.
17. What if one does not intend to eat immediately?
Ideally, one should eat some grains immediately in order to recite the blessing for the Sukkah as soon as possible. If he does not wish to do so, he should postpone reciting the blessing for the Sukkah until he is ready to eat. The blessing will then apply retroactively to the entire time that he has been sitting in the Sukkah.
If a person forgot to say the blessing and began a meal, he should recite the blessing as soon as he remembers and eat some more. If one has already said Grace After Meals, he should say the Sukkah blessing if he still intends to remain a while in the Sukkah.
18. Does the blessing last all day?
If a person remains in the Sukkah all day or leaves for a short break, he does not repeat the blessing. This is true even if he eats another meal.
If he leaves for a significant break, he should repeat the blessing the next time he eats bread or mezonos. A significant break includes:
- to pray Shacharit
- to pray mincha and ma'ariv both
- to leave for two hours
- to leave due to heavy rain
19. What if one intended to leave for two hours but in fact returned sooner?
Since he took his mind off the Sukkah, he must make a new blessing when eating bread or mezonos. This is true even if he changed his mind and returned immediately.
20. If one goes to a different Sukkah, does he recite a new blessing?
The above rules are the same whether he returns to the original Sukkah or goes to another Sukkah. This is true even if the second Sukkah belongs to someone else, and even if he did not have the second Sukkah in mind when he made the original blessing. This is because the mitzvah is the same in whichever Sukkah one sits, and walking to another Sukkah is not considered to be an interruption. However, since some opinions disagree with this analysis, it is preferable to have the second Sukkah in mind when making the original blessing.
21. Do women recite the blessing?
According to the Ashkenazic custom, women recite the blessing in the same situations that men do.
22. Is a person obligated to eat in the Sukkah when it is raining?
If it is raining heavily, he is not obligated to eat there (except on the first night). Heavy rain is defined as the rain is coming through the s'chach into the Sukkah to the extent that if this would be happening in his house he would leave the room.
If it is raining lightly, he is obligated to eat there.
23. Is one permitted to remain in the Sukkah when it rains?
If it is raining to the degree that he is exempt from the mitzvah, then he should leave. A person who thinks that he is fulfilling a mitzvah by going beyond the line of duty in this situation is regarded as foolish and receives no reward. It is certainly forbidden to recite the blessing for the Sukkah.
24. Is one obligated to return to the Sukkah as soon as the rain stops?
If he did not yet sit down to eat in the house he must go to eat in the Sukkah, even if he left the Sukkah in the middle of a meal.
If he is in the middle of eating in the house, he may remain there until the end of the meal.
If he went to sleep at night in the house due to rain he may remain in the house until the morning.
In the last two cases, it is praiseworthy to return to the Sukkah immediately, although he is not obligated to do so.
25. When a person returns to the Sukkah after the rain stops, does he repeat the blessing for the Sukkah?
Since it is impossible to fulfill the mitzvah while it is raining, the previous blessing is no longer valid. Therefore, he should repeat the blessing when he next eats bread or grains.
26. What if it rains on the first night of Sukkot?
Opinions differ whether one is obligated to eat in the Sukkah despite the rain. On one hand, there is a parallel to the first night of Pesach when one is obligated to eat matzah in any event, but on the other hand there is usually no mitzvah to sit in the Sukkah when it rains. Therefore, one should wait an hour or two in the hope that the rain will stop in order to eat in the Sukkah and fulfill the mitzvah properly.
27. In which situations is one exempt from the mitzvah of Sukkah?
There are several types of situations in which a person is exempt:
- preoccupation with other mitzvot
28. What constitutes discomfort?
This means that the conditions in the Sukkah are causing him discomfort and he will gain relief by leaving the Sukkah. If in the same circumstances he would leave the house, he is then permitted to leave the Sukkah.
A person is exempt in the following situations:
- The Sukkah is too hot or too cold. If one can easily dress more warmly or heat the Sukkah, he should do so.
- there is an unpleasant smell
- there are many insects in the Sukkah
- there is noise that is causing much disturbance
- leaves or twigs are falling into the food and he is very disturbed by this
If one is exempt due to discomfort, there is no mitzvah or reward in remaining there. It is praiseworthy to try and make the Sukkah comfortable in order to be able to remain there.
29. What if a person feels distressed due to bad news?
He is obligated to be in the Sukkah. This form of discomfort is not due to the Sukkah and will not be alleviated by moving into the house.
30. May one visit his parents if they have no Sukkah?
This is permitted even though he will not be able to eat or sleep in a Sukkah. If he can make arrangements to eat and sleep at a neighbor's Sukkah he should do so, unless this will upset his parents.
31. When is a traveler exempt?
If a person needs to travel (e.g. for business, to perform a mitzvah) during Sukkot he may do so, even though he will not be able to find a Sukkah on the way. Just as a person leaves his house in order to travel, so too may he leave the Sukkah in order to travel. Therefore, he may eat freely while traveling, unless he can easily find a Sukkah along the way. He must make an effort to find a Sukkah to sleep in, but if he is unsuccessful he may sleep indoors.
It is forbidden to eat or sleep outside a Sukkah if one is travelling only for pleasure. People who go on trips to places where there is no Sukkah and then claim exemption are transgressing.
32. Are any behaviors forbidden in the Sukkah?
A person should minimize mundane talk in the Sukkah, and try to speak only words of Torah and holy matters. Certainly, one must be extremely careful not to speak loshon hara or become angry while in the Sukkah.
Other forbidden activities in a Sukkah:
- bringing pots and pans inside
- leaving dirty plates inside
- washing dishes
- using the Sukkah as a storeroom (e.g. any item that one would not leave in his dining room should not be left in the Sukkah, e.g. bicycle, broom, garbage bin, etc.)
Strictly speaking it is permitted to bring pots inside, but the accepted custom is to avoid it. Therefore, one should transfer the food to plates or serving dishes outside the Sukkah.
33. What are the restrictions on personal use?
It is forbidden to remove any part of the walls or s'chach for personal use, since this degrades its sanctity. All normal use of the Sukkah is permitted, since one is expected to live in a Sukkah in the same way that one lives in a house. For example, one may hang items or lean on the walls and take shelter from the sun by standing in or near the Sukkah.
All the decorations whether hanging from the s'chach or on the walls have such sanctity. Therefore, they may not be removed from the Sukkah for personal use. For example, fruit which is hung from the s'chach may not be removed and eaten until after Sukkot. Pictures that are hung on the walls may not be removed and re-hung in the house until after Sukkot.
Decorations may be removed on chol hamoed and brought into the house to prevent them from being spoiled by the rain. They may be returned later to the Sukkah, but may not be used in the house until after Sukkot.
34. Does the Sukkah have any sanctity after Sukkot?
After Sukkot, the Sukkah loses its sanctity and one may use the walls and the s'chach for any other purpose. Nevertheless, one must not disgrace them by treading on them or throwing them in the street. It is certainly forbidden to throw them into the garbage. If one wishes to discard them without disgracing them, one may burn them.
35. When should furniture be moved from the Sukkah to the house?
On Hoshana Rabba in Israel (or Shemini Atzeret in the diaspora), one should move furniture back into the house in preparation for the evening. This may be done from mincha ketana (two-and-a-half halachic hours before sunset).
Any earlier is disrespectful to the Sukkah, which is supposed to be one's home for the entire duration of Sukkot. After mincha ketana it is permitted, since it is then clear that one is doing it in honor of the approaching festival.
36. Is there an obligation to sit in the Sukkah on Shemini Atzeret in the diaspora?
According to most opinions, the Yom Tov meals must be eaten in the Sukkah. The blessing for the Sukkah is certainly not recited. One may have snacks and drinks in the house, since even on Sukkot there is no obligation to have them in the Sukkah. Some have the custom to be lenient on Shemini Atzeret and eat some or all of the Yom Tov meal in the house. A person should not be lenient unless he has a strong family custom regarding this.
Regarding sleeping, the widespread custom is to be lenient and permit sleeping in the house.
Excerpted from "Guidelines - Succos" - 400 commonly asked questions about Succos (Targum/Feldheim).