As we have studied Masechet Sukkah together, we have stressed two themes: that of simcha, joy; and that of the unity of the Jewish people. Of course, these two themes are really one—the coming together of the Jewish people is the greatest of smachot.
“Whoever did not see the celebration of the drawing of the water (simchat beit hashoeva) has never witnessed joy in their life” (Sukkah 51a). The Mishnah goes on to describe the dancing, the juggling, the music, and more of these most festive days. In an astonishing display of dexterity, the Gemara records how Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel would juggle eight torches of fire, “and they did not touch one another, and there was no living being who could do this” (ibid 53a).
In a recent post, we discussed the opposition to the mitzvah of placing the arava on the altar. An even greater dispute arose vis a vis the mitzva of nisuch hamayim, the mitzvah to pour water on the altar in conjunction with the morning sacrifice on Sukkot.
“Rav Yehuda said in the name of Shmuel: lulav, seven; and sukkah, one” (Sukkah 45b). So begins a discussion as to how often we are to make a bracha on these mitzvoth. Shmuel, the Gemara explains, is of the view that since there is one continuous mitzvah to sit in a sukkah for seven days and nights, “all seven are like one long day”; and hence, a bracha is recited only once. However, the mitzvah of lulav is applicable only by day, and not at night; and thus, each new day requires a new bracha.
The arava, the willow branch, has a dual function on Sukkot. It is the last of four species that make up the mitzvah of “lulav”. Without this lowly branch, it makes little difference how beautiful the etrog may be—as without the arava, there is no mitzvah of etrog. It bears repeating that our Sages saw the four species as representing different types of Jews, with the arava representing the Jew who is neither learned nor observant. And yet, if such a person is rejected, the etrog—representing the learned, observant Jew—is rendered invalid.
"A child who knows how to shake [the lulav] is obligated to take the lulav" (Sukkah 42a).
The Rambam in his introduction to the Mishna divides the Oral Law into various categories. He begins with what he terms peirushim hamekubalim miSinai, explanations that were received from Sinai. These are explanations of the biblical text that have been passed down from generation to generation and thus, claims the Rambam there never has been and never can be a debate as to their meaning. Included in this group is the definition of pri etz hadar as an etrog.
"And you shall take for yourself on the first day pri etz hadar, a beautiful fruit tree, kapot temarim, branches of date palms, anaf etz avot, twigs of a plaited tree, and arevei nachal, willows of the brook, and rejoice before the Lord your G-d for seven days" (Vayikra 23:40). Yet without the Oral Law, we would be unable to figure out exactly which four species we are to take.