Talmud pages

Sukkah 11

Prepare it.

If you are anything like me, the week(s) leading up to a vacation are often somewhat chaotic. There is a rush to check things off the list, be they work tasks you need completed before you go, or extra bathing suits purchased in haste. Those last days, or moments, before putting up the “out of office” message and loading the car always feel like a sprint. But, the day arrives, and ready or not … here we are. On today’s daf,  I am also struck by the role of preparation, of intention and planning, in determining the validity of a sukkah.

We know that a sukkah must be covered by green branches (the s’chach). But what if you just so happen to have a trellis covered with vines that creates shade. Can that be the roof of your sukkah? Our mishnah today reads:

If one trellised climbing plants such as a grapevine or gourd plant or ivy over a sukkah while they were still attached to the ground, and then added roofing atop them, the sukkah is unfit. If the amount of fit roofing was greater than the plants attached to the ground, or if he cut the climbing plants so that they were no longer attached to the ground, it is fit.

There are two possibilities here. Perhaps we cannot trellis plants that are rooted in the soil and turn them into sukkah roofing because of convenience, meaning we will not have made special preparations for Sukkot, as the rabbis understand to be required. Or perhaps the problem with these vines is that, being rooted, they are permanent — and the sukkah is supposed to be a temporary structure.

What ensues is a debate between Rav Huna and Rav Yosef, centered around the principle introduced in the mishnah that cutting a climbing plant renders it fit s’chach (green roofing). They find themselves talking through an analogy that we might not expect: ritual fringes (tzitzit) which are supposed to be cut before they are attached to a garment. At the heart of the discussion, though, is this principle: that preparing for Sukkot, or any other mitzvah, is not a matter of convenience, or of simply repurposing. Ultimately, the view that one can trellis the vines over the sukkah and then cut them from the ground (so they are no longer permanent), as Rav suggests, is rejected: 

Why does he say that cut vines are unfit? Because of the principle that we prepare it, and not from that which has already been prepared … Even when he cuts them, the vines are unfit, and learn from it that we do not say that their cutting is their preparation. This is a conclusive refutation of the opinion of Rav.

Sukkot is known as zman simchateinu, the time of our joy. We are meant to celebrate, to truly enjoy our time in the sukkah — eating and drinking, being together with friends and family. Our tradition teaches that we don’t get there by accident — and we shouldn’t get there without intention. It takes planning and preparation, it takes the commitment to build the structures — literal and metaphorical — that will allow us that temporary space and that joy. 

Read all of Sukkah 11 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on July 18th, 2021. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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