THE MITZVA OF SUCCAH ON SHMINI ATZERET
The gemara in Rosh HaShana 4b (and other places) states that Shmini Atzeret is a "regel bifnei atzmo" - a festival unto itself. It then lists six ways in which this is true, one of which is simply referred to as "regel."Rashi comments that this means that there is no mitzva of succah or of taking the four species on Shmini Atzeret. While it may be connected to Succot, it does not have anything to do with Succot in a halachic sense.
This is all fine and well in Israel. But what about in Chutz La'Aretz, where every day of a festival is a safek (doubt) that it may really be off by a day? Perhaps the day that Americans refer to as Shmini Atzeret is really only the seventh day of Succot, and thus there is still a mitzva of succah and the four species? Shouldn't everything still be done, seeing as with regards to doubt in Torah laws we are generally stringent? The gemara in Succah 46b deals with this, and distinguishes between the two laws. It claims that the four species should not be taken on Shmini Atzeret since they are muktzeh and thus may not be handled. However, succah is a different issue. The key point is that with regard to laws of muktzeh in general, we say that anything that is being designated for use during bein hashemashot (loosely translated as twilight - the period between sunset and the appearance of three medium sized stars), may be used on Shabbat or Yom Tov. Since a succah is still fit to be used during twilight at the end of the seventh day of Succot, thus it becomes fit to be used, and not muktzeh, on Shmini Atzeret. This being the case, what is the law?
The gemara continues on 47a to say that one should in fact sit in the succah on Shmini Atzeret, although the bracha of "leisheiv ba-succah" is not made. Why is this the case - If there is a mitzva, why don't we make a blessing on it, and if there is no mitzva, why even bother sitting there?
Ritva states that the argument brought in the gemara about whether or not a bracha should be made is focused around the idea of "ziluta d'yom tov" - denigrating the holiday. What does this mean? Originally, the idea of keeping a second day of Yom Tov outside of Israel came from the fact that the new months were proclaimed in the Sanhedrin in Yerushalayim, who would then send messengers out to all Jewish settlement. Since travel resulted in delays, people would often not be completely sure about when the month had begun, and thus they were often in doubt as to when the festivals were. However, since that time Hillel (not of Beit Hillel fame, but rather Hillel who lived a few generations after Rabi Yehuda HaNasi, the compiler of the Mishna) fixed the calendar, and it became known to everyone when the holidays were. Nevertheless, people outside of Israel continued to keep two days of Yom Tov because of "minhag avoteinu b'yadeinu" - it was the custom of their fathers. Returning to the view of Ritva, he claims that even though by other "second days" of holidays we do everything the same as the first day, in this case there is a particular problem. The seventh day of Succot is Chol HaMoed, a day when work is permitted. If one were to make a bracha on the succah on that day, it would seem that Shmini Atzeret, a day when work is prohibited according to the Torah, also has aspects of a weekday, and one might come to confuse the two. Since our "doubt" nowadays is only a result of the practices of our forefathers before the fixing of the calendar, we can be lenient in the face of denigrating the holiday and thus not make a bracha.
Meiri cites the reason of Ritva, and adds on a second one, based on the view of Rif. He states that since the kiddush that is made mentions Shmini Atzeret, and not Succot, to follow that with a bracha on the succah would be a claim that the day is both Succot and Shmini Atzeret, an impossibility and a contradiction. Thus, the bracha on the succah is omitted (Rav Yoseif Dov Soloveitchik z"l claims that the kiddush and prayers on Shmini Atzeret mention Shmini Atzeret and not Succot because the prayers flow from the prohibition of labor on the day. Since labor is prohibited because of Shmini Atzeret, and not because of the possibility of it being Succot, thus the prayers follow suit). The Otzar Dinim U'Minhagim states similarly that since we say the bracha of "shehecheyanu" at night, thus proclaiming a new holiday, it would be contradictory to also proclaim that it is still Succot. However, in all cases, we still sit there due to the doubt, seeing as there is "no harm done" by doing so. The Minchat Chinuch claims that even though we generally have a concept of "tosefet," of adding on to the holidays from the weekdays, that only applies to extending the time when there is a prohibition of labor, and not to extending the time for the mitzva of succah.
Rambam (Hil. Succah 6:13) and other halachic works all agree that one must sit in the succah on Shmini Atzeret, and the only disagreements seem to be about the reason for this practice. The Magid Mishne adds a new reason, claiming that no bracha is made since the bracha itself is only a d'rabbanan (Rabbinic ordinance), and in such cases we are lenient. The Lechem Mishne and the Tur (O.C. 668) both state that no bracha is made because of the issue of ziluta. The Beit Yoseif quotes Ra'avyah who says that one should not make a bracha so as to make it clear that he is not adding onto the mitzva of succah, which really only extend for seven day (the prohibition of "bal tosif" - loosely defined as not adding onto a mitzva, with the classic examples being taking five species on Succot and having five parshiyot in tefillin. The issue is more complex, and may be a topic in the future).
Despite the fact that it seems that one must continue to be in the succah on Shmini Atzeret, the obligation is not as absolute as it is for the first seven days. While the GR"A (Vilna Gaon) and Rav Soloveitchik z"l both slept in the succah on the night of Shmini Atzeret, most Acharonim did not do so, and both Ra'avyah and the Magen Avraham give the reason as being that one should make it clear that the mitzva of succah does not really extend for eight days. A second point to bear in mind is that if a person davens Ma'ariv while it is still light outside, he should wait until it is dark (three medium stars) to begin eating in the succah. Otherwise, he would have to say a bracha, and thus would encounter the various problems cited above (Machatzit HaShekel and Maharshal quoted by the Taz in Orach Chayim (668).
What about all of the various customs that people have to only make kiddush in the succah, or to only eat there at night , or perhaps only during the day? Rav Herschel Schechter, in Nefesh HaRav, cites Rav Soloveitchik z"l as believing that there was no reason not to fully utilize the succah on Shmini Atzeret, and that people began to reason that since there was no bracha, therefore the obligation must not be serious, or perhaps may even be non-existent. However, there are several reasons given for the various customs.
The Tur and the Magen Avraham state that one should leave the succah after eating during the day, and is thus not obligated to spend the rest of the day there, although if Shmini Atzeret fell on Shabbat one would have to eat the third meal in the succah. Why is this done? The Medrash Tanchuma on Parashat Pinchas notes that since on Shmini Atzeret we pray for rain, people will not pray will their full hearts if they know that they still have to eat outside. Thus, the practice developed to either eat part of a meal in the succah during the day and then to leave, or to leave right after the meal. With regard to the practice of not eating in the succah at night but returning to eat there during the day, that is derived from the desire to distinguish between the mitzva of succah from the first seven days and the sitting in the succah on Shmini Atzeret, which is done only as a result of a doubt (Magen Avraham). With regard to other various combinations of making kiddush and/or eating in the succah, I have yet to find a source, although it is possible that they all derive from these two main ideas, and that variations developed along the way.
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