Thursday, 20 March 2014

Sukka 46 a, b

We focus on blessings in amud (a).  Which blessings do we say when we are binding the lulav?  Entering the sukka?  Entering an adjoining sukka?  Why do we say each particular blessing?  Do we say blessings each day; each morning and each evening?

A number of themes wind through these conversations.  One regards rejoicing.  When we celebrate Sukkot, our primary experience is joy.  If our thoughts or feelings are elsewhere, this will affect the efficacy of our blessing and thus the fulfilment of that mitzvah.  Another theme - which is clearly related - is the attempt to understand what we are commanded to do and why (ie. what is G-d's intention) we are intended to do those things.  The rabbis wonder whether or not we should state every blessing separately if we have a number of mitzvot to fulfil at the same time.

The rabbis compare the blessings of sukkot to other blessings.  They speak about which prayers are recited when Jews don tefilin.  They speak about which prayers are recited when Jews witness lit Chanukah candles.  The rabbis present variations of these basic experiences and note which prayers are recited in those situations.  All of this allows them to feel more confident about their numerous halachic decisions regarding the recitation of blessings on Sukkot.

Amud (b) looks at the timing of specific mitzvot: when we are allowed to use the etrog for anything other than the mitzvah?  We are told that the children eat this fruit following the holiday - when is that? The eighth day?  The ninth day if it follows Shabbat?  Does this refer to both adults and children?  And what are we obliged to do (or to refrain from doing) during that time we call twilight, between the sundown and the stars becoming visible?

Rabbi Zeira teaches two fascinating points.  The first advises adults not to give their lulavim to children on the first day of the Festival for reasons associated with legal acquisition.  The second reminds us not to promise something to a child and then break our word, for that teaches children to lie, which is chastised in Jeremiah 9:4.  

The daf ends with thoughts regarding Shemini Atzeret, otherwise thought of as the eighth day of Sukkot.  How does that day differ from the other days of Sukkot? Are we allowed to benefit from the lulav on that day?  We learn that Abaye teaches us to maintain the status of these ritual items on a day that might be miscalculated and actually could be the seventh day of Sukkot.

Again and again I note that the rabbis are demonstrating their attempts to codify, restrict and categorize human behaviour in a complex web of halachot.  Even in a daf like Sukka 46, because of which we are given numerous halachot, the rabbis' focus is as much on creating and maintaining social norms as much as the are about these laws.  Discussion followed by rules does not mean that we follow the rules and forget the process. The bottom line is not necessarily the bottom line.

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