One Who is Uncomfortable is Exempt from Succah

Rav Elisha Friedman

Rav Elisha Friedman

There is a well-known halacha that one who is uncomfortable sitting in the Succah is exempt from it, מצטער פטור מן הסוכה (Succah 26a). The most common explanation for this law is given by Tosafos (Ibid.) based on the language of the obligation of Succah which is derived from the verse which commands us to “dwell in the Succah.” The Sages understood this to mean that one dwells in the Succah in the same way they live in their house תשבו כעין תדורו. If one’s house was uncomfortable they would relocate, so too with Succah, if it’s uncomfortable, you should sit elsewhere. The Rema (639:7) quotes the statement of the Yerushalmi that one who is exempt should not be strict and remain in the Succah, and anyone who does remain in the Succah is called “ignorant.”

The question many commentators are bothered by is why? Generally we maintain that doing a mitzvah with difficulty is even more meritorious than doing a mitzvah with less effort or pain (Avos 5:23). If so one would expect that when it comes to sitting in the Succah the more difficult the mitzvah is the greater the reward, why does the Torah exempt someone when it becomes difficult? Furthermore, why does the Yerushalmi consider one who is strict to be a fool, when it is generally meritorious to perform mitzvos, and to go above and beyond the bare minimum requirements, even when one is not obligated?

Rav Silver offered another explanation for the exemption to leave the Succah when one is uncomfortable based on the halacha that one must be joyous on Succos שמחת יום טוב, which is repeated three times in the Torah (Vayikra 23:40, Devarim 16:14-15). There is a debate amongst authorities whether this joy is a reference to the sacrificial meat we would eat in the Beis Hamikdash, or if it refers to all forms of happiness. The Rambam (Laws of Yom Tov ch. 6) and Shaagas Aryeh (siman 65) maintain that all forms of happiness are included in this commandment. Furthermore, they rule that both men and women are obligated in the commandment to be happy on Yom Tov. This is not true of the commandment to eat in the Succah, which is only obligatory on men, not women, since it is a time-bound positive commandment. 

If so, the mitzvah of being happy on Yom Tov is a more universal mitzvah because it applies to both men and women, while the mitzvah of Succah is inherently weaker, because it only applies to men. In any clash between these commandments, the mitzvah of joy on Succos will win out. Therefore, any unhappiness which would develop as a result of sitting uncomfortably in the Succah would detract from the commandment to be happy on Succos, and that is why the Torah exempts one from sitting in the Succah when they are uncomfortable – in order to ensure their happiness on Yom Tov remains complete. 

This answers the questions we asked before. Rav Silver explained that although usually a mitzvah done with effort and struggle is more meritorious than a mitzvah done easily, when it comes to Succah the opposite is true. To eat in the Succah when one is uncomfortable is detrimental to another, more powerful mitzvah, and so it should not be done. This also explains why one should not be strict, because being strict will lead to violating the mitzvah of rejoicing on Yom Tov. 

Based on this Rav Silver ruled regarding the practical case of when it rains on the first night of Succos. There is a debate between early halachic authorities whether one must eat in the Succah on the first night even if it is raining (see Shulchan Aruch 639:5). The reason for this is that the commandment to eat matzah and the commandment to eat in the Succah are compared to each other in halacha (Succah 27a). Some authorities argued that this extended to include that just as eating matzah on the first night of Pesach is not optional, but an absolute obligation, so too on the first night of Succos one must eat in the Succah, even if it’s uncomfortable. Others disagreed and maintained that even though one must eat in the Succah on the first night of Succos, the rule remains that for discomfort one is exempt from Succah.

Ashkenazim are generally strict and eat a kezayis in the Succah on the first night, even if it is raining or uncomfortable in another way. But there is another issue, that since this is a debate amongst the poskim we are concerned that perhaps one should not make the bracha on eating in the Succah, in deference to those who rule that one should not eat in the Succah in the rain even on the first night. One option would be to wait for a few hours to see if the rain clears up and then one would certainly be obligated and could make the bracha without doubt. 

This solution was debated by later authorities. The Chaye Adam and Bikurei Yaakov were generally in favor of waiting in order to fulfill the mitzvah according to all authorities (unless one would suffer much from waiting to eat and experience extreme unhappiness on Yom Tov.) But Shaarei Teshuva quoted from the Shvus Yaakov, that this was not a valid solution because it caused one to suffer on Yom Tov from hunger while waiting, and so it cut into their enjoyment of Yom Tov. Mishna Berurah (639:35) quoted both positions and did not rule either way. 

Rav Silver agreed with the second position, that of the Shvus Yaakov, that one should not wait to eat. This ruling derives from his reasoning above. Since he views the entire exemption of discomfort מצטער on Succos as rooted in the concern to ensure that one enjoys Yom Tov, therefore it is clear that one should not wait at all to eat on the first night of Succos. This is particularly clear when we analyze that the source for the obligation to eat on the first night of Succos derives from matzah, and this mitzvah differs from eating in the Succah considerably. 

Rav Silver analyzes two ways Matzah differs from Succah: 1. It is only obligatory to eat matzah on the first night, whereas the obligation to rejoice on Pesach is all seven days, so it extends far beyond the obligation of matzah. But the obligation to eat in the Succah and the obligation to rejoice on Succos both extend for the entire seven day period, neither is longer than the other. 2. The obligation to eat matzah is obligatory on men and women, the same as the obligation to rejoice on Yom Tov is obligatory on all. But the obligation to eat in the Succah is only obligatory for men, unlike the obligation to rejoice on Yom Tov, as noted earlier. 

Analyzing these mitzvos leads to the conclusion that eating matzah on the first night of Pesach, is more important than the commandment to be happy, because one can be happy the remainder of the holiday, when they don’t need to eat matzah. In addition both of these commandments are obligatory on both men and women, and so neither displaces the other. Therefore even if one is uncomfortable eating matzah on the first night, they must push themselves to do so, despite the unhappiness it will cause them. 

But on Succos the analysis yields the opposite conclusion. Since the mitzvah of Succah is all seven days, if one is uncomfortable in the Succah and pushes themselves to eat in it they will be unhappy all of Yom Tov long, and never rejoice properly. Similarly since eating in the Succah is only obligatory to men it must yield for the mitzvah of rejoicing on Yom Tov, which is obligatory on all. So we cannot use matzah as a prooftext for our behavior on Succos because of the significant differences between these two mitzvos. Therefore if these mitzvos clash, we prioritize rejoicing on Yom Tov over eating in the Succah, and so if it is raining on the first night we should eat right away in the Succah and not worry about doing the mitzvah of Succah in the optimal manner. 

Relatedly, on another point Rav Silver disagreed with a viewpoint of the Mishna Berurah’s regarding this topic. The laws of discomfort in the Succah are divided into two different areas. One is the exemption from eating in the Succah when it is raining outside (in Shulchan Aruch 639:5). The other is the exemption from eating in the Succah when there is another form of discomfort, such as wind, bugs or smell (in Shulchan Aruch 640:4). It is only in the first case that Rema records the statement that one who eats in the Succah when they are exempt is ignorant, not regarding the second. 

The Mishna Berurah (639:44) understands the Rema’s statement to be referring to all the situations discussed above – whether because of rain or other discomforts one is ignorant for being strict and eating in the Succah. But Rav Silver offered a different interpretation, that only in the case of rain is one a fool for remaining in the Succah, but not in the other situations mentioned. The reasoning for this is that since rain is a universal discomfort, the moment it begins to rain we view the Succah as being unusable, almost as if it’s not Succos at all, so anyone who remains in the Succah is being a fool. It is for this reason the Mishna (Succah 2:9) compares rain on Succos to a servant having their master throw the water they served back in their face לעבד שבא למזוג כוס לרבו ושפך לו קיתון על פניו – because everyone is precluded from Succah at once, it is a communal exemption.

But other discomforts are individual, not everyone is experiencing them at the same moment, and so we view the Succah as still obligatory, just not for this individual person at this moment. But if he chooses to continue eating in the Succah despite his discomfort, it does not carry the same stigma as sitting in the Succah in the rain. 

(Editors note: Rav Silver’s two analyses on the topic of discomfort in the Succah, quoted in this piece, which derive from two different books of his, seem to contradict each other. In the first he views the exemption of discomfort as stemming from the need to enjoy Yom Tov. If so, it should make no difference if the discomfort is communal or individual. If an individual is unhappy, they must do something more enjoyable. The second analysis which differentiates between communal discomfort and individual discomfort seems to reflect a different understanding of the exemption of discomfort from the Succah.)