Ra’anana Community Kollel
Sleeping in the Succah
Rabbi Dovid Horwitz
I’m going to let you in on a little known yet delightful mitzvah that will magnify your Succot experience ten-fold. It is practically a lost practice in many communities throughout the Jewish world, even among communities in Israel. The endangered mitzvah is the blissful commandment to sleep and live in the succah for seven days.
Here is an opportunity to increase your mitzvah profit margin by ten-fold! How can that be? A Jew who limits the succah experience to eating in the succah but denies himself or herself the pleasure of “hanging out” and sleeping there, will perhaps chalk up two hours a day to one’s credit. A Jew who truly lives in his succah and sleeps there might discover twenty hours a day to one’s credit. Not a bad return!
If living and sleeping in the succah is a mitzvah, why is it that so many people use their succot only to eat in? Are they merely losing out on a fantastic opportunity to get extra credit or are they contravening an obligatory commandment?
I believe that the common misconception that the mitzvah of succah is limited to eating stems from the halacha that states that we only make a brachah of leisheiv ba’succah when we eat and not when we sleep or dwell in the succah. In truth, there is a mitzvah to sleep and to dwell in the succah. Some opinions rule that one should make a brachah when every time one enters the succah even if he or she is not going to be eating. The custom of not reciting the brachah when not eating is not indicative that there is no mitzvah. Rather, the opinions on which the custom is based felt that eating is the most important act that we do in the succah, and therefore, it is sufficient to recite the brachah only on eating.
There is a difference between the mitzvah to sleep and the mitzvah to live in the succah.
Living in the succah is not an obligatory commandment. The Torah does not demand that a person hang out in the succah. It only requires us to perform our basic household actions in the succah. Therefore, a person who fails to properly dwell in the succah, spending most of the time in the comfort of one’s house, is not transgressing any mitzvah. Living in the succah is a voluntary mitzvah and therefore the more one dwells inside of it, the more credit a person will receive. Since there is no obligation to live in the succah, and it is usually less comfortable than one’s own house, it is no surprise that many of us don’t indulge in the practice of spending extra time in the succah.
Sleeping in the succah, however, is a mandatory mitzvah and every man is obligated to sleep in the succah to the same degree that he is obligated to eat in the succah! Yes, the mitzvot to eat and sleep are one and the same. It would seem that a man who fails to sleep in the succah is contravening a direct mitzvah similar to if he were to eat a meal outside of his succah. Why then do many people not sleep in the succah?
The Rema gives two reasons why people are lenient when it comes to sleeping in the succah. Firstly, the weather in Europe was uncomfortably cold and therefore to sleep in the succah was difficult. Secondly, since the obligation of succah is meant to parallel how one would live in his own house, one could argue that since a married man normally sleeps in the same room as his wife, he must also have her present when he sleeps in the succah. Since most succahs are not equipped to sleep women, sleeping in the succah would require him to sleep separately from his wife. Since this is not parallel to how one lives in his own home, he therefore is exempt from sleeping in the succah altogether.
The Mishnah Berurah quotes the Magen Avraham who says that this is not a sufficient argument to exempt a man from sleeping in the succah. He offers a different reason for why a husband is exempt from sleeping in the succah when his wife cannot be together with him. Since it is uncomfortable and awkward to sleep without one’s wife present, he is exempt based on the halachic concept of mitzta’er. Anyone who feels severe discomfort in the succah is exempted from the mitzvah. Mishnah Berurah points out that this reasoning may differ from man to man. A man who truly feels severe discomfort from being apart from his wife can rely on this leniency. A man who does not feel discomfited about sleeping apart from his wife cannot use this leniency.
The contemporary Poskim write that both of the Rema’s reasons to explain the lax attitude toward sleeping in the succah are inherently weak and faulty reasonings. To use the cold weather as an excuse is difficult since even in cold locations a person can bundle up with blankets to keep him warm. In Israel’s warm weather, this argument becomes a non - entity altogether.
The second argument that sleeping in the succah without one’s wife constitutes a deviation from the way one would live in his house is also debatable.
The soundest argument rests with the reasoning of the Magen Avraham. This however, should not be abused to absolve all men from sleeping in the succah. If a man is able to face the reality of sleeping without his wife, then halachically he is obligated to sleep in the succah.
Let us reclaim this lost mitzvah and reinstate it to its former glory. Treat yourself to the pleasure that comes form knowing that you fulfilled the mitzvah of succah this year to the fullest measure. Keep in mind that it is one of the only two mitzvot that one fulfills even when he is sleeping! The other mitzvah of course is living and sleeping in the Land of Israel. We in Eretz Yisrael have the unique opportunity to accomplish both of the “sleeping” mitzvot in one go. Go for it! Sweet dreams.