By Yochanan Gordon

It was in shul on erev Rosh Hashanah when someone in my vicinity was conversing with a friend about how the weather in Uman is similar to the temperature in the shul tent at that early Selichos.

He was commenting on the weather since erev Rosh Hashanah was the last day that our shul, Khal Mevakshei Hashem, would be in the tent that was erected to accommodate the shul during its first phase of expansion.

I turned to the young man and commented, “I’m not so sure that the Jews in Uman are even aware of the weather.”

The truth is that there was more than one item on my list to write about for this Sukkos issue, but since the weather pattern seems to be in rapid decline, and the wind is battering my windows as I type these words, all arrows are pointing to a cold Sukkos this year. I am no climate change advocate; however, I’m thinking back to the Sukkos days of my youth, back in Brooklyn and in the early part of our relocation to these parts, and how we’d often need to bundle up with multiple layers—and even that wouldn’t be enough. Although we have had some cold nights and perhaps early mornings, I really can’t recall a recent super-frigid Sukkos of the kind I recall from years past.

However, since mid-September, right after the bar mitzvah of our son Yehuda, the temperature has dipped significantly, and we’re bracing ourselves for a potentially uncomfortable Sukkos. On these grounds I thought it would be appropriate to address an interesting halachah that is unique to the yom tov of Sukkos. The Gemara in Sukkah cites Rava who asserts that one who is uncomfortable in the sukkah is exempt from dwelling within it while those circumstances persist.

So, this halachah normally manifests itself in the instance of rain; but the truth is Rashi on that Gemara cites intense heat or frigid temperatures as grounds to leave the sukkah for the house as well.

This halachah has bothered me for a long time. I imagine if people weren’t afraid that expressing wonderment in regard to this law would obligate them to eat in the sukkah in the rain, they’d agree with me.

We find instances where, if due to extenuating circumstances a person couldn’t fulfill a particular mitzvah, the Torah exempts him or her from it. But regarding the notion of mitzta’er, aside from the fact that it is subjective, when do we find the notion that if Torah is uncomfortable or inconvenient we can just opt out of it without any sense of accountability?

It is rather well-known that Chabad does eat in the sukkah even in torrential downpours. After suffering a massive heart attack on Shemini Atzeres in 1978, the Lubavitcher Rebbe was brought a cup to take a drink, which he refused to do as he hadn’t yet made Kiddush. When he was given a cup and a bottle of wine, he said that he couldn’t make Kiddush outside of a sukkah.

However, although the prevailing notion is that this obstinacy is unique to Chabad, the truth is that there are a number of chassidic communities that eat in the sukkah, and won’t even drink outside of it, regardless of the temperature or the inclement circumstances within it.

As a result, after spending a significant amount of time reading into the words, I arrived at what I—and others with whom I’ve shared this—found to be the truth of the matter. In chassidic philosophy it is explained that the sukkah is representative of an intensely sublime revelation of G-dliness, emanating from a level that is referred to as makifim d’binah. In Kabbalah and Chassidus there are two distinct revelations known as makif and penimi or sovev and memale. The difference between the two is that while memale pervades all the details and hierarchical characteristics of creation, sovev completely transcends the worlds and suspends all differentiation and hierarchy.

Chochmah originates in ayin and is the father principle, corresponding to Kudsha Berich Hu. Binah is the mother principle, the recipient of the flow from chochmah. Therefore, when we say that the sukkah is a physical manifestation of makifim d’binah we are saying that it is the concretization of an extremely sublime revelation.

When Yaakov Avinu was informed that the place he slept in after 14 years of not sleeping at all was the Makom HaMikdash, he exclaimed, “Indeed, G-d dwells in this place and I was completely unaware.” The implication is that had Yaakov Avinu known that there was a Divine revelation in the place where he slept, he surely would not have slept there. The Mitteler Rebbe cites this idea to explain the Chabad minhag not to sleep in the sukkah. However, as I explained earlier, one of the unavoidable results of being within a makif is that it suspends self-awareness. As such, when the Gemara says “mitzta’er patur min ha’sukkah,” that someone who is uncomfortable is exempt from dwelling within the sukkah, it isn’t giving an out or an escape route for someone to leave the sukkah and enter the house. What the Gemara is in fact saying is that if you are sitting in a sukkah and you are uncomfortable due to weather or other extenuating circumstances, then you aren’t in a sukkah at all and are therefore exempt from remaining outside.

The definition of a sukkah is a makif. A makif is a sublime revelation, which suspends all details and differentiation. As such, if you are in a sukkah and can’t lose sight of how cold it is in there, then you clearly aren’t a vessel to receive the Divinity that is emanating from the schach. As I lent some more thought to this idea, I began to realize that it explains another Gemara in Sukkah, which states: “All Jews are befitting to dwell within one sukkah.” It is clear that this is an instance where the revealed part of Torah and the esoteric layer converge. “Re’uyin kol Yisrael leishev b’sukkah achas” is saying that the entire kaleidoscope of Jews should feel welcome in the same sukkah as a byproduct of the fact that a sukkah is a makif, an enveloping light that overwhelms all hierarchy and finitude.

This also explains the following story. Many detractors of the Baal Shem Tov and his fledgling movement would question the suitability of the Baal Shem Tov’s sukkah. One day, the Baal Shem Tov was sitting in his sukkah in a meditative state when after a while he opened his clenched fist and produced a small, crumpled paper that had appeared out of nowhere that said: “The sukkah of the Baal Shem Tov is kosher, signed matat sar ha’panim [a heavenly angel].”

It has been said that the sukkah of the Baal Shem Tov had been constructed using all of the loopholes detailed in masechta Sukkah, such as lavud, gud asik, gud achis, etc. the Besht explained that each of these loopholes in the law corresponded to a different category of Jew who needed to fit within the sukkah.

Although this seems like a story that is unique to the Baal Shem Tov or some other great rebbe or oheiv Yisrael, the truth is that Sukkos is an extension of Rosh Hashanah, which had us coronate the King without first repenting, as well as Yom Kippur, which we began by declaring our permissibility to pray with the sinners. Sukkos is the next stage in that march towards unconditional Jewish love that demands that we feel perfectly at home in each other’s presence.

This all culminates on Simchas Torah when we dance together hand in hand as a unified people together with our King. My prayer is that we should not be mindful of the temperature in the sukkah, and that, figuratively, the atmosphere exuded within the walls of our sukkahs should be warm enough to welcome the disparate members of our large family. Good yom tov. n


Yochanan Gordon can be reached at Read more of Yochanan’s articles at

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