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A Deeper Dive into the Exemption of “Mitztaer” from Sitting in the Sukkah

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There are many unique aspects of the mitzvot of Sukkot, but one that has always piqued my interest is the concept of “mitztaer patur min ha’sukkah,” that one who experiences distress is exempt from sitting in the sukkah. I always found this halacha rather perplexing and even somewhat ironic. After all, isn’t the whole point of sitting in the sukkah that we should be uncomfortable? Isn’t the whole point of the sukkah that we are leaving the secure comfortable confines of our home and moving to an uncomfortable setting? To my knowledge, the concept of “mitztaer patur” from a mitzvah is unique to the Torah obligation of sukkah. There is a principle of “b’makom tza’ar lo gazru rabannan,” that in cases of distress, a Rabbinical decree may not apply, but an exemption from a Torah obligation based on “tza’ar” is unusual. It seems that we are required to be uncomfortable, but not in distress, when we sit in a sukkah. Why is the mitzvah of sukkah so unique in this regard?

The classic approach to deal with this exemption is that Tosafot explains that the mitzvah is to live in the sukkah as if we are living in our homes. If our roof blew off our homes and rain poured into our homes, we likely would leave our homes. Similarly, we should be allowed to leave our sukkot if it rains in them. Rav Yosef Salant, in his sefer Be’er Yosef, provides a different explanation for this exemption. He suggests that we are required to reenact the manner in which God protected us in the desert. The ananei hakavod, the Clouds of Glory, protected us in the desert. It wasn’t too hot or too cold in the desert. We were exposed to the elements in the desert and yet, through the protection of God, we felt comfortable. When we live in the sukkah on Sukkot, we reenact the kindness of God while we were in the desert. However, if we are suffering in the sukkah, then we are exempt because our suffering would negate a most essential........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)

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