For seven days on Sukkot, we are commanded to leave our homes and make the sukkah our fixed place of residence. All the activities one would normally do in their home–eating, sleeping, relaxing–are to be done in the sukkah. By participating in this holiday, we recreate the Jewish people’s experience of living in the desert after leaving Egypt. Dwelling in the sukkah causes us to feel more vulnerable, as it requires that we abandon the permanence and security that a home offers, but at the same time, it also allows us to connect more deeply with God. However, the requirement to dwell in the sukkah is far from absolute. Most who live in colder climates do not sleep in their sukkahs.
Furthermore, halakha further exempts those who are sick or who would experience significant discomfort (mitztaer) from dwelling in the sukkah. While it is easy to offer a clear definition of being sick, discomfort is far more subjective. Even so, Shulkhan Aruch (640:4) offers several examples such as the weather being too cold, the presence of bugs, or a bad smell.
The Mishnah (Sukkah 2:4) expands these exemptions to include not only those who are sick, but also those who attend to the sick as well. The Gemara gives no clear explanation for this ruling, but the question is discussed by many halakhic authorities. According to some, those who attend to the sick are not obligated to dwell in the sukkah because of the principle osek b’mitzvah patur min hamitzvah: One who is engaged in one mitzvah is exempt from another mitzvah. However, as noted by Arukh HaShulchan (640:3-4), this answer does not appear to make sense. Those attending to the sick are typically treated as being categorically exempt from dwelling in the sukkah even when they are not directly engaged in their work. The principle of osek b’mitzvah patur min hamitzvah should only apply when they are directly attending to the sick.
In addressing a similar question, Rabbi Yaakov Reischer (Shevut Yaakov 3:51) offers a surprising answer, one that that is relevant to our current moment. Rabbi Reischer (1661-1733) was a leading halakhic authority in Germany, and his teshuvot are still regularly cited by today’s poskim. When asked by one of his students, who was hired during Sukkot to attend to the sick, whether he was obligated to eat in the sukkah, he rules that his student is exempt even though attending to the sick does not require continuous attention. The reason, he writes, is not because of haosek b’mitzvah patur min hamitzvah, but rather because those who attend to the sick would themselves experience significant discomfort if they were required to eat in the sukkah. Why is this the case? One who attends to the sick cannot do so haphazardly. Rather, they must give their full attention to the one who is ill and ensure that their various needs are met. To be done properly, they must have a genuine sense of empathy for those in their care. As a result, if those attending to the sick were to try to eat in the sukkah, “They would feel the discomfort of the one who is sick, for their thoughts are always upon them.”
Rabbi Reischer asserts an important truth that too many of us fail to acknowledge. Medical staff of all kinds, whether they be attendants, nurses, or doctors, do not view their jobs as merely a paycheck. Instead, they see themselves as offering care and concern for those who are suffering, and therefore feel the pain of those they try to help. At a time when so many who work in hospitals have been struggling under profoundly difficult conditions for far too long desperately trying to help those who have become sick and even died from coronavirus, this is a truth worth remembering. While many of us, God willing, will be enjoying our time in our sukkah, there are numerous others who are unable to do so. Just as the sick require others to attend to them, it is worthwhile to ask ourselves what we can do to look after those who care for others.
|שו”ת שבות יעקב חלק ג סימן נא |
נשאלתי מא’ מתלמידי וז”ל אחד שנשכר מקהל להיות משמש לחולי’ וקי”ל משמשי חולה פטורים מסוכה אם מחויב מ”מ לאכול בכל סעודה וסעודה כזית בתוך הסוכה ולברך בה ברכת הסוכה שהרי הולך לפעמים לצרכיו ונקביו ה”ה לזה או לא…
תשובה ע”ד משמשי חולה נ”ל דפטור מסוכה לגמרי כיון שהוא מושכר להיות משמש לחולה לכל צרכיו ולהשגיח עליו לעשות פעולתו שלמה ובאמונה בכן אם ילך לאכול בסוכה הוי ליה מצטער בצער החולה שדעתו עליו תמיד לכך הוא פטור מן הסוכה אכן בלילה הראשונה דגם המצטער חייב לאכול כזית בסוכה כדאיתא בסימן תר”מ גם משמשי חולה חייבי
|Shevut Yaakov 3:51 |
Question: I was asked by one of my students who was hired by a community to attend to those who are sick. The halakha is that those who attend to the sick are exempt from the sukkah. However, are they obligated to eat at least an olive size piece of bread in the sukkah and make the blessing of dwelling in the sukkah? While they are caring for the sick they sometimes go to the bathroom [and therefore aren’t busy all the time]…
Answer: Regarding those who attend to the sick, it appears to me that they are completely exempt from the sukkah since they must be capable of attending to all the sick person’s needs, watching over them and doing a complete job faithfully. If they were to go eat in the sukkah, they would feel the discomfort of the one who is sick, for their thoughts are always upon them. Because of this, they are exempt from having to eat in the sukkah. However, on the first night when the one who is in discomfort [and normally exempt from eating in the sukkah] is obligated to eat an olive sized piece of bread in the sukkah, as is the ruling in Shulchan Arukh (640), so too would those attending to the sick be obligated on the first night.
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