Torah Sparks

United Synagogue (USCJ) is proud and delighted to bring you Torah Sparks, with insights and learning materials on the Parasha (Torah portion) of the week. Torah Sparks is produced by the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

Each week there will be a Dvar Torah - a discussion on some aspect of the reading, by CY faculty, alumni and friends; a Vort - a short thought from Chasidic rebbes or other thinkers about some point in the text; and Table Talk - questions to stimulate discussion on the Parsha around the Shabbat table. Torah Sparks is available here on the Conservative Yeshiva's Shiurim Online Beit Midrash website, as well as by subscription to weekly graphical emails. Please select the Parasha you would like to see - it will display articles from each year. A printable PDF is linked at the end of each week's presentation.


Introduction to Sukkah

Introduction to Sukkah   Tractate Sukkah can be divided into several sections.  The first two chapters deal with the laws of the sukkah, how one builds a sukkah and how one observes the commandment of dwelling in a sukkah.   The third chapter deals with the laws of the lulav, the four species that one […]

Sukkah, Chapter 1, Mishnah 1

Sukkah, Chapter One, Mishnah One   Introduction Tractate Sukkah begins with a mishnah that is remarkably similar to the first mishnah of Eruvin.  It states the maximum and minimum height of a sukkah.  We should note that the word “sukkah” in the mishnah sometimes refers to the “skhakh”, the dead branches used to make the […]

Sukkah, Chapter 1, Mishnah 10

Sukkah, Chapter One, Mishnah Ten   Introduction In yesterday’s mishnah we learned that if there is a three handbreadth horizontal gap between the skhakh and the walls the sukkah is invalid.  Today we learn that this is only true if there is a gap. If there is material in this gap separating the wall from […]

Sukkah, Chapter 1, Mishnah 11

Sukkah, Chapter One, Mishnah Eleven   Introduction This mishnah contains two debates between Rabbi Eliezer and the other sages. The first concerns one who makes his sukkah by leaning one wall against the other. The second concerns the validity of reed mats as skhakh.   Mishnah Eleven 1)      One who makes his sukkah like a […]

Sukkah, Chapter 1, Mishnah 2

Sukkah, Chapter One, Mishnah Two   Introduction This mishnah deals with a person who makes a valid sukkah (we will learn more about what a valid sukkah is later) but then something is placed on top of his sukkah that does not count as valid skhakh.  This causes the otherwise valid sukkah to be invalid.  […]

Sukkah, Chapter 1, Mishnah 3

Sukkah, Chapter One, Mishnah Three   Introduction This mishnah teaches that if there is a roof-like structure underneath or above the sukkah it invalidates the skhakh.   Mishnah Three 1)      If he spread a sheet over it because of the sun or beneath it because of falling [leaves]; 2)      Or if he spread [a sheet] […]

Sukkah, Chapter 1, Mishnah 4

Sukkah, Chapter One, Mishnah Four   Introduction This mishnah teaches a few general rules regarding what can be used as skhakh, the covering on top of the sukkah.   Mishnah Four 1)      If he trained a vine or a gourd or ivy over [the sukkah] and put skhakh on top of it, it is not […]

Sukkah, Chapter 1, Mishnah 5

Sukkah, Chapter One, Mishnah Five   Introduction This  mishnah deals with material that fits all of the criteria brought up in yesterday’s mishnah—it comes from the ground, it is detached from the ground and it is not receptive to impurity—and yet still cannot be used as skhakh.   Mishnah Five 1)      Bundles of straw, bundles […]

Sukkah, Chapter 1, Mishnah 6

Sukkah, Chapter One, Mishnah Six   Introduction This mishnah continues to discuss things that meet the requirements for skhakh as listed in mishnayot 3-4 (comes from the ground, is detached from the ground and is not receptive to impurity) but are still not valid to use as skhakh.   Mishnah Six 1)      They may make […]

Sukkah, Chapter 1, Mishnah 7

Sukkah, Chapter One, Mishnah Seven   Introduction Roofs were usually made by first putting on a layer of wooden planks and then covering them with plaster to seal out the rain.  Plaster on a roof would render the sukkah invalid because it does not come from vegetation.  This mishnah discusses a house that has a […]

Sukkah, Chapter 1, Mishnah 8

Sukkah, Chapter One, Mishnah Eight   Introduction The first section of this mishnah is concerned with someone who uses metal objects as skhakh.  The second section deals with the strange case of one who carves out room in a haystack to make a sukkah.   Mishnah Eight 1)      One who roofs his sukkah with iron […]

Sukkah, Chapter 1, Mishnah 9

Sukkah, Chapter One, Mishnah Nine   Introduction This mishnah discusses the height of the walls as well as the proximity of the skhakh to the walls.   Mishnah Nine 1)      If he hangs walls down from above to below, if they are higher than three handbreadths from the ground, it is invalid. 2)      If he […]

Sukkah, Chapter 2, Mishnah 1

Sukkah, Chapter Two, Mishnah One   Introduction This mishnah teaches that a person who sleeps underneath a bed inside the sukkah has not fulfilled his obligation to dwell in the sukkah. This is because the bed, which is not valid skhakh acts as a barrier between him and the valid skhakh above. We should note […]

Sukkah, Chapter 2, Mishnah 2

Sukkah, Chapter Two, Mishnah Two   Introduction There are two completely separate topics addressed in this mishnah. The first deals with a person who supports his sukkah on bedposts. The second deals with the necessary thickness and orderliness of the skhakh.   Mishnah Two 1)      One who supports his sukkah with the posts of a […]

Sukkah, Chapter 2, Mishnah 3

Sukkah, Chapter Two, Mishnah Three   Introduction There are two interrelated subjects in this mishnah:  1) building a sukkah in a strange place; 2) entering the sukkah on the festival. As background we should note that on a festival or Shabbat it is forbidden to climb a tree, lest one break off a branch, which […]

Sukkah, Chapter 2, Mishnah 4

Sukkah, Chapter Two, Mishnah Four   Introduction The first section of this mishnah continues to discuss walls used as trees for the sukkah.  The second section begins to discuss a new topic: when a person is obligated to be in the sukkah and what a person is obligated to do there.  This will be the […]

Sukkah, Chapter 2, Mishnah 5

Sukkah, Chapter Two, Mishnah Five   Introduction This mishnah is a continuation of yesterday’s mishnah, dealing with whether a person may snack outside of the sukkah.   Mishnah Five 1)      It once happened that they brought a dish to Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai to taste, and two dates and a pail of water to Rabban […]

Sukkah, Chapter 2, Mishnah 6

Sukkah, Chapter Two, Mishnah Six   Introduction In this mishnah the sages and Rabbi Eliezer debate how many and which meals a person must eat in the sukkah during the festival.   Mishnah Six 1)      Rabbi Eliezer says: a man is obligated to eat fourteen meals in the sukkah, one on each day and one […]

Sukkah, Chapter 2, Mishnah 7

Sukkah, Chapter Two, Mishnah Seven   Introduction The main topic of this mishnah is how much of a person’s body must be within the sukkah while he is eating.   Mishnah Seven 1)      One whose head and the greater part of his body were within the sukkah and his table within the house:   a)      […]

Sukkah, Chapter 2, Mishnah 8

Sukkah, Chapter Two, Mishnah Eight   Introduction Most of this mishnah is concerned with the obligation of children to observe the commandment of dwelling in the sukkah.   Mishnah Eight 1)      Women, slaves and minors are exempt from the [commandment] of the sukkah. a)      A minor who no longer relies on his mother is obligated […]

Sukkah, Chapter 2, Mishnah 9

Sukkah, Chapter Two, Mishnah Nine   Introduction This is the final mishnah in tractate Sukkah which deals with the topic of the sukkah. It discusses some of the essential rules of how and when one must live in the sukkah.   Mishnah Nine 1)      All seven days [of the festival] a man must make the […]

Sukkah, Chapter 3, Mishnah 1

Sukkah, Chapter Three, Mishnah One   Introduction The third chapter of Sukkah deals with the four species, which are together called the “Lulav.”  These four species are described in Leviticus 23:40, “On the first day you shall take the product of ‘hadar’ trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees and willows of the […]

Sukkah, Chapter 3, Mishnah 10

Sukkah, Chapter Three, Mishnah Ten   Introduction In the time of the Mishnah not every person in the synagogue would recite the Hallel on his own, as we normally do today. Rather, the leader would recite part, or perhaps most of the verse and the rest of the congregation would respond with the second half […]

Sukkah, Chapter 3, Mishnah 11

Sukkah, Chapter Three, Mishnah Eleven   Introduction The first half of this mishnah continues to deal with the recitation of Hallel. The second half contains another rule regarding the lulav and etrog.   Mishnah Eleven 1)      In a place where the custom is to repeat [verses], he should repeat; a)      [Where the custom is] to […]

Sukkah, Chapter 3, Mishnah 12

Sukkah, Chapter Three, Mishnah Twelve   Introduction Leviticus 23:40 reads, “On the first day you shall take…and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days.”  The beginning of the verse states “on the first day” and the end of the verse says, “seven days.”  From here the rabbis derived that the mitzvah of […]

Sukkah, Chapter 3, Mishnah 13

Sukkah, Chapter Three, Mishnah Thirteen   Introduction Today we don’t take the lulav on Shabbat.  However, in the time of the Mishnah if the first day of the festival fell on Shabbat, they would take the lulav, because as we learned in mishnah twelve, the taking of the lulav on the first day of Sukkot […]

Sukkah, Chapter 3, Mishnah 14

Sukkah, Chapter Three, Mishnah Fourteen   Introduction This mishnah is a continuation of yesterday’s mishnah which discussed taking the lulav on the first day of the festival which falls on Shabbat.   Mishnah Fourteen Rabbi Yose says: if the first day of the festival fell on Shabbat, and he forgot and carried out his lulav […]

Sukkah, Chapter 3, Mishnah 15

Sukkah, Chapter Three, Mishnah Fifteen   Introduction As anybody who has ever fulfilled the commandment of lulav knows, or for that matter, as anybody who has ever dealt with cut flowers knows, they tend to dry up over time.  This is especially true for the aravah and the hadas—they simply won’t last when they are […]

Sukkah, Chapter 3, Mishnah 2

Sukkah, Chapter Three, Mishnah Two   Introduction This mishnah deals with the hadas, the myrtle.  Many of the details of this mishnah are the same as those in yesterday’s mishnah concerning the lulav.  I will comment only on aspects of the hadas that differ from those of the lulav.   Mishnah Two 1)      A stolen […]

Sukkah, Chapter 3, Mishnah 3

Sukkah, Chapter Three, Mishnah Three   Introduction This mishnah deals with the aravah, the willow.   Mishnah Three 1)      A stolen or withered aravah is invalid. 2)      One [take from an] asherah or from a condemned city is invalid. 3)      One whose tip was broken off or whose leaves were detached, or a tzatzefah is […]

Sukkah, Chapter 3, Mishnah 4

Sukkah, Chapter Three, Mishnah Four   Introduction In this mishnah the sages debate how many of each of the species he must take.   Mishnah Four 1)      Rabbi Ishmael says: three hadasim, two aravot, one lulav and one etrog, even if two [of the hadasim] have their tips broken off and [only] one is whole. […]

Sukkah, Chapter 3, Mishnah 5

Sukkah, Chapter Three, Mishnah Five   Introduction This mishnah deals with what makes an etrog invalid. Of the four species, only the etrog is a food and hence only an etrog is subject to the normal agricultural laws—tithes, terumah, and orlah.  The mishnah therefore focuses on these subjects.   Mishnah Five 1)      An etrog which […]

Sukkah, Chapter 3, Mishnah 6

Sukkah, Chapter Three, Mishnah Six   Introduction The Torah says calls an etrog “the beautiful fruit of the tree” or “the fruit of the beautiful tree.”  Due to the mention of the word “beautiful (hadar)” the rabbis were more demanding regarding the physical perfection of the etrog than of the other three species.  Indeed, to […]

Sukkah, Chapter 3, Mishnah 7

Sukkah, Chapter Three, Mishnah Seven   Introduction This mishnah teaches the minimum and maximum size for an etrog.   Mishnah Seven 1)      The minimum size of an etrog: a)      Rabbi Meir says: the size of a nut. b)      Rabbi Judah says:  the size of an egg. 2)      The maximum [size] is such that two can […]

Sukkah, Chapter 3, Mishnah 8

Sukkah, Chapter Three, Mishnah Eight   Introduction According to some sages, three of the species (all except the etrog) must be bound together.  Our mishnah debates whether the cord used to bind the three together must be from the same species as one of the three species. The problem with it being from another type […]

Sukkah, Chapter 3, Mishnah 9

Sukkah, Chapter Three, Mishnah Nine   Introduction The first part of this mishnah deals with when during the Hallel (Psalms 113-118) one waives the lulav. The second part of the mishnah deals with when during the day one should perform the mitzvah of taking the lulav.    Mishnah Nine 1)      And where [in the service] […]

Sukkah, Chapter 4, Mishnah 1

Sukkah, Chapter Four, Mishnah One   Introduction This mishnah is an introduction to the remainder of the tractate Sukkot.  On Sukkot there are some mitzvot that are observed for the full eight days (seven days of Sukkot and one day of Shmini Atzeret) and there are other mitzvot that are observed for a lesser number […]

Sukkah, Chapter 4, Mishnah 10

Sukkot, Chapter Four, Mishnah Ten   Introduction This mishnah teaches how they would perform the water libation on Shabbat and yet avoid the problem of having to carry the water up from the Shiloah.   Mishnah Ten 1)      As it was performed on weekdays, so was it was performed on Shabbat, save that on the […]

Sukkah, Chapter 4, Mishnah 2

Sukkah, Chapter Four, Mishnah Two   Introduction As we have learned before, outside of Jerusalem it is a mitzvah from the Torah to take the lulav only on the first day of the festival.  Hence, if the first day of the festival falls on Shabbat, one still performs the mitzvah of the lulav. We saw […]

Sukkah, Chapter 4, Mishnah 3

Sukkah, Chapter Four, Mishnah Three   Introduction The only difference between this mishnah and the previous mishnah concerning the lulav is that the lulav is taken on Shabbat if Shabbat is the first day of the festival, whereas the aravah (the willow) is taken on Shabbat if Shabbat falls on the seventh day of the […]

Sukkah, Chapter 4, Mishnah 4

Sukkah, Chapter Four, Mishnah Four   Introduction In 3:13 we learned how the mitzvah of lulav was performed in the synagogue on Shabbat and how they managed to get their lulavs to the synagogue while avoiding the prohibition of carrying.  In today’s mishnah we see how the same problem was addressed when the Temple still […]

Sukkah, Chapter 4, Mishnah 5

Sukkah, Chapter Four, Mishnah Five   Introduction This mishnah teaches how the special mitzvah of the aravah (the willow) was performed in the Temple.  This ritual is not mentioned at all in the Torah and according to the majority opinion in the Talmud it is either an ancient halakhah, a prophetic enactment or a custom.  […]

Sukkah, Chapter 4, Mishnah 6

Sukkah, Chapter Four, Mishnah Six   Introduction The first section of this mishnah teaches how the aravah ritual was performed on Shabbat.  In the second section we see that at least one rabbi thought that this was not an aravah ritual but a ritual performed with palm branches.   Mishnah Six 1)      As was its […]

Sukkah, Chapter 4, Mishnah 7

Sukkah, Chapter Four, Mishnah Seven   Mishnah Seven Immediately after beating the willows (or palm branches) the children undo their lulavs and eat their etrogim.   Explanation Once the ritual of the aravah was completed, children would immediately undo the ties binding their lulavim together and would immediately eat the etrogim.  This seems to encompass […]

Sukkah, Chapter 4, Mishnah 8

Sukkah, Chapter Four, Mishnah Eight   Introduction The first section of this mishnah deals with the recitation of Hallel and “rejoicing”, two mitzvoth which one fulfills on all eight days of the festival.  The second section deals with the sukkah in which one dwells for seven days but not on Shmini Atzeret, the eighth day […]

Sukkah, Chapter 4, Mishnah 9

Sukkot, Chapter Four, Mishnah Nine   Introduction Another one of the unique ceremonies performed at the Temple on Sukkot was the water libation.  During the year libations, that is pouring liquid onto the altar, were always performed with wine.  The water libation is unique and was vehemently opposed by the Sadducees, as we shall see […]

Sukkah, Chapter 5, Mishnah 1

Sukkah, Chapter Five, Mishnah One   Introduction The first four mishnayot of the final chapter of Sukkah are about a Sukkot ritual called “Simchat Bet Hashoevah”, which is usually translated as the “Celebration of the Water-Drawing.”  The water-drawing refers to the drawing of the water from the Shiloah in order to perform the water-libation, described […]

Sukkah, Chapter 5, Mishnah 2

Sukkot, Chapter Five, Mishnah Two   Introduction This mishnah begins to describe the Simchat Bet Hashoevah ritual.  The ritual seems to be centered around fire, which has led some scholars to suggest the Simchat Bet Hashoevah really means “The Celebration of Fire.”   Mishnah Two 1)      At the conclusion of the first festival day of […]

Sukkah, Chapter 5, Mishnah 3

Sukkot, Chapter Five, Mishnah Three   Introduction Today’s mishnah continues the description of the incredible light which shone from the menorah at the Simchat Bet Hashoevah.   Mishnah Three 1)      From the worn-out pants and belts of the priests they made wicks and with them they kindled the lamps. 2)      And there was not a […]

Sukkah, Chapter 5, Mishnah 4

Sukkah, Chapter Five, Mishnah Four   Introduction This mishnah describes the Simchat Bet Hashoevah.   Mishnah Four 1)      Men of piety and good deeds used to dance before them with lighted torches in their hands, and they would sing songs and praises. 2)      And Levites with innumerable harps, lyres, cymbals and trumpets and other musical […]

Sukkah, Chapter 5, Mishnah 5

Sukkah, Chapter Five, Mishnah Five   Introduction Since the previous mishnah mentioned the extra shofar blasts that were sounded during Sukkot, today’s mishnah discusses how many shofar blasts were sounded on other occasions in the Temple.  As we shall see, more shofar blasts were blown on the eve of Shabbat during Sukkot than at any […]

Sukkah, Chapter 5, Mishnah 6

Sukkah, Chapter Five, Mishnah Six   Introduction The priests were divided into twenty-four watches, each watch serving for a week at the Temple. During a watch’s week the priests of that watch kept all of the sacrificial meat and any other part of the sacrifice that they were allowed to use.  However, during pilgrimage festivals […]

Sukkah, Chapter 5, Mishnah 7

Sukkot, Chapter Five, Mishnah Seven   Introduction In yesterday’s mishnah we learned that the twenty-four priestly watches equally divided the sacrifices that were offered on account of the festival. Our mishnah now discusses the ownership over the other sacrifices that would have been offered on the three festivals.   Mishnah Seven 1)      At three periods […]

Sukkah, Chapter 5, Mishnah 8

Sukkah, Chapter Five, Mishnah Eight   Introduction The final mishnah of Sukkah is a continuation of yesterday’s mishnah which dealt with the division of the showbread.   Mishnah Eight 1)      If one day intervened between them [Shabbat and Yom Tov], the watch whose time of service was fixed [for that week] took ten [of the] […]

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