During this unique period of seven days, we move out of our houses, and into succahs, where we are tasked with eating and living as we would in our homes.
Of course, living in England (this will apply to many other places as well), one topic becomes all-encompassing: what happens if it rains?
This topic has the benefit of expansive commentary. However, today we will examine one very specific issue:
If it begins to rain heavily, you can two options: (a) continue you meal in the succah, with a plastic succah covering overhead to protect you from the rain, or (b) move our of the succah entirely, and continue your meal in the house.
Is anything achieved, from a halachic point of view, by continuing the meal in the succah, with the roof covered?
As you may have guessed, the answer is subject to a machlokes, based on a mishna (and related piece of gemara) in maseches succah.
The following two cases are expounded:
- If one spreads a sheet over the schach because of the sun, or underneath the schach because of falling bits, it is invalid (we will call this ‘mipnei hachamah‘, or ‘because of the sun‘).
- If one placed a sheet underneath the schach purely for decorative purposes, it is kosher (lets call this the ‘decorative‘ or ‘aesthetic‘ case).
Now, Rashi and Tosafos have very different ways of understanding these cases, which will have an important effect on whether you will fulfil your obligation by sitting in a succah with a roof covering. Let’s take a look:
Rashi sees the case of mipnei hachamah as pertaining to issues of human comfort. Where there is extreme heat from the sun, such that we may get uncomfortable sitting in the succah, we may be tempted to spread a sheet to cool us down. Importantly, this does not affect the functioning of the scach, but it does interfere with the kashrus of the succah. The sheet is made of a material which is mekabel tumah, and so a succah which uses such a sheet will be rendered pasul.
Based on Rashi’s reasoning, a succah will be invalidated whenever a sheet is spread for reasons of human comfort. It is reasonable to suggest that this will apply to rain as well: spreading a plastic covering (which is also mekabel tumah) on top of the schach is an attempt to improve human comfort, and so will not be allowed.
The only circumstance in which such a covering is allowed is where is performs a purely aesthetic purpose. In this case, we look at the sheet as if it is not really there, and the succah is valid in any case.
Tosafos takes a totally different approach to this sugya.
The case of mipnei hachamah will certainly invalidate the succah, but not because it is improving human comfort. We are not concerned at all about human comfort! Rather the only reason the succah is pasul in this case is because the sheet is assuming the key job of the schach.
One of the key denim in hilchos succah is that the schach must provide more shade than sun in order to be valid. The whole job of the schach is to provide shade, and if it does not do this, then the succah is pasul.
Tosafos understands the case of mipnei hachamah to be one where the heat of the sun has caused the schach to dry out and shrink, to the point where it is no longer in the majority. The gaps in between the bits of schach are now sufficiently large that there is more sun than shade, and hence the succah is pasul. In this situation, to take a sheet and spread it over the schach, will be in order to assume the very function of the schach, i.e. to provide shade in the succah where the schach failed to do so.
To use a sheet, which is mekabel tumah, to do the very job that the schach is supposed to, certainly cannot work. As a result, the succah will be pasul.
Following this logic, however, Tosafos should maintain that where a sheet is spread either (a) purely for human comfort, or (b) for aesthetics, then provided one is not relying on it to create shade, it will be kosher. Provided we have adequate schach, then, spreading a plastic covering to protect us from rain should not be a problem. The succah will remain kosher.
Now, to be clear, the normative halachic view is like Rashi. Where the succah cover is on, we will generally hold that you have not fulfilled your obligations.
However, where there is heavy rain and there is no option to remain in the succah without some sort of covering, then it is useful to know that Tosafos provides a ‘back-up’ of sorts. Indeed, the Shulchan Aruch brings both opinions, and explains that we may rely on Tosafos’ reasoning in extreme cases:
In extenuating circumstances where on would not be able to eat in the sccah on account of schach falling into the succah or wind which extinguishes the candles, it is preferable to spread a sheet underneath the scach than to go inside the house to eat, but one should not make the beracha of ‘leishev basuccah’.
Next time it is pouring down with rain, and we are about to call it a day and move our meal inside, we should remember this halachah. Although we will certainly not be fulfilling our mitzvah according to all opinions, there is nevertheless some merit in remaining in the succah, albeit with the cover on.
Earning a kosher livelihood
As we know, a key idea of the mitzvah of succah is to remind ourselves that we are vulnerable. We might surround ourselves most of the year with bricks and mortar, but for one week a year we remember that Hashem is really in charge.
We may see two people put a covering on their succah. One will cover it with the correct intention, and be yotsei in the mitzvah of succah, whilst another might do the exact same action, but miss out of the mitzvah entirely.
This is an important lesson for the workplace. We go to work each day, and so do our colleagues. We do the exact same actions. The exact same projects. And (more or less) the exact same work. So what distinguishes us? Only one thing: our mindset.
Just as a succah can be kosher or pasul depending on the intentions behind certain actions, so too our entire parnassah and livelihood can be legitimised or condemned based on what is going on in our head.
Let us consider, for example:
- Is our motivation for earning money correct? Are we earning in order to give to our families and our communities, and support good causes, or are they only a secondary consideration?
- Do we accept that it is really Hashem who is calling the shots at work, and that the result of our hard efforts is ultimately not down to us or our colleagues or bosses?
- Do we daven to Hashem throughout the day, on the most minute of scales, for success in particular tasks at work? Or to improve our relationship with our colleagues? Or for the next presentation to go well?
We should all take these issues to heart, and have a successful career, as well as a good moed and a chag sameach!
 As always, this article is not intended to provide any sort of definitive psak. Please consult your local Rabbi. | Some of the content of this article originated from Rabbi Benji Landau, Associate Rabbi of Edgware Yeshurun.
 Bringing the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam.
 Shulchan Aruch, 629: 19
 We have no addressed the issue of ‘ohel’, i.e. the size of the gap between the schach and any such covering. This is another issue unto itself.