R. Yirmiyah interprets the word “אסרו” to mean “make an addition.” This is the source for the custom still observed in Israel today known as “Isru Hag.” It is an additional day attached to the end of the Festival that is not observed as a true festival, but is observed as a day off of work by some, an extra celebration. From personal experience I can tell you what this means in Israel—adults work and kids have off of school. Great for kids, not as good for working adults. In the Diaspora it has fewer ramifications because there are two days of Yom Tov anyway.
The organizing principle in this section is that the statements are transmitted by Hizkiyah in the name of R. Yirmiyah in the name of R. Shimon b. Yohai. Only the first statement is connected with the topic of the lulav.
Whenever one is using something that grew from the ground for a mitzvah he must use it in the way that it grew, meaning that the part that was below is below and the part that is up top, is towards the top. Rashi gives two examples—the boards used in making the Tabernacle, and the lulav. The proof text is the odd phrase in Exodus 26:15, “acacia wood standing up.” Why does the Torah need to say “standing up”? Of course, if the planks are used to build the Tabernacle they will be “standing up.” R. Shimon b. Yohai interprets this to mean that the part that grew below should be below. The same is true for the lulav. When we take the lulav we take the part that grew out of the trunk in our hands, and the lulav goes up, as it did on the palm tree. Holding the lulav or any of the other species upside down would prevent one from fulfilling his obligation.
The Talmud cites a supporting baraita containing several more interpretations of “standing up.” The first interpretation is the same as that from before.
The second interpretation is connected to the gold covering made for the boards. The word “standing up” means that the gold covering should be nailed into the boards, according to Rashi’s interpretation. It shouldn’t just be a complete overlaying that could stand on its own.
The final interpretation is more aggadic. Despite the fact that these boards are wood, these boards will last forever, not just their gold covering.
R. Shimon b. Yohai now talks about his own merit, and that of his sons. This line is related to a famous aggadah about R. Shimon b. Yohai and his son (Shabbat 33b) and their time in the cave. Their suffering there was sufficient to protect the whole world from its sins. Also their Torah learning was great enough to save the whole world from the consequences of their lack of dedication to the Torah.
Here R. Shimon b. Yohai adds in Yotam son of Uzziah, whose merit is even greater than his or his son’s. The one mention of Yotam in the Tanakh is in II Kings 15:6, that while his father the leper “lived in isolated quarters, while Yotam, the king’s son, was in charge of the palace and governed the people of the land.” The rabbis understand this to be a sign of Yotam’s respect for his father—instead of just becoming king, he ruled in the king’s name. There may also be a sense in this legend that Yotam was a decent person at a time when all of the kings were doing “what was displeasing to the Lord.” The Tanakh doesn’t say that Yotam was good, but neither does it say that he was bad. That may be sufficient in times of such great evil.
This mystical section opens with R. Shimon b. Yohai’s statement as to how many people there are in heaven who have merited the right to greet the Shekhinah, God’s divine presence.
This continues the theme from the end of yesterday’s section. R. Shimon b. Yohai says that there are few human beings who are righteous enough to merit seeing God in heaven, but that if there are only two, they are he and his son.
There is a debate among commentators whether R. Shimon b. Yohai refers to all of history or just his own generation. R. Hananel says that he refers to his own generation for R. Shimon b. Yohai observed the behavior of the people in his time and based on that observation he claimed that there are few who truly merit seeing the Shekhinah.
The Talmud cites a contradiction with R. Shimon b. Yohai’s statement that there may be as few as two who see God’s presence. Rava, a Babylonian amora, claims that there are 18,000 righteous sitting before God. According to Ezekiel this is the size of the perimeter of the city of Jerusalem—18,000 cubits. The name of the city is “The Lord Is There.” Since we know from elsewhere that a person takes up one cubit’s worth of space, we can conclude that there are 18,000 people sitting around the city of the Lord, “The Lord Is There.”
The answer is that there are only few people who see the Shekhinah clearly, through a bright speculum (some interpret this word to mean a partition). But there are many who can see God but more dimly, without this bright speculum (or through a thick partition). We should note that this “seeing of God” and how it relates to prophecy, and what prevents people from being prophets, who were/are true prophets is a complicated and rich topic. But this is not the space to delve deeply into the topic. I will say that for the Rambam what bars a person from being a prophet are that person’s own bad qualities, stubbornness, anger, haughtiness, stupidity, jealousy, etc. The prophet is therefore one who perfects his qualities to such an extent that he can see God clearly. This is indeed a rare quality, as our sugya teaches us.
Again the Talmud raises a difficulty. Are there only a few, perhaps as few as two people who see God through a bright speculum? Abaye says that in every generation there are 36 righteous people who see the Shekhinah every day. This is the source for the famous legend that there are thirty-six righteous people who sustain the world.
The Talmud resolves this by saying that there are indeed only a very few who can, so to say, go see God without permission. This, in my opinion, also alludes to Moses of whom it is said that he is “Faithful in all my house” (Numbers 12:7). “In all my house” sounds as if God is saying that He allows Moses to come and go freely in his house, the Tabernacle/Temple. Others may see God, but they must do so at prescribed times, it is more formal, less intimate relationship. In our sugya this means that they need special permission to see God’s Divine Presence, the Shekhinah.
The Talmud refers to R. Eliezer’s statement that when leaving the altar at the end of the aravah ritual they people would say, “To the Lord and to you, O altar, to the Lord and to you, O altar.” This seems to be a transgression of the prohibition of “associating the name of God with something else.” The resolution is that the people thank God and “praise” the altar. They understand that ultimately it is God that is worthy of thanks, for God is the source of goodness and atonement. But the altar is still the vehicle through which atonement is achieved. Therefore, it is worthy of praise.
In the mishnah R. Yohanan b. Beroka says that on the seventh day they would bring palm branches, lulavim, and “they would beat them on the ground at the sides of the altar, and that day was called “[the day of] the beating of the palm branches.” This, according to the Talmud, is a dispute between the sages and R. Yohanan ben Beroka. The former hold that this ceremony is done with the aravot, whereas the latter holds that it is done with the lulav.
The Talmud brings up midrashic support for each position. R. Yohanan b. Beroka derives his halakhah from the plural form of “branches” whereas the rabbis do not derive anything from the plural form because its written defectively, without the vav.
R. Levi finds midrashic meaning in the fact that there is only one lulav. There is only one lulav, because the palm tree has only one heart, just as Israel has one collective heart, directed at God in heaven.
This section is a dispute about saying the blessing over the sukkah and the lulav. At the heart of the issue is whether sitting in the sukkah or taking the lulav for seven days is seven independent performances of the mitzvah or one long performance of the mitzvah.
Rav Judah says that since one should be dwelling in the sukkah night and day, it is one long performance. You say one blessing. But the lulav cannot be taken at night, therefore it is seven independent performances, and one blesses every day.
Rabbah b. Bar Hana holds that one blesses over the Sukkah every day for it is a toraitic commandment for seven days. But outside the Temple the lulav is only toraitic for one day, therefore one blesses for only one day.
Rabin holds that one recites both blessings for seven days. This is the accepted halakhic ruling. We bless on the lulav once a day, when the mitzvah is fulfilled. But we bless on the sukkah every time we eat a meal in there, as long as we left in between meals
Despite this, R. Yosef holds that we prefer Rabbah b. Bar Hana because all of the other amoraim hold as he does.