Talmud Tips

For the week ending 8 March 2014 / 6 Adar II 5774

Succah 34 - 40

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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“This is an arrow in the eye of the Satan.”

Rav Acha bar Yaakov would say this when he moved his lulav back and forth. Although the gemara concludes that one should not do this, since it might make matters worse, the Maharsha, based on Rashi, explains why the Sage thought it to be correct.

The gemara above (37a) explains that the waving of the lulav is done to stop harmful winds and dews. This is especially important during the winter season – beginning after Succot – when the increased moisture and winds can be a beracha or the opposite. Rav Acha bar Yaakov’s intention was therefore correct. However, his verbalizing this “attack” on the Satan (i.e. the angel of death and evil inclination) might serve to provoke it to redouble its efforts to seduce the Jewish People to stray from the way of G-d. Such is the power of speech.

  • Succah 38a

“For all of the mitzvot, a beracha is said before performing the mitzvah.”

This statement of Rav Yehuda in the name of Rav on our daf is well-known. It is also well-known that there are exceptions: sometimes there is no beracha said at all for a mitzvah, and sometimes the beracha is said after doing the mitzvah — a topic for another discussion.

Our gemara explains that the word chosen by our Sages to mean “before” is “over” and not “lifnei” or “kodem” as we might have expected. The gemara cites two verses in which we see the word “over” to mean “before”.

Tosefot on our daf asks, “How can one can say the beracha on the lulav while it is still in its case? It is not logical to say the beracha while the lulav is not yet in one’s hand on the verge of fulfillment of the mitzvah!” Tosefot offers three possible solutions of when to make the beracha:

1) Pick up the lulav, and not yet pick up the etrog.

2) Pick up everything, but with the etrog inverted until after the beracha.

3) Pick up everything in the correct manner, but have intent not to fill the mitzvah until after saying the beracha.

The first two options are the ruling of the author of the Shulchan Aruchan, Orach Chaim 651:4, although the Mishna Berurah (25) adds the third scenario as well.

  • Succah 39a

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