Chol HaMoed Trips And The Sukkah – A Halachic Analysis

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(By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com)

Most people didn’t discuss it before Sukkos, because they were busy preparing.  They didn’t discuss it on Sukkos because of hachana.  And so, the discussion began tonight.  The Chol HaMo‘ed trip involves much more than the trip itself–it involves deciding where to go, who exactly goes, and what to do when everyone gets there.

WHAT ABOUT THE SUKKAH?

Do we need to make arrangements for a sukkah in which to eat on the trip? Does it depend upon the type of trip? The question, of course, only applies to the male members of the family, since the women are exempt from the obligation to eat in the sukkah. It is a mitzvah for women to eat in the sukkah, but they are not obligated to do so.

Also, technically, although one can be stringent and avoid eating anything outside of the sukkah, the basic obligation is to eat one’s “set meals” in the sukkah. One may eat foods in an arai manner, which means not in a set meal. Certain foods by definition are considered “set meal” foods, such as a mezonos food (foods for which a mezonos berachah must be recited).

THE SOURCE – THE BRAISAH

There is a fascinating beraisa quoted in the Gemara in Sukkah 26a: Travelers, holchei d’rachim, who travel in the daytime are exempt from the obligations of sukkah during the day and are obligated at night. Travelers who travel during the night are exempt at night and obligated during the day.

The explanation for this beraisa is found in Rashi: The verse tells us “You shall dwell in sukkos”–just as you dwell in your homes. Just as the entire year one does not refrain from traveling for business purposes, so too during all the days of the holiday that are not Yom Tov the Torah did not require one to avoid travel.

WHO IS INCLUDED IN HOLCHEI D’RACHIM?

The Shulchan Aruch rules in accordance with this beraisa in Tractate Sukkah. The question arises, however, as to who exactly is included in holchei d’rachim, travelers. Does it mean anyone? When the family takes its annual trip to the amusement park, are we considered travelers? Unfortunately, not so fast. Some poskim distinguish between a “pleasure” trip and a “true need” trip.  Travelling for Parnassah is always permitted.  The issue is pleasure trips.

RAV MOSHE FEINSTEIN – NO EXEMPTION FOR A PLEASURE TRIP

Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l (Igros Moshe, O.C. III No. 93), rules that one who takes a pleasure trip is not included in the permissive clause of this beraisa in Sukkah. He rules that people are “holchei derachim” only when traveling for a substantive purpose. Pleasure trips, in Rav Moshe Feinstein’s perspective, are not considered substantive enough to exempt one from the mitzvah of Sukkah.

Rav Moshe did make an exception when it comes to traveling to Eretz Yisrael (or another country, for that matter), when the traveler could not make the trip during another time. He writes (Even HaEzer IV 32:8) that if one travels extensively for a short period of time and has no other time to do so, it is not considered a pleasure trip, but rather a “true need” and is therefore permitted.

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt’l, is also quoted as ruling that Chol HaMo‘ed pleasure trips on Sukkos do not exempt a person from the obligation to eat in a sukkah (see Sefer Succas HaShaleim, p. 458). This is also the view of Rav Ovadiah Yosef, zt’l (Yechaveh Daas 3:47).

RAV ZILBER’S LENIENT VIEW

Rav Binyomin Yehoshua Zilber zt”l (1906-2008), author of the Az Nidberu (11:34), however, is lenient and does exempt the pleasure traveler from eating in a sukkah, based on the aforementioned beraisa. But he adds the caveat that when it is easily done, one should seek a sukkah.

WHAT DO PEOPLE DO?

The issue is thus the subject of debate among contemporary poskim. However, if one utilizes the halachic concept of poik chazi mai amah devar–go out and see how the nation conducts itself–one seems to see that the halachah is in accordance with the majority view as expressed by Rav Moshe, Rav Shlomo Zalman, and Rav Ovadiah Yosef. Most men and young boys, when taking Chol HaMo‘ed trips, do not pack a mezonos lunch. They generally only eat fruits and shehakols.

WHAT ABOUT A BRACHA?

There is another issue that this brings up, however. Even though most poskim seem to indicate that one is obligated in the mitzvah of sukkah when on a pleasure trip, there isnsome debate on the subject. This brings up the question as to whether the pleasure tripper recites a blessing when eating in the sukkah, since, according to some authorities, he is technically exempt. One is tempted to say that the situation should be no different than the custom of women according to Ashkenazic Jewry: they are exempt, yet they still recite the blessing! If so, the same ruling should also apply to men when they are exempt.

NO BLESSING WHEN ITS RAINING

Yet we do find that when it is raining heavily and one eats in the sukkah (aside from the first night), the person eating in the rain should not recite the blessing, because he has the exemption of mitzta’eir patur min hasukkah–if one is extremely uncomfortable, one is not obligated to eat in the sukkah. This is based on the writings of Acharonim. For example, the Machatzis haShekel, in the beginning of O.C. 639, writes that whoever is exempt from sukkah does not recite a blessing.

HERE IT IS DIFFERENT

It would seem, however, that in this case, it is significantly different, and one would still recite a blessing. The Machatzis haShekel, cited earlier, may be referring to a case where the person is exempt and is therefore not fully appreciating the mitzvah of Sukkah. In such a case, the blessing perhaps should not be recited. When the person falls under the rubric of mitzta‘er–pained or in a state of great discomfort–he cannot fully appreciate what the mitzvah is all about. Here, however, he is fully appreciating it, in that he is seeking to perform it even when he technically does not have to do so.

HOW DO WE APPRECIATE IT?

How do we fully appreciate the mitzvah of Sukkah? By realizing that Hashem is truly the One watching over us constantly: that He did so while we were in the Midbar, with both real booths and the Ananei haKavod, and that He still is watching over us constantly. Our faith, trust, and hope lie solely in Him, and this will allow us to be oved Hashem b’Simcha!

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