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Succot Lecture Part Two: The Possible and The Not So Possible

The gemara in Succah, “yud aleph,” eleven, describes this debate between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Akiva. When the verse says that we should remember the Succos that Hashem provided for us when we were in the desert so Rabbi Eliezer says these Succos were clouds. Every one of us had a home made out of clouds and those clouds formed a hut around us that were perfect. Perfect cooling, perfect heating. Everything was cleansed our clothes were cleansed our shoes didn’t wear out and those are the Succos that we’re remembering. Clouds.

Rabbi Akiva says, no way, its not clouds. Hashem provided us with the necessary materials to actually build huts and what we are remembering are the huts that we had around us.

If you think about it, this is actually a machlokes about how far we can take ‘as if.’

Think about it, Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Akiva have another machlokes in a different place. And that machlokes is, are we able to “danim” or judge, “efshar” – what is possible, “me sh’e e’efshar” – from what is not possible.

Rabbi Eliezer says you are allowed to judge something that it impossible from something that is possible. So in other words it is impossible for us to bring clouds. It is impossible. Then we can judge it, we can do what we are doing because the impossible does not matter. Danim Efshar mi she lo efshar,  it’s impossible to bring the same clouds we had in the desert. It doesn’t matter, we can do something physical and use our imagine to understand that these are actually the impossible things, which are the clouds of were provided.

Rabbi Akiva’s policy throughout his halachic decisions is very practical. And he says “Ein denim efshar me she lo efshar.” Because it is impossible to actually bring clouds of glory, so it didn’t make sense to build a physical succah and say that in doing so we are remembering clouds of glory. it’s impossible. And therefore, if the verse says that we have to remember the Succos that were provided in the desert, it must be physical succas, because G-d would not give us an impossible task to build a physical succah to connect to something that is physically impossible for us.

If you think about this machlokes, by the way, you will see that it is deeply rooted in the different ways that both Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Akiva became who they became. Rabbi Akiva is the very hard tenacious worker who goes at 40 years old to a cheder to learn aleph beis, he does everything in the most practical ways. Whereas Rabbi Eliezer cries. And his cry is so potent that in just a few meetings with Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai, he is able to leap forward to do the impossible.

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