The second perek of Massekhet Sukka focuses on defining the commandment that one must “sit” in the sukka for seven days (Vayikra 23:42). The perek deals with such questions as :
- Is one obligated to sit in the sukka during both day and night?
- Must one remain throughout the day, or only when performing specific activities?
- Are women and children obligated to sit in the sukka, too?
- Are there circumstances in which an individual may be freed of this obligation?
Another type of question dealt with in this perek involves clarifying whether a person – for reasons of comfort, for example – can cover the sukka or cover himself while sitting in the sukka. The first Mishna deals with this question when it teaches that a person cannot sleep under a bed in the sukka, a ruling disputed by Rabbi Yehuda, who testifies that it was common practice to do so. Furthermore, Rabbi Yehuda argues, the Sages never objected to such behavior.
Rabbi Shimon said, contrary to the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda: There was an incident involving Tavi, the Canaanite slave of Rabban Gamliel who was sleeping beneath the bed, and Rabbi Gamliel lightheartedly said to the Elders: Did you see my slave Tavi, who is a Torah scholar and knows that slaves are exempt from the mitzva of sukka? Since it is a positive, time-bound mitzva, Canaanite slaves, whose status with regard to this halakhic category is like that of women, are exempt from the obligation to fulfill the mitzva of sukka. Therefore, he sleeps under the bed. Rabbi Shimon continued: And by the way, as Rabban Gamliel was not issuing a halakhic ruling, we learned that one who sleeps beneath the bed did not fulfill his obligation.
Tavi is a character who appears throughout the Gemara, identified as the slave belonging to Rabban Gamliel of Yavne. In all of these stories he is presented as someone who was well-known for his personal piety and learning. Not only Rabban Gamliel, but other sages sang his praises. Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya, for example, was known to say that based on Tavi’s Torah knowledge it would have been appropriate for Tavi to be reclining and for Rabbi Elazar to be serving him. Rabban Gamliel tried on several occasions to find a way to set him free, but was stymied in his efforts because of the prohibition to set Canaanite slaves free. Nevertheless, when Tavi passed away, Rabban Gamliel accepted consolation as if he was a family member, explaining that Tavi was different than other slaves – he was a good and honest man.