The fourth perek of Massekhet Sukka focuses on other mitzvot of the holiday aside from taking the lulav and etrog or sleeping in the sukka. Some of these commandments are connected specifically with the Temple, and today, with the Temple destroyed, we no longer perform these mitzvot or we only commemorate them without being able to actually fulfill them. These mitzvot include:
- Circling the altar in the Temple with the aravah
- Reciting full Hallel
- Engaging in the simhat ha-hag – the joy of the festival – by eating the korban shelamim
- The water libation on the altar
- The halil – playing the flute – which accompanied the water libation as part of the holiday celebration.
Our daf discusses the mitzva of aravah, which involved circling the altar in the Temple every day, and circling it seven times on the seventh day of Sukkot. Most commentaries explain that this mitzva was only done by kohanim, since no one else was permitted to enter the sanctuary where the mizbe’ah was. Some of the Ge’onim argue that the people did not actually walk around the mizbe’ah, rather they surrounded the altar on all sides, and the people who were not kohanim stayed in the area that was permitted to them. Rabbi Yitzhak ibn Gi’ot argues that for this mitzva an exception was made and everyone was allowed to circle the mizbe’ah.
The commandment of the aravah does not appear explicitly in the Torah, and several possible sources are cited, among them that it is a halakha leMoshe mi-Sinai or that it was established by the prophets. In any case, the Sages felt that it was so important that it was to take place even when the seventh day of the holiday fell out on Shabbat. This ruling disturbed the baitusim, who went so far as to hide the aravot that had been prepared for use on Shabbat. The Gemara relates that the aravot were uncovered by the local people who handed them to the kohanim to use.
The baitusim were one of the deviant sects during the Second Temple period who did not accept the ruling of the Sages. The Gemara does not make clear what differences existed between the baitusim and the tzedukim, although from the stories that appear it is the baitusim who tried to use trickery in order to uproot the rules of the Sages and impose their rulings on the populace.