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The Celebration of Yom Tov

  • Rav David Brofsky

the laws of THE FESTIVALS


by Rav David Brofsky

Shiur #27: The Celebration of Yom Tov


In previous shiurim, we discussed the primary difference between Shabbat and Yom Tov as described by the mishna (Megilla 7a) – the permissibility of performing melakhot for the purpose of “okhel nefesh” on Yom Tov. We discussed which melakhot are permitted on Yom Tov, and the scope and parameters of this dispensation.

This week, we will begin our discussion of the “celebration” of Yom Tov. We will begin with the mitzva of simchat Yom Tov and study its source and how it is to be fulfilled. We will continue with some unique aspects of the celebration of Yom Tov, including the gemara’s description of how one should divide up one’s time of Yom Tov (chetzyo la-shem ve-chetzo lachem), as well as the “obligations” to visit one’s teacher and to purify oneself on Yom Tov.

Simchat Yom Tov

The Torah commands in three places that one should “rejoice” on Yom Tov. Regarding Chag Ha-Shavuot, the Torah says:

And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you, and your son, and your daughter, and your man-servant, and your maid-servant, and the Levite that is within your gates, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow who are in your midst, in the place which the Lord your God shall choose to cause His name to dwell there. (Devarim 16:14)

Regarding Chag Ha-Sukkot, the Torah mentions the obligation to rejoice twice:

And you should rejoice in your festival, you, and your son, and your daughter, and your man-servant, and your maid-servant, and the Levite, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow who are within your gates. Seven days you should keep a feast unto the Lord your God in the place which the Lord shall choose; because the Lord your God shall bless you in all your increase, and in all the work of your hands, and you shall be altogether joyful. (Devarim 16:14-15)

The Rishonim offer different suggestions for the source of the obligation of simcha on Pesach (see Pesachim 108b and Tosafot s.v. yedei yayin; see also Yereim 227 and Tosafot, Chagiga 8a, s.v. ve-samachta).

In the days of the Beit Ha-Mikdash, the mitzva of simchat Yom Tov was fulfilled through eating the meat of the various korbanot offered on the festival:

Our Rabbis taught: [It is written,] “And you shall rejoice in your feast.” This includes all kinds of rejoicings as [festival] rejoicing. Hence the Sages said: Israelites may fulfill their obligation with nedarim, nedavot, and ma’aser behema; and the kohanim [fulfill their obligation with] the chatat and asham, the bekhor, and the breast and the shoulder [given to the kohanim]. One might [think] also with bird-offerings and meal-offerings, [therefore] Scripture teaches: “And you shall rejoice in your feast” - only with those [offerings] from which the chagiga can be brought. These [bird and meal offerings], then, are excluded since the chagiga cannot be brought from them. R. Ashi said: It is to be deduced from [the expression]. “And you shall rejoice;”; these, then, are excluded because there is no [festive] joy in them.

Does the mitzva of simchat Yom Tov apply nowadays, after the destruction of the Beit Ha-Mikdash, and if so, in what way? Tosafot (Moed Katan 14b) asserts that nowadays, when the festival sacrifices (shalmei simcha) are no longer offered, the mitzva of simcha on Yom Tov is only mi-derabbanan. Indeed, this is most likely the intention of the gemara, which teaches:

We learned in a beraita: R. Yehuda ben Beteira said: When the Beit Ha-Mikdash is standing, simcha is only with meat, as the verse says, “And you shall slaughter peace offerings and eat them there and be joyous before the Lord your God,” and when the Beit Ha-Mikdash is not standing, simcha is only with wine, as the verse says, “And wine shall gladden the hearts of man.” (Pesachim 109a)

This passage implies that although nowadays one cannot fulfill the mitzva of simcha through eating the meat of the korbanot, one may still fulfill the mitzva of simcha, although in a different manner. Furthermore, the gemara says:

The Rabbis taught: A person is obligated to make his children and the members of his household happy on Yom Tov, as the verse says, “And you shall be joyous in your holiday.” And how does he make them happy? With wine. R. Yehuda said: Men with what is appropriate for them and women with what is appropriate for them. Men with what is appropriate for them - with wine. And women with what? R. Yosef taught: In Bavel, with colored clothing and in Eretz Yisrael, with pressed flax clothing.

This passage, once again, describes how one may fulfill the mitzva of simcha through drinking wine and buying gifts for one’s spouse. Tosafot seemingly maintains that this passage refers to the rabbinic obligation.

            The Rambam (Hilkhot Yom Tov 6:17-18), however, disagrees. He rules that even nowadays, one fulfills the Biblical mitzva of simchat Yom Tov, he writes:

Even though the simcha mentioned here refers to the korban shlamim, as we explain in Hilkhot Chagiga, included in this simcha is to make his children and members of his household joyous, each one according to his means. How? For children one gives roasted kernels and walnuts and candies. For women one buys clothing and pleasant jewelry based on what one can afford. And men eat meat and drink wine, for simcha is only with meat and wine.

R. Aryeh Pomeronchik, in his Emek Berakha (p. 108), cites R. Chayim Soloveitchik, who explained that according to the Rambam, there are actually two types of simcha: and objective and subjective simcha. One fulfills the objective mitzva of simcha through eating the korbanot. However, the subjective form of simcha, which applied during the time of the Beit Ha-Mikdash and nowadays as well, is fulfilled in the manner described by the Rambam.

Similarly, R. Aryeh Leib Gunzberg (1695–1785) explains in his Sha’agat Aryeh (65):

It seems to me that since the mitzva of simcha which we were commanded to fulfill on the festival isn’t a specific mitzva, but rather a general mitzva that one is obligated to be happy on Yom Tov in all ways that he is able to rejoice, it is not similar to other mitzvot, regarding which all people are equal, i.e. the rich person should not increase and the poor person should not reduce. For this simcha, each and every person is obligated to rejoice according to his means.

Furthermore, he notes that according to many Rishonim, the permissibility of cooking on Yom Tov, and the extension of this permissibility to other activities through the concept of mi-tokh, is due to the mitzva of simchat Yom Tov (see also Torat Refael, 92).

            Although we demonstrated that one may fulfill the mitzva of simchat Yom Tov nowadays through various other means, we might still ask whether one must eat meat or drink wine on the festivals.

As mentioned above, the gemara states that “when the Beit Ha-Mikdash is not standing, simcha is only with wine, as the verse says, ‘And wine shall gladden the hearts of man’” (Pesachim 109a). Although some question whether one who achieves simcha through other means must still drink wine (see Yereim, ibid., Sha’agat Aryeh, ibid.), other sources indicate that one should drink wine on Yom Tov (Tosafot Pesachim 109a, s.v. ba-me; Maharshal ibid.; Bach 529; see also Nimukei Orach Chayim 529). Some Torah scholars were accustomed to drink wine even on Chol Ha-Moed!

The Rambam writes that one should “eat meat and drink wine,” as “simcha is only with meat and wine” (6:18). This ruling is somewhat troubling, given that the gemara cited above refers only to wine!

R. Shlomo Luria (1510–1573), known as the Maharshal (Yam Shel Shlomo, Beitza 2:5) defends this position, and explains that nowadays, when one cannot visit the Beit Ha-Mikdash and partake of the meat of the korbanot, one should supplement his Yom Tov meal, during which one eats meat, with wine as well. R. Yoel Sirkis (1561-1640), in his commentary to the Tur, the Bayit Chadash (Bach 529), as well as R. Barukh Ha-Levi Epstein (1860-1941), in his Torah Temima (Devarim 16:14) concur.

R. Yosef Karo, however, disagrees (Beit Yosef 529), and in his Shulchan Arukh, he does not mention an obligation to eat meat on Yom Tov (Shulchan Arukh 529). Many Acharonim write that one should preferably eat meat on Yom Tov (Bi’ur Halakha 529, s.v. keitzad; Yechavveh Da’at 6:33; Iggerot Moshe, Orach Chayim 3:68, et. al.). Some even discuss whether one may fulfill this mitzva with fowl (see, for example, Leket Yosher 157:3, Chavot Yair 178; Torah Temima ibid. See Shevet Ha-Levi 3:18, who records that it is not customary to insist upon eating beef on Yom Tov). This question arises in particular regarding the custom of eating dairy foods on Shavuot (see Darkei Teshuva, 89:19).

            In addition to the mitzva of simcha, the mitzvot of kavod and oneg apply to Yom Tov as well (Shabbat 118; Rambam, Hilkhot Yom Tov 6:1; Shulchan Arukh 529:1). Therefore, the Rambam (Hilkhot Shabbat 30:9) implies that one must eat three meals on Yom Tov, just as one eats three meals on Shabbat. The Tur disagrees, and the Shulchan Arukh (529:1) writes that it is not customary to eat three meals on Yom Tov. One should, however, recite the blessing of ha-motzi on two loaves, fulfilling the mitzva of lechem mishne, at each meal.

The Shulchan Arukh adds that one’s clothing for Yom Tov should be even nicer than one’s clothing on Shabbat (see Hagahot Maimoniyot, Hilkhot Yom Tov 6:20).

In analyzing the nature of simchat Yom Tov, R. Soloveitchik adds two additional points (Shiurim Le-Zekher Abba Mari v. 2). First, he explains that the mitzva of simcha, according to the Rambam, is fundamentally an internal experience. Therefore, he suggests, one cannot observe aveilut (mourning) during a festival, because the internal happiness of simchat Yom Tov contradicts the internal anguish that a mourner feels. Second, he explains that the joy of Yom Tov emerges from “standing before God,” as the Torah describes:

And you shall take you on the first day the fruit of goodly trees, branches of palm-trees, and boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days. (Vayikra 24:40)

While simcha has an external expression, fulfilled through eating, drinking and merriment, the source of this joy emerges from one’s closeness to God. Similarly, R. Pomeronchik (ibid.) also explains that while wine and meat may arouse one to be joyful, the real simcha of Yom Tov is rejoicing with God. He even insists that those who rejoice with the Torah on Simchat Torah but to not rejoice in the festival itself may not fulfill the mitzva of simchat Yom Tov!

Chetzyo Lachem

            In addition to the joy derived from dining on meat and wine and participating in festive Yom Tov meals, the Talmud discusses another element of the simchat Yom Tov – joy that comes from focusing on spiritual matters.

            The gemara (Beitza 15b) cites R. Eliezer and R. Yehoshua, who disagree as to whether one may choose to spend one’s day on Yom Tov focusing upon spiritual or personal pleasures, or whether one must divide one’s time.

For it was taught: R. Eliezer says: On a Festival, a man has should either eat and drink or sit and learn. R. Yehoshua says: Divide it – half of it for the Lord [and] half of it for yourselves. R. Yochanan said: Both drew their inference from the same Scriptural verse[s]. One verse states: A solemn assembly to the Lord your God (Devarim 16:8) and another verse reads: You shall have a solemn assembly (Bamidbar 29:35). How is this [to be reconciled]? R. Eliezer is of the opinion: Either the whole of it is for the Lord or the whole of it is for yourselves; while R. Yehoshua is of the opinion: Divide it – half of it is for the Lord and half of it is for yourselves.

While according to R. Eliezer, one may choose how to spend one’s time, R. Yehoshua argues that one must divide one’s time between personal and spiritual enjoyment. The halakha is in accordance with R. Yehoshua.

            Interestingly, the Rambam (Hilkhot Yom Tov 6:19) implies that R. Yehoshua was speaking of Chol Ha-Moed as well. Furthermore, the Rambam describes how one should divide one’s time evenly between these activities.

Although eating and drinking on the holidays are included in the positive commandment [to rejoice], one should not devote the entire day to food and drink. The following is the desired practice:

In the morning, the entire people should get up and attend the synagogues and the houses of study where they pray and read a portion of the Torah pertaining to the holiday. Afterwards, they should return home and eat. Then they should go to the house of study, where they read [from the Written Law] and review [the Oral Law] until noon. After noon, they should recite the afternoon service and return home to eat and drink for the remainder of the day until nightfall

The Tur (529) limits this principle to Yom Tov itself. Furthermore, he writes that one should divide one’s time between one’s personal (lachem) and spiritual (lashem) activities. He implies that one must simply spend a significant or meaningful portion of the day on each type activity.

            Interestingly, the gemara (Pesachim 68b) insists that all agree that on Shavuot, the day upon which we celebrate the giving of the Torah, one must dedicate at least part of the day to personal/physical enjoyment (lachem).

            The Shulchan Arukh (529:1) cites the Tur, and omits the Yom Tov program described by the Rambam. Some Acharonim (see, for example, Magen Avraham 569, and Mishna Berura 1) cite the Maharshal (Chullin 1:50), who criticizes chazanim who unnecessarily lengthen the service. He comments that their singing is not to be considered a fulfillment of “lachem”!

            Before concluding our discussion of simchat Yom Tov, it behooves us to cite the Rambam, who discusses two additional aspects of simcha. First, he notes that rejoicing on Yom Tov does not mean that one falls into frivolity. 

When a person eats, drinks, and celebrates on a festival, he should not let himself become overly drawn to drinking wine, mirth, and levity, saying, "Whoever indulges in these activities more is increasing [his observance of] the mitzva of rejoicing." For drunkenness, profuse mirth, and levity are not rejoicing; they are frivolity and foolishness.

And we were not commanded to indulge in frivolity or foolishness, but rather in rejoicing that involves the service of the Creator of all existence. Thus, [Devarim 28:47] states, "Because you did not serve God, Your Lord, with happiness and a glad heart with an abundance of prosperity." This teaches us that service [of God] involves joy. And it is impossible to serve God while in the midst of levity, frivolity, or drunkenness.

Second, he reminds us that one’s celebration must not only include his family, but must also include those who are in need of support on Yom Tov.

When a person eats and drinks [in celebration of a holiday], he is obligated to feed converts, orphans, widows, and others who are destitute and poor. In contrast, a person who locks the gates of his courtyard and eats and drinks with his children and his wife, without feeding the poor and the embittered, is [not indulging in] rejoicing associated with a mitzva, but rather the rejoicing of his gut.

And with regard to such a person [the verse, Hoshea 9:4] is applied: "Their sacrifices will be like the bread of mourners, all that partake thereof shall become impure, for they [kept] their bread for themselves alone." This happiness is a disgrace for them, as [implied by Malakhi 2:3]: "I will spread dung on your faces, the dung of your festival celebrations."

These beautiful passages place the obligation of rejoicing into its proper context and perspective.

            Next week, we will discuss the obligation to visit one’s teacher on Yom Tov and whether one must “purify” himself for the festival.