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The Celebration of Yom Tov (2)

  • Rav David Brofsky


the laws of THE FESTIVALS


by Rav David Brofsky


Shiur #28: The Celebration of Yom Tov (2)




Last week, we discussed the obligation to “celebrate” on Yom Tov.  We discussed the mitzva of simchat Yom Tov, and questioned whether this mitzva, which was once fulfilled through eating the meat of the festival korbanot, applies nowadays. We noted that while some maintain that after the destruction of the Beit Ha-Mikdash, this obligation is only mi-derabbanan, others insist that there is still a Biblical obligation to rejoice on Yom Tov.


We also examined the manner in which one is to perform this mitzva.  Although some Rishonim assert that one must still drink wine, and even eat meat, at the festive Yom Tov meal, others explain that one fulfills the obligation through other, subjective, means.


            We concluded by noting that the Rabbis in the Talmud disagree as to whether one should ideally dedicate the entire Yom Tov day to personal or spiritual endeavors, or whether one should ideally split one’s day “chetzyo lachem and “chetzyo la-shem.” 


This week, we will study two other mitzvot associated with the celebration of Yom Tov: the obligation to visit one’s teacher and to purify oneself on the Festival.


Greeting One’s Teacher on the Festival


The Talmud teaches that one should pay his respects to his teach on each festival:


R. Yitzchak further said: It is incumbent on a man to go to pay his respects to his teacher on festivals, as it says, “Why do you go to him today? It is neither Rosh Chodesh nor Shabbat” (II Melakhim 4:23), from which we infer that on Rosh Chodesh and Shabbat one ought to go. (Rosh Ha-Shana 16b)


The Navi relates how the husband of the Isha Ha-Shunamit asked his wife, who intended to visit the prophet Elisha with her dead son, why she was going to the prophet, as “it is neither Rosh Chodesh nor Shabbat” – implying that on those days, she would visit the prophet. 


The commentators ask a number of questions about this proof. First, how does the gemara derive that one must visit one’s teacher on Yom Tov from a verse that speaks of Rosh Chodesh and Shabbat? Second, what is the reason behind and the nature of this halakha?


Rabbeinu Chananel (Rosh Ha-Shana 16b) implies that he had a different text of the gemara, as he writes:


And we ask, “Didn’t we speak of a Festival?” And we answered, “If his teacher lives nearby, then he is obligates to visit him each Rosh Chodesh and Shabbat, and if he lives far away, one must visit him only on the Festival.”


According to this text, the gemara asked our question, concluding that one’s proximity to one’s teacher should determine the frequency of one’s visits. The Ritva (Rosh Ha-Shana 16b) agrees that one should visit one’s teacher, if possible, each Rosh Chodesh or each Shabbat, and he even suggests that, if possible, one should visit one’s teacher each day (see Ritva, Sukka 27b; see also Rashba, Sukka 27b)! 


Clearly, according to this interpretation of the gemara, there is no inherent connection between the obligation to visit one’s teacher and the Festival.  Rather, apparently due to the principle of kavod rabo (respecting one’s teacher), one should visit one’s Rav as often as possible, and Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh, and Yom Tov are simply convenient times, depending on one’s proximity.


This understanding emerges from the language of the Rambam as well.  In Hilkhot Talmud Torah (5:7), in discussing the laws of honoring one’s teacher, the Rambam writes:


A person is obligated to stand before his teacher from the time he sees him - as far away as he can see - until [he passes beyond his field of vision] and is hidden, his figure no longer visible. Then, [the student] may sit.

A person is obligated to visit his teacher during the festivals.


The Rambam clearly views the obligation to visit one’s teacher on the festival as an expression of kavod rabo, respecting one’s Rav. Similarly, Rashi (Chagiga 3a, s.v. le-hakbil) explains that “one is obligated to show respect to one’s teacher by visiting him.”


R. Yechezkel Landau (1713–1793), offers a different explanation in his work of responsa, the Noda Bi-Yehuda. He claims that ideally, one should visit one’s teacher on Rosh Chodesh and Shabbat due to the additional sanctity of those days, upon which the Korban Mussaf is offered.  Not only is the sanctity of the day increased, but the teacher’s potential to influence his student is also increased. However, it is not only impractical to mandate that one visit one’s teacher each Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh, but such a demand would also imply that one’s respect for his teacher is greater than his regard for God, whom one visits only three times a year in the Beit Ha-Mikdash. 


Nowadays, however, when one is not able to “visit” the Shekhina at all, one is not obligated to fulfill this mitzva and to visit one’s teacher each Festival.  Indeed, the Noda Bi-Yehuda notes, the Tur and the Shulchan Arukh omit this halakha entirely! Some insist that although R. Landau does not believe that one is obligated to visit one’s teacher each Festival, it is certainly praiseworthy to do so, and one is considered to have fulfilled a mitzva (see Sukka 10b; Rashi, s.v. shelichei mitzva anan). 


R. Yehonatan Eybeschutz (1690-1764) offers a completely opposite approach. In his homiletic work, Sefer Ye’arot Devash (p. 66), he explains that greeting one’s teacher is akin to greeting the Shekhina (Yerushalmi Sanhedrin 11:4). During the times of the Beit Ha-Mikdash, one would visit the “home” of the Shekhina each Yom Tov, so there was no need to visit one’s teacher as well.  This obligation comes to replace aliya le-regel, and is therefore only applicable nowadays! 


In summary, we may understand the obligation to visit one’s teacher on the festival as an expression of kevod rabo (respect for one’s teacher), an outgrowth of the mitzva of Talmud Torah, or, as a replacement for aliya le-regel and visiting the Shekhina, which is central to the Yom Tov experience. Aside from the distinctions mentioned above, one might also question whether this mitzva applies to one’s “rav muvhak,” one’s teacher, or to any inspiring religious figure, as we shall see regarding the Chassidic practice of visiting the “rebbe” on the Festival.


As mentioned above, the Tur and the Shulchan Arukh omit this halakha, which, of course, has generated much discussion among the Acharonim.  Interestingly, the Shulchan Arukh does mention the mitzva of visiting one’s teacher in the context of Shabbat (301:4). The Magen Avraham (301:7) insists that although one is obligated to visit one’s teacher on the Festival, it is still considered a “mitzva” on Shabbat.  Furthermore, the Magen Avraham writes that women are also obligated in the mitzva, as we see from the Isha Ha-Shunamit. 


Must one visit one’s teacher on the Festival if this would entail leaving behind one’s wife and family? The gemara relates:


Our Rabbis have taught: It once happened that R. Ilai went to pay his respects to R. Eliezer his master in Lydda on a Festival. He said to him, “Ilai, you are not of those that rest on the Festival,” for R. Eliezer used to say, “I praise the indolent who do not emerge from their houses on the Festival, since it is written, ‘And you should rejoice, you and your household.’”

But it is not so? For did not R. Yitzchak say: From where do we know that a man is obliged to pay his respects to his teacher on the Festival? From Scripture, which said, “Why do you go to him today? It is neither Rosh Chodesh nor Shabbat” (II Melakhim 4:23), from which we infer that on Rosh Chodesh and Shabbat one ought to go.

There is no difficulty. The latter refers to where he can go and return [to his house] on the one day; the former to where he cannot go and return on the same day. (Sukka 27b)


This passage clearly implies that one may only visit one’s teacher on the Festival if one returns the same day. Furthermore, one might even infer that even if a woman permits her husband to travel, he may still be exempt, as R. Eliezer did not even inquire as to whether R. Ilai had received his wife’s permission!


R. Simcha Bunim Sofer (1842–1907), grandson of R. Moshe Sofer (the Chatam Sofer), discusses the custom of Chassidim to leave their families in order to visit their “rebbe” on the Festival. He notes that the Rambam does not distinguish between one who may can return on the same day and one who cannot, and that the Kesef Mishna explains that the Rambam must believe that R. Yitzchak disagreed with R. Eliezer, and didn’t believe that returning to one’s family on the same say is necessary in order to be able to fulfill this mitzva. This discussion would impact upon the propriety of the modern phenomenon of husbands traveling to Uman, the city of R. Nachman of Breslav’s grave, for Rosh Ha-Shana. 


Purifying Oneself before the Festival


            The gemara (Rosh Ha-Shana 16b) continues to cite R. Yitzchak, who maintains that one must purify himself (in a mikva) for the Festival.


R. Yitzchak further said: A man should purify himself for the festival, as it says, “And their carcasses you shall not touch” (Vayikra 11:8).” It has been taught to the same effect: “And their carcasses you shall not touch” - I might think that [ordinary] Israelites are cautioned not to touch carcasses.  Therefore it says, “Say unto the priests the sons of Aaron (ibid.  21:1),” [which shows that] the sons of Aaron are cautioned not to defile themselves, but ordinary Israelites are not cautioned.  May we not then argue a fortiori (kal va-chomer): Seeing that in the case of a serious uncleanness, while the priests are cautioned Israelites are not cautioned, how much less [are they likely to be cautioned] in the case of a light uncleanness! What then am I to make of the words, ‘And their carcasses you shall not touch”? On the festival.


How are we to understand this obligation, and does it apply nowadays?


            It is possible that one should be ritually pure in order to fulfill one’s obligations in the Beit Ha-Mikdash. The Rambam (Hilkhot Tume’at Okhlin 16:10) implies that R. Yitzchak refers only to the time of the Beit Ha-Mikdash:


All of Israel are enjoined to be pure on each Festival, because they must be prepared to enter the Mikdash and to eat sacrifices, and this is what the Torah means, “And their carcasses you shall not touch” - only on the Festival, but during the rest of the year, one is not [commanded to be pure].


Seemingly, this obligation would not apply nowadays.  Similarly, R. Avraham b. Isaac of Narbonne (1085–1158), in his Sefer Ha-Eshkol (p. 3), cites R. Hai Gaon, who rules that one must only be concerned with being “tahor” (ritually pure) during the time of the Beit Ha-Mikdash, when one intends to enter the Mikdash.  Others Geonim and Rishonim concur (see, for example R. Natronai Gaon, cited in Sha’arei Teshuva 175; Rosh, Yoma 8:24). 


            The Tur (603), citing the Ra’avya’s interpretation of a Yerushalmi, implies that one must certainly purify oneself for Rosh Ha-Shana. Elsewhere (606), however, the Tur cites his father, the Rosh (see above), who only required one to be pure for Yom Kippur. R. Yoel Sirkis (Bach, 603) explains that there is no obligation (nor possibility) to completely purify oneself before the festival, and therefore one who immerses before Yom Tov does not recite the berakha.  However, he continues, we learn from R. Yitzchak that one should do all that one can to purify oneself before Yom Tov.  R. Shmuel Feivish (1640–1698), in his Beit Shmuel commentary to the Even Ha-Ezer section of the Shulchan Arukh (55:10), also implies that one should purify oneself for Yom Tov, even nowadays. 


            Although we might conclude that one should continue to purify oneself, even after the destruction of the Temple, as a sort of “zekher la-Mikdash,” we might also suggest that R. Yitzchak demands that one elevate oneself both spiritually and physically for the Festival. this obligation may have existed during the time of the Mikdash even for those who did not ascend to Yerushalayim.


            The Shulchan Arukh omits this halakha, and aside from those pious individuals who immerse in a mikva before Yom Tov, it is not the normative practice to purify oneself before the Festival. 


            Next time, we will begin our study of Yom Tov Sheini.