The Mitzvot of the Festivals - Part 2 The Effect of Individual Mitzvot Upon the Character of the Festival

  • Harav Aharon Lichtenstein


Translated by David Silverberg


A. Shofar

            Until know we have dealt with the mitzva of simcha which relates to Yom Tov and its sanctity in general.  It would seem, however, that we may advance a similar approach with regard to the individual mitzvot of every festival.  They, too, at times, not only constitute independent obligations, but shape the character of the festival and its sanctity.  The Gemara in Masekhet Rosh Hashanah (16a) comments that we blow two series of shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanah ("de-me'umad" and "de-meyeushav") "in order to confound the Satan."  The Rishonim ask why the additional set of tekiot does not violate the Torah prohibition of "bal tosif," which prohibits adding onto the mitzvot.  Since we fulfill our obligation with only one set, should not the extra sounding of the shofar constitute a forbidden addition onto this mitzva?  Though several answers have been suggested, it appears that our Sages have left us room to offer our own solutions.  The mitzva of shofar contains two components.  First, the Torah requires that we blow the shofar over the course of the first of the seventh month, an obligation originating in a derivation from a verse in Torat Kohanim (Emor, 11:6), cited as well towards the end of Masekhet Rosh Hashanah:

How do we know [that we must blow] with a shofar?  The verse states [regarding the jubilee year - Vayikra 25:9], 'You shall sound a shofar teru'a.'  This establishes [that a shofar is sounded] only on the jubilee year; how do I know [that we blow a shofar] on Rosh Hashanah?  The verse states, 'In the seventh month… '  For [at first glance, it appears that] 'In the seventh month' teaches nothing.  What does 'In the seventh month' teach?  That all 'teru'ot' of the seventh month shall be like this.  (33b)

Secondly, the sounding of the shofar comes to lend a certain character to the day, and this is precisely to what the verse refers when it commands, "you shall observe a Yom Teru'a [a day of sounding the shofar]."  We may explain, simply, that the first requirement entails a specifically defined action, with a definite, required amount of tekiot, beyond which one violates the prohibition of "bal tosif."  As to the second aspect, however, we may suggest that no specific amount is involved, neither a minimum nor maximum; consequently, we cannot speak of "bal tosif" in this regard.  Adding tekiot intensifies the character of this festival as a "Yom Teru'a."  As this entails a qualitative intensification, rather than a quantitative addition, it raises no concern of "bal tosif."  Seemingly, we may understand in this light the Gemara in Rosh Hashanah 30a: "When Rav Yitzchak Bar Yosef came, he said: When the sheli'ach tzibur [i.e. the ba'al tokei'a] would complete his blowing in Yavneh, one could not hear the sound of his ears because of the sound of individual tekiot."  People would blow even after having fulfilled their obligation, in order to deepen the nature of the festival as a "Yom Teru'a."

            While this approach seems logically acceptable, apparently the Rishonim[1] who offered different solutions to the difficulty regarding "bal tosif" dispute this approach, rejecting one of its two underlying assumptions.  Tosefot (Rosh Hashanah 28b, s.v. "u-mena teimra"), for example, established that repeating a mitzva does not violate "bal tosif," and they compared adding shofar blasts to eating more than the required amount of matza or reciting birkat kohanim several times during the day.  Clearly, Tosefot maintain that were "bal tosif" to have applied to those cases, it would have applied with regard to shofar, as well.  Tosefot either negated the basic principle of defining shofar as establishing "Yom Teru'a," or they felt that even if we accept this theory, "bal tosif" would apply to this obligation, as well, since it can be achieved with a specific number of blasts.  It stands to reason, however, that even these Rishonim would accept our approach, and we need not even resort to the speculation that they simply provided one of two adequate answers to their difficulty.  The "Sefer ha-Pardes" (p. 222 in the Ehrenreich edition) raises and resolves the "bal tosif" difficulty with regard to the individual shofar blowing in Yavneh: "If you will ask… that it appears that whoever wishes to add may add and does not violate [the prohibition of 'bal tosif'], here they, too, acted to satisfy a need - to complete one hundred [shofar sounds]."  Generally, however, other Rishonim raised this difficulty only with regard to the earlier Gemara, which discussed the two sets of tekiot, not in the context of the individual shofar blowing in Yavneh.  It stands to reason that they indeed accepted our approach and were therefore not troubled by the concept of additional tekiot per se, as they serve to intensify the stature of the day, as discussed.  They did, however, have difficulty with the two institutionalized sets of tekiot.  Unlike the private shofar blowing, these two sets involve not limitless tekiot, but rather fixed tekiot conducted in a specific procedure corresponding to the number of tekiot required to fulfill the basic mitzva.  An addition of this sort gives rise to the concern of "bal tosif."

            It appears, however, that this issue hinges on a dispute among the Rishonim regarding blowing the shofar beyond the accepted amount.  The "Or Zarua" (vol. 2, 266) assumes as a given that "blowing on Rosh Hashanah… even if one wishes to blow the entire day, he may do so, even though he already fulfilled his obligation."  The Taz (596:2) accepts this ruling as authoritative.  The Ravya (vol. 1, 171), however, cites the Ra'avan's version of the famous incident of Mayence: "It seems to me that they it was incorrect for them to make him return to the beginning [of the set of tekiot], and the tokei'a even violated a rabbinic violation… "  The Rema, codifies this ruling as halakha (591:1), and most poskim follow suit, though, as the Taz notes, the straightforward reading of the Gemara's description of the practice in Yavneh implies that extra tekiot are permissible.  We may reasonably assume that were there to exist a requirement involving "you shall observe a Yom Teru'a," there would be no place for a rabbinic prohibition.  It therefore seems that the theory we advanced is subject to a dispute among the authorities.

            The comments of one of the Rishonim, however, leave little room for question.  Rav Hai Gaon was asked if the one blowing the second set of tekiot must recite a berakha if the one who blew the first set already had.  He replied as follows:

The custom among Israel is that the one who blows while the congregation sits [i.e. the first set of tekiot] and recites the berakha before the blowing is the same one who blows according to the order of the blessings when they stand [i.e. the second set of tekiot] and does not require a [second] berakha.  If, due to extenuating  circumstances, the first cannot blow [the second set], then the second need not recite a new berakha, for he does not recite a berakha "to blow" but rather "to hear."        (Cited in Maharitz Geiat's "Sha'arei Simcha," p. 41)[2]

The Meiri adds the following explanation:

The Torah did not say concerning shofar, "You shall take for yourselves" as is stated regarding lulav, such that we would learn in this context [a requirement] for every individual to take, as they derived in the context of lulav, but rather, "zikhron teru'a" and "yom teru'a."  Therefore, once the second [blower] hears the original berakha recited by the first… he and the entire congregation have already fulfilled the obligation with regard to the berakha.  This is the basis of his comments. ("Chibbur ha-Teshuva le-ha-Meiri," Rabbi A. Sofer edition, p.289)

Clearly, his explanation is exceptionally far-reaching.  We can easily understand, however, what compelled him to arrive at such an approach.  He apparently had difficulty understanding the difference between the berakha "to blow" ("li-tko'a") and the obligation it suggests, as opposed to "to hear" ("li-shmo'a"), regarding the ability of the second blower to fulfill his requirement through the berakha of the first.  The Meiri therefore suggested that once we speak of a mitzva to hear, the entire nature of the mitzva changes.  It becomes defined as an obligation to establish the character of the day, a requirement presumably cast as a personal obligation on the shoulders of every individual, though which focuses on the character of the festival.  Clearly, the Meiri's comments themselves require substantiation: his explanation clearly diverges from the straightforward, conventional understanding of the mitzva of shofar.  For our purposes, however, his comments provide a solid source for our approach.  We may claim that other Rishonim agree that this aspect of the mitzva of shofar indeed exists, even if, in their view, it does not comprise the entirety of the mitzva.

            If our theory is correct, it will yield a practical ramification in the reverse situation.  The Mishneh le-Melekh[3] raises a famous question with regard to the status of "chatzi-shiur."  According to halakha, one violates a Biblical prohibition if he eats a quantity of forbidden food too small to render him liable for punishment, or commits any other transgression with less than the minimum quantity that warrants punishment.  Although the violator cannot receive punishment for partaking of such a minimal amount, its consumption constitutes a Torah prohibition.  The Mishneh le-Melekh inquires as to whether or not this applies conversely to the fulfillment of mitzvot.  For example, does one fulfill a requirement on any level if he eats, for example, half the minimum required amount of matza on Pesach?  There is room to question the application of this possibility with regard to shofar blowing, as well.[4] But in light of our discussion, it emerges that even should we deny any value in the consumption of half a ke-zayit of matza or korban pesach, one would still fulfill a mitzva by blowing fewer than the required amount of shofar sounds.  This arises from the distinction between the two different components discussed.  Regarding the mitzva of shofar as a specific, required action, derived from the verse, "You shall sound a 'shofar teru'a' in the seventh month," the parallel to matza is valid.  Indeed, the Gemara asserts in Masekhet Rosh Hashanah (34b)[5] that the tekiot and blessings on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur render one another invalid in their absence.  According to most Rishonim,[6] this means that each of the tekiot is indispensable for the fulfillment of the mitzva, such that the others are invalid without it.  Thus, one who blows fewer than the required quantity of tekiot has not fulfilled his requirement at all, just as is the case concerning matza and korban pesach.  However, with regard to the requirement of "you shall observe a Yom Teru'a," we may suggest that just as it has no maximum limit, so does it not have a minimum amount.  Therefore, there is reason to blow even fewer than the required number of tekiot - so long as the basic structure of the blowing, i.e., a "teru'a" sound surrounded by tekiot, is preserved, as this defines the halakhic entity of the mitzva - in order to establish the character of "Yom Teru'a" on Rosh Hashanah.

B. Matza

            Over the course of this discussion, we distinguished between shofar and matza.  In truth, however, we may perhaps develop an approach parallel to that suggested with regard to shofar, in the context of matza.  A familiar berayta reads: "'You shall eat matza for six days, and the seventh day shall be a festival for the Lord your God' - just as on the seventh [eating matza] is optional, so is it optional during the six days" (Pesachim 102a).[7] Nevertheless, the tradition has come down to us from the Beit Midrash of the Vilna Gaon that the consumption of matza throughout the seven days of Pesach constitutes the fulfillment of a mitzva: "You shall eat matza for seven days - there is a mitzva all seven days; we refer to it as 'optional' only with respect to the first night, in which it is obligatory, and a mitzva with respect to an obligation is considered optional.  Nevertheless, it constitutes a mitzva from the Torah" (Ma'aseh Rav, 185).[8] This view also seems to necessarily emerge from the question posed by the Ba'al ha-Maor (end of Pesachim)[9] and other Rishonim as to why we recite a berakha over the mitzva of sukka all seven days of Sukkot, but over matza only on the first night of Pesach.  They did not offer the most obvious answer, that one fulfills no mitzva by eating matza after the first night of Pesach.  Let us, however, reflect a bit further on the basis of this mitzva of eating matza all seven days of Pesach and its relationship to the requirement on the first night.  It seems that we do not speak here simply of varying levels of the same basis of obligation - one optional, the other mandatory - but rather of two entirely different obligations.  On the first night there applies the specific obligation of eating, originating from the verse, "in the evening you shall eat matzot."  Throughout the seven days, by contrast, the consumption of matza is meant to establish the festival as "Chag ha-Matzot."  This is precisely the implication of the verse: "You shall observe Chag ha-Matzot, for seven days you shall eat matzot as I commanded you, at the set time in the month of the spring" (Shemot 23:15).[10]

            According to this theory, we can easily explain why we do not recite a berakha over the consumption of matza after the first night.[11] Even should we assume that normally one must recite a berakha when fulfilling an optional mitzva which is mandatory at its core - similar to the recitation of a berakha by women over time-bound mitzvot according to Rabbenu Tam and the Ra'avad - one certainly does not recite a berakha over the intensification and deepening of the nature of the festival, which feature no clearly defined "ma'aseh mitzva."  Thus, if we accept that the consumption of matza throughout the seven days of Pesach serves merely to express the "Chag ha-Matzot" quality of the festival, clearly one would not recite a berakha over this consumption.

            In light of our discussion, we can perhaps suggest an explanation for a particularly difficult passage in Torat Kohanim:

"On the fifteenth day of this month - Chag ha-Matzot" - this day requires matza, but Chag ha-Sukkot does not require matza.  Does it not logically follow: if this [festival], which does not require a sukka, requires matza, then certainly this [festival], which requires a sukka, should require matza!  The verse therefore teaches, 'this… Chag ha-Matzot" - this [festival] requires matza, but Chag ha-Sukkot does not require matza.  (Emor 11)

Correspondingly, a later passage reads as follows:

"… this… Chag ha-Sukkot" - this [festival] requires a sukka, but Chag ha-Matzot does not require a sukka.  Does it not logically follow: if this [festival], which does not require matza, requires a sukka, then certainly Chag ha-Matzot, which requires matza, should require a sukka?  The verse therefore teaches, 'this… Chag ha-Sukkot" - this, Chag ha-Sukkot, requires a sukka, but Chag ha-Matzot does not require a sukka. (ibid., 12)

            At first glance, this seems inexplicable.  Every mitzva has its own time frame in which it applies; on what basis would one have expanded its time frame to a different festival?  It seems, however, that as difficult as this passage appears, we may perhaps make it somewhat more palatable based on what we have discussed.  It seems clear that even without the word "zeh" ("this"), the specific mitzva act of eating matza has no place on Sukkot, nor does sitting in the sukka have any basis on Pesach; the beraytot never raised either possibility.  The possible notion of which they speak relates to the aspect of deepening the nature of the day and its sanctity through mitzva acts.  This accommodates the precise language employed: "this day requires matza"; "this day requires a sukka."  The distinction is clear.  If we speak of the halakhot and fulfillment of a specifically defined mitzva, then clearly it relates only to its prescribed time and place.  With regard, however, to the ramifications of a given mitzva act and its contribution to the shaping of the festival, it is possible that the restriction on the mitzva is removed, and we may apply it on a broader scale.


Even this possibility, of course, is far from simple.  We may understand it more clearly by focusing on the nature of the festivals' relationship to one another, in light of an analysis developed by my father-in-law zt"l.  The mishna towards the end of Masekhet Megila (30b) states the following:

On Pesach we read the Section of the Festivals in Torat Kohanim [= Sefer Vayikra]; on Shavuot - [the section of] "Shiva Shavuot"; on Rosh Hashanah - [the section of] "Ba-chodesh ha-shevi'i be-echad la-chodesh"; on Yom Kippur - [Parashat] "Acharei-Mot"; on the first day of Sukkot we read the Section of the Festivals in Torat Kohanim."

This passage presents an obvious difficulty.  The Section of the Festivals in Sefer Vayikra includes both the readings of the regalim as well as that of Rosh Hashanah.  Why, then, does the mishna refer to the reading on the regalim generically - "The Section of the Festivals," whereas it describes the reading for Rosh Hashanah with the words with which it begins ("Ba-chodesh ha-shevi'i be-echad la-chodesh… ")?  The Rav zt"l[12] explained that Rosh Hashanah constitutes an independent unit within the framework of the parasha, and its reading does not connect with that of the other festivals.  By contrast, the regalim, though each certainly possesses a unique kedushat ha-yom (inherent sanctity), form an integrated unit, all of whose components join together into a single composite whole.  For this reason, in the text of the berakha in the festival service formulated by Chazal, on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we conclude by mentioning the festival by name: "Mekadesh Yisrael ve-Yom ha-Zikaron/Yom ha-Kippurim."  On the regalim, however, we conclude with a more generic reference: "Mekadesh Yisrael ve-ha-zemanim."  Accordingly, with regard to Rosh Hashanah the mishna focuses on the parasha designated to it exclusively, whereas it refers to the reading of the other regalim with the general title, "The Section of the Festivals in Torat Kohanim."

            It seems clear that we may point to two factors as forming the basis of this common denominator between the regalim.  On the one hand, the regalim all relate to the Exodus and the sequence of events that followed.  Secondly, the three integrally connect to the annual cycle of seasons.  The Ramban makes the following point in his commentary to the verse, "and the Feast of the Harvest, of the first fruits of your work" (Shemot 23:16):

I do not know why the Scripture mentions them with a definite article, for He never commanded them nor mentioned them until this point.  It should have been written, "You shall observe a Festival of the Harvest, of the first fruits of your work," as it says in Mishneh Torah, "You shall observe the Festival of Weeks for the Lord your God."  Perhaps as it said, "You shall celebrate for Me three festivals during the year," and it then explained, "You shall observe the Festival of Matzot in the month of spring," that one must ensure to hold a festival in the beginning of spring, it then says that the other festival one must observe is "the Festival of the Harvest, of the first fruits of your work," and ensure that the third festival shall be "the Festival of the Gathering, when the year goes out."  They all commemorate one's work in the field, to give thanks on them to God, that He maintains the laws of the heavens and brings forth bread from the land to satiate the desirous soul and fills the hungry soul with goodness.

            Whatever the basis of this connection, being that it exists, it would stand to reason that a mitzva related at its core to one regel bears some connection to another regel.  But all this applies only with regard to the function of the mitzva as lending content to the festival.  Concerning its nature as an action to be performed within a given time frame, however, clearly it is limited to its designated time and place; we may not extend its application beyond the regel to which it belongs, even without a derivation from the word "zeh."

            It seems that this understanding of the possibility raised in the berayta is inherent in its formulation.  Why did the berayta raise the possibility of transferring only sukka and matza from one festival to the next, but never entertained the notion that a lulav would be required on Pesach or marror on Sukkot?  The answer is clear, and it emerges from a straightforward distinction between the obligations of matza and sukka on the one hand, and the four species and marror on the other.  Taking the lulav and partaking of marror (even according to those who argue on the Rambam[13], and count marror as an independent mitzva, rather than part of the obligation of korban pesach or matza) are but mitzvot that take place on the given festival.  They do not define or determine its nature.  In both the verses and the text formulated by Chazal to be recited in the berakhot, these two festivals have received the titles, "Chag ha-Matzot" and "Chag ha-Sukkot," referring to the consumption of matza and sitting in the sukka, respectively.  Lulav and marror, by contrast, do not determine the name of the festivals.  This distinction may also be reflected by the fact that these mitzvot apply only on the first day - though the lulav, of course, is taken throughout the seven days of Sukkot in the Beit ha-Mikdash in fulfillment of the requirement of simcha, as we accept the position in the Yerushalmi (Sukka 3:11) that the seven-day requirement of simcha mentioned in the verse refers to lulav.  Thus, the berayta never entertained the possibility that lulav and marror would apply at different times: the transfer from one festival to the next was meant to be founded on the given mitzva's connection to the festival's definition, not on its status as an independent requirement.[14]


[1] See Rashba, Ritva and Ran, Rosh Hashanah 16a.

[2] It is cited from there in "Oztar ha-Geonim," Rosh Hashanah, 101.

[3] See his discussion in Hilkhot Chametz u-Matza 1:7 and the Acharonim cited in the Sedei Chemed, vol. 3, p. 10, and vol. 6, pp. 161-162.

[4] Clearly, we should distinguish between the length of a given shofar blast and the number of shofar blasts.  If one sounds a blast shorter than the required duration - certainly with regard to the tekia sound, and perhaps even when dealing with a teru'a - we may claim that no mitzva act has been performed whatsoever; it does not parallel the consumption of half a "ke-zayit," when an action was performed only with a smaller quantity.  Regarding the number of blasts, however, we may certainly draw a parallel to matza.

[5] See Tosefta, Menachot 6:6.

[6] See Tosefot, Rosh Hashanah 33b s.v. "shiur" (towards the end); Rosh, Rosh Hashanah 4:14; Ritva, Rosh Hashanah 34b s.v. "tekiot"; Ran on the Rif (11b in the Rif's glosses), s.v. "tanu rabbanan," and others.

[7] This berayta appears in more elaborate form in the Mekhilta, Bo 8 (to Shemot 12:15).  See also Torat Kohanim, Emor 11 (to Vayikra 23:6).

[8] See the comment of Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar in Menachot 66a; Torat Kohanim 12:8; and Sifrei, Re'ei 81 (to Devarim 16:8).

[9] Compare with the Meiri, Sukka 27a.

[10] In a similar vein - Shemot 34:18.  Although the verse in Parashat Bo emphasizes the consumption of matza itself, there, too, we may understand it off the background of the previous verse (12:14): "This day shall be for you as a remembrance, and you shall celebrate it as a festival to God, for all your generations, you shall celebrate it as an eternal statute."

[11] A discussion of this issue appears in the Sedei Chemed, vol. 6, pp. 466-470.

[12] See Shiurim le-Zekher Abba Mari z"l, vol. 1, pp. 135, 142-143.

[13] See his comments in Hilkhot Chametz u-Matza 7:12, and Sefer ha-Mitzvot "aseih" 56.  Contrast with Tosefot, Pesachim 28b s.v. kol.

[14] We must, however, consider in this regard the position of Rabbi Yehuda, who holds (Sukka 36b) that only the four species qualify for use as sekhakh for the sukka.  Does this signify an equation between the status of lulav and that of sukka, which is characterized by its imprint on the festival's character?  At first glance, it would appear that the connection between the sekhakh and the four species exists on the level of the relationship to the festival, rather than on that of the halakhot of the mitzva as an independent requirement.

            Similarly, the concept of establishing the character of the day may be latent in the practice of the "Anshei Yerushalayim" to take the lulav with them wherever they went during Sukkot.  We may perhaps understand the Gemara's explanation, "This shows how enthusiastic they were with regard to mitzvot" (Sukka 41b), as relating not to the mitzva of taking the lulav, which one fulfills immediately once he lifts it (Sukka 42a), but rather to the establishment of the nature of the day.  However, according to the Rambam's presentation of this practice (in Hilkhot Lulav 7:24), based on the Yerushalmi (Sukka 3:1), that "this was the practice in Jerusalem," as opposed to the version in the Tosefta (Sukka 2:12) and Talmud Bavli (Sukka 41b), that "this was the practice of the people of Jerusalem," this bears no relevance to our discussion.  The Rambam's version implies that this practice was followed in Yerushalayim, likely due to his view in his Peirush Mishnayot (Sukkot 3:10) equating the entire city with the Temple with regard to the mitzva of lulav.  The city's residents thus took the lulav often in order to fulfill the seven-day requirement of lulav associated with the mitzva of simcha, not because of the requirement of fashioning the nature of the day.