08. The Mitzva of Simḥa

There is a positive mitzva to experience simḥa (joy) on the festivals, as it is written: “You shall rejoice in your festival (ve-samaḥta be-ḥagekha)” (Devarim 16:14). We have already seen that Shabbat and Yom Tov are “mikra’ei kodesh” and that it is a mitzva to sanctify them with festive meals and fancy clothing (Sifra, Emor 12:4). The mitzva of simḥa on Yom Tov adds another layer: having more meat and wine at Yom Tov meals than at Shabbat meals (as explained in the next paragaph). Similarly, there is a mitzva to have fancier clothing for Yom Tov than for Shabbat. On Shabbat it is enough to wear respectable clothing, whereas on Yom Tov there is a mitzva to wear the nicest clothes. If one must buy festive clothes, it is proper to buy them before a festival (SA 529:1; MA ad loc. 4; MB ad loc. 12).

There are four components to the mitzva of simḥa. First, the primary expression of the mitzva is to do something especially enjoyable, which causes one’s joy to permeate the entire festival. Given the differences between men and women, to bring men joy, festive meals with meat and wine should be held (as explained in the next section), and to bring women joy, new clothing or jewelry should be purchased for her before the festival. One item of clothing is enough to fulfill this mitzva (see section 10 below). To make children happy, candy should be bought for them, as this is what makes them happiest.

Second, as described above, the term “mikra’ei kodesh” is applied to the holidays as well as Shabbat, and translates into a mitzva to sanctify them with festive meals and nice clothes. Since Yom Tov has an additional mitzva of simḥa, it is incumbent on both men and women to make sure that their Yom Tov meals and clothes are nicer than those of Shabbat. There is also a mitzva to study Torah on Yom Tov, because it is enjoyable (as explained above in section 5).

Third, it is a mitzva to participate in whatever activities one generally enjoys – like singing, dancing, and going on outings (section 13 below).

Fourth, throughout Yom Tov it is a mitzva to be in a good mood and to avoid things that cause anguish. It is therefore forbidden to mourn, eulogize, or fast (section 14 below).[4]

One must enjoy the festival and not rejoice in something that is liable to make him forget about the joy of the festival. For this reason, one may not get married on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. “‘You shall rejoice in your festival’ and not in your wife” (MK 8b). One who gets married is so happy with his wife that he does not pay attention to the simḥa of the festival. However, one may get married right before Yom Tov and hold Sheva Berakhot at the Yom Tov meals because, in this case, the simḥa of the festival is primary, and the simḥa of the Sheva Berakhot does not detract from it but rather reinforces it (SA 546:1-3; 10:4 below).

Even though the mitzva of simḥa is explicitly mentioned in the context of the pilgrimage festivals, Rosh Ha-shana is included in this mitzva as well, because all biblical holidays are equated with one another. Nevertheless, the simḥa of the pilgrimage festivals is greater, as there is a mitzva then to make a pilgrimage to the Temple and to offer shalmei simḥa (festive peace offerings, explained below) (MB 597:1).


[4]. The Gemara formulates it as follows. “Our rabbis taught: A man is obligated to bring joy to his children and his household on a festival, as it says, ‘You shall rejoice in your festival [with your son, and daughter, etc.]’ (Devarim 16:14). With what does he bring them joy? With wine. R. Yehuda said: Men with what is suitable for them, and women with what is suitable for them. ‘Men with what is suitable for them’ – with wine. And women with what? R. Yosef taught: In Babylonia, with colored clothes; in Eretz Yisrael, with ironed linen clothes” (Pesaḥim 109a). This is the mitzva of extra simḥa. Besides this, there is also a mitzva for women to have more simḥa and additional courses at Yom Tov meals than at Shabbat meals. (See Responsa Rabbi Akiva Eger, supplementary material to §1; Sha’agat Aryeh §65.) There is also a mitzva for men to wear nicer and more pleasing clothing on Yom Tov than on Shabbat (SA 529:1). Additionally, even though men fulfill their obligation of extra simḥa at the daytime meal (as explained in the next section), there is also a mitzva to have extra simḥa at the nighttime meal. The source for all of this was mentioned in the previous section – both Shabbat and Yom Tov are referred to as mikra’ei kodesh, and therefore must be sanctified through “food, drink, and clean clothes” (Sifra, Emor 12:4). On Yom Tov we must add another level, because the verse states: “You shall rejoice in your festival.” We see that in addition to the primary mitzva of simḥa, which is achieved through doing something special that brings joy, there is a mitzva to increase the simḥa through one’s meals and clothes. These are the first two parts of the mitzva. The third part (doing whichever activities one generally enjoys) is not included in the second part because it is optional, meant for those who enjoy doing certain things. This is different from the two previous parts, which are obligatory upon everyone, as will be explained below in section 13. The fourth part of the mitzva of simḥa will be explained in section 14.

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