The mitzva of simḥa requires a man to include his entire family in his enjoyment, and to include the poor and despondent as well. This is not just a pious act, but is the simḥa required by the Torah: “You shall rejoice in your festival with your son and daughter, your male and female slave, the Levite, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow in your communities” (Devarim 16:14; see also 16:11). Rambam codifies this as follows:
One who is eating and drinking [on a festival] is obligated to feed the stranger, the orphan, and the widow as well, along with the rest of the wretched poor. If one locks the doors of his home and eats and drinks with his wife and children, but does not feed the poor and embittered, he is not experiencing the simḥa of a mitzva, but only the simḥa of his gut. About such people the verse says: “It will be like mourners’ bread – all who eat of it will be impure” (Hoshea 9:4). Such simḥa is an embarrassment to them, as it says: “I will strew dung upon your faces, the dung of your festival offerings” (Malachi 2:3). (MT, Laws of Yom Tov 6:18; similar statements appear in Magid Mishneh ad loc. and Sefer Ha-mitzvot, Aseh §54)
When we examine this issue, we see that the mitzva of simḥa has two components. The first is to celebrate together with one’s family and household members: “You shall rejoice in your festival with your son and daughter” (Devarim 16:14). The “you” here includes both members of a couple, because a husband and wife are considered one unit. In fact, when the Torah speaks more briefly of this simḥa, only the wife is mentioned: “Rejoice with your household” (Devarim 14:26, as explained above). This teaches us that a husband’s mitzva of simḥa is first and foremost to make his wife happy. Similarly, a wife’s primary responsibility of simḥa is to make her husband happy. We find this in practice as well, as follows. A man’s primary enjoyment is through the festive meals, which traditionally his wife would prepare for him; while a woman’s primary enjoyment is through new clothes or jewelry, which traditionally her husband would buy for her.
As a couple, they then have the responsibility to include the rest of the household members in their enjoyment, as there is no simḥa on the festival without family participation. Indeed, all Jews customarily celebrate the festivals together with their families. Every family member must make efforts to maintain an atmosphere of good feeling throughout the festival, especially during the meals. This includes refraining from saying hurtful things and making efforts to be friendly and bring joy to everyone at the table. Through this, they will be privileged to experience true simḥa. (See below, section 17 and n. 9, about whether it is permissible to leave one’s family for the festival in order to spend the time with one’s rabbi.)
Some Jews are influenced by secular culture, which is estranged from family values and the sanctity of the festival. Consequently, they find their family festival celebrations burdensome and frustrating, leading to tensions, hurt feelings, and fights. The more these Jews improve their understanding of family values and the sanctity of the festival, the easier they will find it to avoid hurting their relatives and to compliment them and make them happy. Thus they will be privileged to experience the blessing of the festivals with joy and peace.
The second component of the mitzva of simḥa is to bring joy to one’s neighbors and acquaintances who are poor or lonely. As the verse states: “You shall rejoice in your festival with…the Levite, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow in your communities” (Devarim 16:14). Generally speaking, in the past the orphan and widow were poor as well, since there was no one to provide for them. As for the “stranger,” a convert who has left his birthplace and family is likely to suffer from loneliness. The mitzva to provide simḥa to the poor is fulfilled primarily by giving them charity, and the mitzva to provide simḥa to the lonely and broken-hearted is fulfilled primarily by inviting them to join the festival meals.
It is noteworthy that the Torah commands us to include the Kohanim and Levi’im in our simḥa. Their job was to teach and educate the Jewish people, both young and old. We can infer that today too, we should provide simḥa to Torah scholars and teachers (Binyan Shlomo 1:33).