13. Singing, Dancing, and Outings

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Anything that brings one joy is included in the mitzva of simḥat ḥag. This includes singing, dancing, and tiyulim (outings). The more singing and praising God, the better. Torah giants composed religious poems and hymns to praise and thank God on the festivals. The Sages inform us that the voice of Navot of Yizre’el was sweet and pleasant. He would make the pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem on the pilgrimage festivals, and all the Jews would gather round to hear his singing. Once, he did not go because he wanted to watch over his vineyard, which led to his downfall. Treacherous people falsely testified that he had rebelled against the king, and he was killed (Pesikta Rabbati, ch. 25).

Many people dance on the festivals. They connect this with the verse: “You shall hold a festival (taḥog) for the Lord your God seven days in the place that the Lord will choose” (Devarim 16:15). The word taḥog can be understood as a conjugation of the root ḤVG, which indicates dancing in a circle. This is why the Sages ordained that there be dancing at the Simḥat Beit Ha-sho’eva, which was originally the celebration accompanying the drawing of water for Temple libations on Sukkot (Ha’amek Davar, ad loc.; Pri Tzadik, Sukkot §17).

Similarly, one who enjoys outings should go on them during the festivals. Since they involve simḥa, the Sages permit carrying a child if necessary during a Yom Tov tiyul (Beitza 12a; Rabbeinu Tam cited in Tosafot s.v. “hakhi garsinan”; Rema 415:1).

Unlike the mandatory mitzvot to have festive meals, wear nice clothes, and study Torah, all other activities that provide simḥa are optional. If one finds them enjoyable, he should engage in them; if one does not, he need not. Every individual is permitted to decide what makes him happy on the festival – whether singing and praising God in the company of family or friends, dancing at a Simḥat Beit Ha-sho’eva (nowadays a Sukkot celebration which reminds us of the Temple celebration), going on tiyulim, or doing other enjoyable and worthwhile things. However, he must be careful that all this merrymaking does not detract from his Torah study, as it is a mitzva to dedicate half the day to study and prayer. One who takes great pleasure in studying Torah should dedicate even more time to it once he has fulfilled the mitzva of enjoying the festive meals.[7]


[7]. For people who enjoy singing, dancing, hiking, and the like, it is a mitzva to engage in them on the festivals. Many state this, including Rambam, Sefer Ha-mitzvot, Aseh §54; Yere’im §227; Shibolei Ha-leket §262; Sha’agat Aryeh §65; Netziv, Ha’amek She’ela 15:8. Below in ch. 2 n. 7, we explain that Ramban and those who follow him think that there is a Torah mitzva to sing and praise God which is fulfilled by reciting Hallel, while Rambam thinks the mitzva is rabbinic. In any case, those who enjoy it are fulfilling a Torah mitzva. See above, section 6 and n. 2, that even though one should not detract from the half day which is dedicated to God and Torah study, after properly having an enjoyable meal he may study Torah for more than half the day.

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