06. Shaveh Le-khol Nefesh

When melakhot are permitted on Yom Tov for food preparation or other Yom Tov pleasures, they are permitted on condition that one performs them for the sake of something which is shaveh le-khol nefesh, which means that most people derive benefit from it. In contrast, one may not perform melakhot for the sake of something from which only those who are overindulged or ill normally derive benefit. The Torah states: “Only what every person is to eat, that alone may be prepared for you” (Shemot 12:16). This does not necessarily mean that everyone must enjoy it regularly, but that most people, if given the opportunity, would enjoy it. Thus, even though few people have ever trapped a deer and eaten its meat, since most people would be happy to eat the meat, slaughtering it on Yom Tov is considered shaveh le-khol nefesh. Similarly, food may be seasoned with expensive spices that most people cannot afford, because most people would be happy to use them in their food.

In contrast, one may not place incense on coals in order to perfume the room or clothes that one places above the coals, because most people, even if offered the opportunity, would not perfume their homes or clothes in this way. Therefore, one who does so violates the Torah prohibitions of Mav’ir and Mekhabeh (Beitza 22b; Ketubot 7a; 5:10 below).[5]


[5]. See note 2 above, where we explain that according to Rambam and Rashi, all melakhot that are permitted for okhel nefesh are permitted even when there is no need at all. Accordingly, those melakhot are certainly permitted for the needs of overindulged people. In their opinion, the reason that one may not place incense on coals is because of the prohibition of Mekhabeh, not because the scent is not shaveh le-khol nefesh. However, the halakha follows the majority of poskim, who maintain that these melakhot are permitted only for a need that is common to most people. Thus, a melakha for the needs of overindulged individuals violates Torah law. R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Minḥat Shlomo on Beitza 22b) explains that any common human need is permitted, even if only overindulged people need it in a particular way. Thus, one may raise the flames of a furnace even if only overindulged people would consider the room cold, since heating a cold room is a general human need. Likewise, one may add seasoning to make a food extremely spicy, beyond what people would normally eat. See 7:1-2 below for the disagreement about whether the needs of the sick are considered shaveh le-khol nefesh.

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Translated By:
Series Editor: Rabbi Elli Fischer

The Laws of Shabbat (1+2) - Yocheved Cohen
The Laws of Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Women’s Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Pesach - Joshua Wertheimer
The Laws of Zemanim - Moshe Lichtman

Editor: Nechama Unterman