11. Time-Sensitive Mitzva Needs

Permissible melakha for a mitzva need is normally limited to unskilled labor. However, if the mitzva involved is a time-sensitive one, meaning that if it is not observed immediately the opportunity to do so will be lost, then even skilled labor is permitted. This permit is based on the principle of davar ha-aved (above, section 2). Just as the loss of money is deemed a davar ha-aved, so is the loss of a mitzva. In fact, to avoid losing out on a mitzva we even permit one to do a melakha which could have been done before the festival but was pushed off; he is not penalized (BHL 545:3 s.v. “le-atzmo”). In contrast, if one pushed off doing a melakha before the festival and as a result will now suffer a monetary loss, he is penalized by not being permitted to do the melakha on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed (above, section 3).

Therefore, if a synagogue has only one Torah scroll and it is missing letters, even though its current unusable condition is the result of neglect, the letters may be written on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed to enable a public Torah reading. It is even permissible to sharpen a quill in order to write the necessary letters. Although writing the letters and sharpening the quill are skilled labor, they are considered melakhot undertaken to avoid a loss (since if people do not fill in the letters, they will miss out on the mitzva of reading from the Torah), and so they are permitted on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed (SA 545:2; MB ad loc. 7, 48). Even if there is a synagogue nearby with a kosher Torah scroll, one may still fix the invalid Torah scroll in order to avoid making things more difficult for the community members, who otherwise would have to arrange to transport a Torah scroll from a different synagogue (BH 445:2 s.v. “she-im”).

Similarly, if one did not build a sukka before Sukkot, he may build it on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. Since this is a time-sensitive mitzva, even skilled labor may be used if necessary. After all, if he does not build the sukka on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, he will lose out on the mitzva (SA 537:1; BHL s.v. “oseh”). If one has a small sukka and wants to expand it on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, whether to accommodate guests who do not have a sukka or in order to hold the se’udat mitzva for a brit mila, he may do so even using skilled labor, since these too are time-sensitive mitzvot (BHL 640:6 s.v. “se’udat”).[8] One may pick a large quantity of aravot on Sukkot and sell them publicly, so that people can fulfill the mitzva (SSK 67:41).

Anything necessary may be done to take proper care of a dead body, as kevod ha-met (dignity of the dead) is a time-sensitive mitzva. Therefore, shrouds may be sewn (which is skilled labor), a grave may be dug, and death notices (to publicize the time of the funeral) may be printed. However, one may not publicly do certain melakhot that eyewitnesses will not know are being done for one who passed away. This would include cutting stones for the tombstone and cutting down trees for the coffin (SA 547:10; MB ad loc. 19; SSK ch. 67 n. 184; see above 10:5 about a funeral on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed).

[8]. One who has no other way to get tefilin may write a pair for himself on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed so that he will be able to fulfill the mitzva of putting them on immediately after the festival ends. Since this is a time-sensitive mitzva, he may undertake skilled labor to fulfill it. However, one may not write tefilin on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed for someone else to use after the festival, as one should not compromise his Ḥol Ha-mo’ed rest for someone else’s mitzva afterward. Nevertheless, if a scribe does not have food, he may do any type of melakha that people will pay for (SA 545:3; see the opinion of R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach cited in SSK ch. 67 n. 164). Similarly, one who has no way to get tzitzit for himself may spin wool into tzitzit, even though this is skilled labor. Doing so allows him to perform a time-sensitive mitzva, as he loses a mitzva each day in which he does not wrap himself in a talit. He may also spin wool into tzitzit for someone else, to enable him to fulfill the mitzva during the festival. Similarly, one may build a sukka for someone else on Sukkot, so that the person can fulfill the mitzva to sit in the sukka. He may accept payment for the work if that will allow him to spend more generously on the festival meals. However, one who is wealthy may not accept payment for spinning wool into tzitzit or building a sukka for someone else (SA 545:3; MB ad loc. 14; SHT ad loc. 21). Tying tzitzit to a garment is considered unskilled labor, but is still only permitted on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed when one does not have another way to fulfill the mitzva. Only in such a case is it considered a mitzva need that carries the same weight as a festival need.

If a mezuza fell down, and a subsequent check reveals that it is invalid because some letters in the parchment have run together, the letters may be separated and the mezuza may be reaffixed, as this is unskilled labor. What if the check reveals that the mezuza is invalid and cannot be repaired, and there is no way to get another one on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed? If it is in a room which requires a mezuza, a new one may be written. This is a time-sensitive mitzva, for which even skilled labor may be undertaken.

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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