01 – Introduction

01. The Idea of the Holidays

There are six holidays (Yamim Tovim)[*] mentioned in the Torah: a) the first day of Pesaḥ; b) the seventh day of Pesaḥ; c) Shavu’ot; d) Rosh Ha-shana; e) the first day of Sukkot; f) Shemini Atzeret         .

We are commanded to sanctify these days. We do this by not working then, by studying Torah, by rejoicing in the festival, and by thanking God for all the good that He has given us. All this leads us to remember the Lord, our God, Who chose us from among all the nations, gave us His Torah, sanctified us with His mitzvot, drew us close to His service, and called us by His great and holy name. In this way we transcend our daily lives and mundane activities. We improve ourselves by perfecting our character and purifying our heart; we strengthen our commitment to Torah and mitzvot; and we recall our vital mission – repairing the world under the sovereignty of the Almighty.

While all the holidays share these basic characteristics, each one also expresses a unique concept which we are privileged to internalize anew each year. The first day of Pesaḥ is the day when God redeemed us from slavery in Egypt to eternal freedom. In order to ensure that we remember that event, we were commanded to eat matza, bitter herbs, and the meat of the Paschal sacrifice on that night, and to tell the story of the Exodus. The seventh day of Pesaḥ is the day when God split the Reed Sea for us, led us through it on dry ground, and drowned the Egyptians who pursued us.

On Shavu’ot God gave us the Torah, through which we repair the world. Accordingly, we were commanded to bring two loaves of ḥametz (leavened grain) to the Temple on Shavu’ot. This teaches us that even the evil inclination, symbolized by ḥametz, which causes grain to puff up, can be perfected and purified by the Torah (see below 13:7).

The first of Tishrei is the day the world was created. More accurately, it was the sixth day of creation, when man was created. We are commanded to make it a Day of Remembrance (Yom Zikaron), to blow the shofar, and to “wake up” and repent. There is an additional day of awe and holiness – Yom Kippur. Since its prohibitions are stricter than those of the holidays, it is not counted among them.

The first day of Sukkot is not tied into a specific event, but on it we remember the divine providence we experienced when God liberated us from Egypt, led us through the desert, and enveloped us in clouds of glory. Sukkot takes place at the end of the fruit harvest, giving us the opportunity to conclude the yearly festival cycle by thanking God for the year’s fruit. Immediately following Sukkot is Shemini Atzeret, which is the final celebration of the year. On this holiday we are privileged to experience extra closeness with the Lord, our God. It is thus a fitting time for us to complete the Torah-reading cycle and celebrate it.


[*]. Editor’s note: Throughout this volume, the term “festival” is taken as the equivalent of “ḥag” and “mo’ed,” and includes Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. The term “holiday” is used as the equivalent of “Yom Tov” and refers specifically to days that are “mikra’ei kodesh.”

02. Agricultural Seasons and Judgment Days

The names of the regalim (pilgrimage festivals) reflect the agricultural periods in which they take place. Thus we read: “Three times a year, you shall hold a festival for Me: You shall observe the Festival of Unleavened Bread (Pesaḥ)…at the set time in the month of Aviv (spring), for in it you went forth from Egypt…the Festival of the Harvest (Shavu’ot), of the first fruits of your work, of what you sow in the field; and the Festival of Ingathering (Sukkot) at the end of the year, when you gather in the results of your work from the fields. Three times a year, all your males shall appear before the Sovereign, the Lord” (Shemot 23:14-17). Similarly, we read: “You shall observe the Festival of Unleavened Bread…at the set time of the month of Aviv, for in the month of Aviv you went forth from Egypt…. You shall observe the Festival of Weeks, of the first fruits of the wheat harvest; and the Festival of Ingathering at the turn of the year” (Shemot 34:18-23).

It is appropriate for Pesaḥ to be in the spring, when everything begins to grow. Shavu’ot is referred to as the Festival of the Harvest because the harvest of wheat, which provides man with his main sustenance, is completed then. Sukkot is called the Festival of Ingathering because this is when all of the year’s crops are gathered and brought home. At these times, people are naturally happy. In the spring, we are happy because of the rejuvenation of the crops after the bleak winter. During the harvest, we are happy because of the abundance of blessing in the crops. During the ingathering, we are happy because of the variety of good fruit which we have been privileged to gather. We were commanded to uplift and sanctify these naturally joyful feelings through the mitzvot of the festivals.

These natural processes reflect the spiritual processes which take place in the supernal worlds. Pesaḥ is a time of beginning and renewal; therefore we left Egypt then and became a nation. Shavu’ot is a time when the growth process reaches maturity; therefore we received the Torah then (below 13:1-4). Sukkot is a time of joyful celebration of bounty, at the culmination of the year’s agricultural endeavors, so we express our great joy for the Divine Presence resting upon us and for all the positive things which result from our living under God’s protection.

In other words, each festival represents the conclusion of a stage that we experience in both the natural and spiritual worlds. Pesaḥ concludes spring’s arrival after the dormancy of the winter, and is also the time of Exodus from Egypt. Shavu’ot concludes the first stage of growth. It is the time of both harvesting and the giving of the Torah. Sukkot concludes all the stages: we gather in the physical fruit as well as the spiritual fruit which give expression to the close relationship between the Jews and God. In order to link both the natural agricultural processes and the corresponding spiritual processes to the source of holiness, we were commanded to travel to the Temple on these three festivals, offer sacrifices, and rejoice before God.

The festivals are also judgment days. The Mishna tells us that there are four times of the year when the world is judged. On Pesaḥ, judgment is passed on grain, determining how much will grow until Shavu’ot. On Shavu’ot, judgment is passed on fruit, determining how much will grow during the summer. On Sukkot, judgment is passed on water, determining how much rain Eretz Yisrael will receive in the winter. On Rosh Ha-shana, all people are judged (RH 16a). If we observe the festivals properly, we will be judged favorably. By commanding us to observe the festivals, God has given us an opportunity to connect with Him in each season joyfully and thankfully, thus ensuring blessing for the next season as well.

03. Israel and the Seasons

The sanctity of Shabbat is fixed and enduring. Since God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh, Shabbat is always on the seventh day of the week. In contrast, the sanctity of the festivals depends upon the Jewish people. This dependency is twofold. First, the unique idea of each festival was revealed through the Jews. On Pesaḥ, God redeemed the Jews from Egypt; on Shavu’ot, God gave the Torah to the Jews; and on Sukkot, we remember the special divine providence experienced by the Jews. On Rosh Ha-shana, the Jews stand as emissaries for all creation, crowning God as ruler of the world.

Second, in practice, the timing of the festivals depends upon the Hebrew calendar, whose months are sanctified by the Jewish people. In other words, even though a Hebrew month is based on the lunar cycle, seeing the new moon does not automatically inaugurate and sanctify the incoming month. Only the beit din can sanctify the month, based on Jewish attestations to seeing the new moon. The Torah instructs: “This month shall mark for you (lakhem) the beginning of the months” (Shemot 12:2). The Gemara expounds: “This testimony is handed over to you (lakhem)” (RH 22a).

It is true that we now have a set calendar instead. This is because approximately 300 years after the destruction of the Second Temple, the sages of Eretz Yisrael, under the leadership of Hillel the Second, understood that due to the exigencies of exile, it would be difficult for them to continue sanctifying the months. Therefore, they used a formula to calculate the calendar and to sanctify the months and years for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, sanctification of the months is still dependent upon the Jews living in Eretz Yisrael, who calculate the months based on the formulas of the calendar and thus sanctify them. If, God forbid, the Jews were to disappear from Eretz Yisrael, the set calendar would not be binding, and the months and festivals would cease to exist. Fortunately, God promised us that this would never happen (MT, Laws of Sanctification of the New Moon 5:1-3; Sefer Ha-mitzvot §153; Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 1:3 n. 3).

We see that the sanctity of the festivals is dependent upon the Jews, which is why the Sages formulated the festival berakha in the Amida and Kiddush as “Blessed are You, Lord, Who sanctifies Israel and the seasons.” At first glance this would seem difficult. As is well known, we do not end a berakha by referring to two themes. Nevertheless, since the Jews sanctify the festivals, these two themes are not considered distinct; God sanctifies the festivals through the people of Israel (Berakhot 49a). In contrast, the sanctity of Shabbat is fixed and enduring, established by God. Accordingly, the formulation of the Shabbat berakha is “Blessed are You, Lord, Who sanctifies Shabbat” (Pesaḥim 117b). Therefore, even though Shabbat is holier than and superior to the festivals, there is more of a mitzva to rejoice on the festivals, because the value of our deeds in this world is more apparent then.

Since the sanctity of the festivals is dependent upon the Jews, the sanctity of the Jewish people is revealed on the festivals and is absorbed by each and every Jew. This expresses Jewish unity, as does each festival in its own way. On Shavu’ot, we received the Torah when we stood united facing the mountain (below 13:6). On Pesaḥ, the korban Pesaḥ hints at the unity of the Jewish people and its uniqueness (Maharal, Gevurot Hashem, pp. 36-37). On Sukkot, bundling together the four species expresses the unity among all parts of the nation.

Along these lines, in order not to create divisions among the pilgrims, on the festivals the Sages were lenient when it came to amei ha-aretz (those less knowledgeable). During the rest of the year, the Sages declared that the touch of an am ha-aretz rendered items impure, since some of them were not careful about the laws concerning purity and impurity. On the festivals, however, the Sages taught that one could rely upon their word for purity purposes. If an am ha-aretz declared that he was pure, he was to be believed, and his touch would not render food or sacrifices impure. The Sages connect this with the verse: “Gathered against the city were all the men of Israel, united as one man, friends” (Shoftim 20:11). We see that when everyone gathers together, they are all deemed friends, and thus reliable about matters of purity (Ḥagiga 26a; the Hebrew for friends is “ḥaverim,” which was also the rabbinic term for those who were careful about the laws of purity). The Sages also point to the verse: “Jerusalem is built like a city that is closely compacted together (ḥubra lah)” (Tehilim 122:3). We see that Jerusalem, the city of festival pilgrimage, turns all Jews into ḥaverim (y. Ḥagiga 3:6).

04. Shabbat and the Holidays – the Mitzvot and Their Punishments

Each of the six holidays mentioned above is the subject of a positive commandment to refrain from melakha (constructive labor) as well as a negative commandment against melakha. Thus, there are twelve mitzvot pertaining to resting on Yom Tov.[1] In contrast, there are only two mitzvot that deal with resting on Shabbat – a positive commandment to refrain from melakha and a negative commandment against melakha (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 9:1). This is because every Shabbat conveys the same message, whereas each holiday has a unique meaning. Accordingly, we are commanded separately concerning each holiday.

The common denominator of Shabbat and the holidays is that in both cases there is a positive commandment to refrain from melakha as well as a negative commandment against melakha. One who refrains from melakha on Shabbat or Yom Tov fulfills a positive commandment, and one who engages in melakha is both negating a positive commandment and transgressing a negative one. Because shevita (refraining from melakha) is a requirement not just on Shabbat but on the holidays as well, holidays are called “Shabbaton” and occasionally even “Shabbat” (Menaḥot 65b).

However, the severity of the restriction on melakha is not uniform. On Shabbat, all melakha is forbidden (see Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 9:1-2), while on Yom Tov, domestic melakha necessary for food preparation is permitted; the only forbidden melakha is that which is work-related (“melekhet avoda”). The general principle is that the holier the day, the more we must submit to divine providence, and the more we refrain from melakha (see below 3:1 and 10:7).

The punishment for Shabbat desecration is also more severe than the punishment for Yom Tov desecration. On Shabbat, if one intentionally performs melakha, despite the admonition of witnesses, the Torah-mandated punishment is death by stoning. If no witnesses are present, he is liable for karet (excision). If he transgresses unintentionally, he must bring a sin offering (MT, Laws of Shabbat 1:1). In contrast, on Yom Tov, if one intentionally performs melakha in front of witnesses, he receives forty lashes. If he does so unintentionally, he is not required to bring a sin offering.

Another difference is that if one unintentionally transgresses several melakhot on Shabbat during a single lapse of awareness, he must offer a separate sacrifice for each melakha transgressed. In contrast, if one intentionally transgresses several melakhot on Yom Tov after receiving one general warning, he incurs only one set of lashes (Makkot 21b; MT, Laws of Yom Tov 1:3).

Each festival has a unique schedule of sacrificial offerings, which differs from that of Shabbat (Bamidbar 28). There are also mitzvot that are specific to the festival and that do not pertain to Shabbat. On Pesaḥ there is a mitzva to eat matza and a prohibition against eating ḥametz. There are also many other mitzvot on the Seder night. On Rosh Ha-shana there is a mitzva to hear the shofar. On Sukkot there is a mitzva to sit in the sukka and to take up a lulav. On Shavu’ot and Shemini Atzeret, there are no special mitzvot, apart from rejoicing, as the main purpose of these two holidays is to serve as an atzeret, a joyous gathering celebrating the culmination of a process. Specifically, Shavu’ot celebrates the culmination of the process beginning with the Exodus and ending in the giving of the Torah (below 13:6), and Shemini Atzeret celebrates the conclusion of the three pilgrimage festivals as well as the culmination of the process of repentance, atonement, and joy.


[1]. In Vayikra chapter 23, all the festivals are mentioned along with their unique observances. Each holiday is accompanied by a positive commandment to rest and a negative commandment against melakha. For the first and seventh days of Pesaḥ, see 23:7-8; for Shavu’ot, 23:21; for Rosh Ha-shana, 23:24-25; for the first day of Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret, 23:35-36. In chapter 28 of Bamidbar, the holidays are mentioned again. There, in addition to the prohibition on work, the offerings for each festival are mentioned. In both places, the mitzva of Shabbat precedes those of the Yom Tov, to teach us that Shabbat is the root of the sanctity of the holidays. The mitzva to rest on the first and seventh days of Pesaḥ is also mentioned in Shemot 12:16 and Devarim 16:8.

05. Torah Study on Yom Tov

There is a mitzva to study a great deal of Torah on Shabbat and Yom Tov. As the Sages state: “Shabbat and Yom Tov were given to us solely for the purpose of learning Torah then” (y. Shabbat 15:3).There are three fundamental reasons for this.

First, there is a general mitzva of talmud Torah (Torah study), which the Sages tell us is equal to all the mitzvot (m. Pe’a 1:1; MT, Laws of Torah Study 3:3-9). Every Jewish man is obligated by it, as we read: “Study them and observe them faithfully” (Devarim 5:1). The mitzva to engage in Torah study applies both day and night, as we read: “Let not this book of the Torah cease from your lips, but recite it day and night” (Yehoshua 1:8). Therefore, a person must study Torah all his life. Even on the day of his death, he should try to go to the beit midrash and study Torah (Shabbat 83b). One who stops studying Torah is likely to forget what he has learned. The Torah cautions us about this: “But take utmost care and watch yourselves scrupulously, so that you do not forget…and so it does not fade from your mind as long as you live” (Devarim 4:9; MT, op. cit. 1:3, 10). Anyone who is capable of studying Torah but does not do so is in the category of one who denigrates the word of God (San. 99a). On weekdays, when people are busy making a living, they are limited in how much Torah they can manage to learn, although they are nevertheless obligated to set aside time for Torah both during the day and at night (MT, op. cit. 1:8, 3:13). In contrast, on Shabbat and Yom Tov, when people are off from work, the mitzva of talmud Torah is reinstated in full force. This is why Shabbat and Yom Tov were given to the Jews – so that they could be off from work and able to study Torah. (See Tanna De-vei Eliyahu Rabba §1.)

The second reason is that Shabbat and Yom Tov are holy days given to the Jews to enable them to progress in their Torah study, which will then illuminate the weekdays as well. Shabbat is meant to elevate and illuminate the days of the week, and each festival is meant to shed its particular light on the whole year. Therefore, Moshe instituted that the Torah reading on each festival should be about that particular festival. Additionally, he instituted that people should “enquire and discuss matters pertaining to the day – the laws of Pesaḥ on Pesaḥ, the laws of Shavu’ot on Shavu’ot, and the laws of Sukkot on Sukkot” (Megilla 32a; SHT 429:5). This is also why according to a midrash, God said to Moshe: “Gather together large groups and publicly teach them matters pertaining to the day. Thus, future leaders will learn from you to convene groups every Shabbat and Yom Tov, and assemble in the batei midrash to teach and instruct Israel about what the Torah permits and forbids. Thus My great name will be glorified among My children” (Yalkut Shimoni, Vayak’hel §408). Indeed, delivering derashot (sermons or homilies) of both legal and aggadic nature on Shabbat and holidays has been the practice of Jewish sages throughout the generations. The main drasha, known in Aramaic as “pirka,” would take place by day, and everyone made sure to come and listen to it (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 5:4 and Harḥavot there). At night as well, on Shabbat and Yom Tov, there would be a drasha. It seems that this was often dedicated to aggada (Mordechai, Pesaḥim §611), and women as well as men would come to hear it (y. Sota 1:4).

The third reason to study Torah on Yom Tov is that it is a fulfillment of the commandment to rejoice on the festival. Torah study makes people happy, as we read: “The precepts of the Lord are just, making the heart delight” (Tehilim 19:9). For the same reason, Torah learning is forbidden on Tisha Be-Av and during times of mourning (Ta’anit 30a; Sha’agat Aryeh §69).

Besides the mitzva to study a lot of Torah during the holidays, there must be words of Torah discussed over the Yom Tov meals, in order to link the food to its spiritual roots. If people gather for a meal but do not share words of Torah, they are considered to have partaken from “offerings to the dead,” because their physical meal has been disconnected from the soul (Avot 3:3; Peninei Halakha: Berakhot 13:8). One must be especially careful about this at Yom Tov meals, for the more significant and enjoyable a meal is, the more it opens people’s hearts and intensifies their feelings. If these emotions are not uplifted with words of Torah and songs praising God, there is a concern that they might turn into lightheadedness and frivolity. For this reason, the Sages condemn the singing of vulgar and inappropriate songs at a meal. If they use verses from Shir Ha-shirim in such songs to do so, this is even more disrespectful:

Our Rabbis taught: If one recites a verse of Shir Ha-shirim and treats it like a song, or recites any verse at a party when it is inappropriate, he brings evil upon the world. The Torah wraps itself in sackcloth and stands before the Holy One, blessed be He, and laments before Him: “Master of the universe! Your children have made me into a harp to play frivolously.” God replies, “My daughter, how else should they keep themselves busy when they are eating and drinking?” To which the Torah retorts, “Master of the universe! If they are students of Tanakh, let them engage in studying the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings; if they are students of the Mishna, let them engage in Mishna, halakhot, and aggadot; if they are students of the Talmud, let them engage in the laws of Pesaḥ, Shavu’ot, and Sukkot on the respective festivals.” (San. 101a)

06. Time for Learning and Eating

When it comes to the purpose of a holiday, there are two verses which seem to contradict each other. One verse tells us that the holiday is for God: “You shall hold a joyous gathering for the Lord your God (atzeret laShem Elokekha)” (Devarim 16:8), while the other says that it is for you: “On the eighth day you shall hold a joyous gathering for yourselves (atzeret tihyeh lakhem)” (Bamidbar 29:35). The Gemara presents two ways to reconcile the verses. According to R. Yehoshua, the Torah is telling us that we should split up the holiday so “half is for God and half is for you” – meaning half the day is spent on food and drink, and half is spent learning Torah in the beit midrash. In R. Eliezer’s opinion, a person may choose – either the whole day is “for God” spent in the beit midrash, or the whole day is “for you” spent eating (Pesaḥim 68b; Beitza 15b). Even if one chooses to follow R. Eliezer and spend all day learning Torah, he must still eat something so that he will not suffer from hunger, while if one chooses to spend all day eating, he must still pray and learn some Torah in the morning and at night, and also have words of Torah at the meal (Rabbeinu Peretz; Ra’ah; Shelah). Furthermore, if one chooses to spend all day eating, this choice must be made for the sake of heaven, in order to enjoy the sanctity of the holiday and to provide enjoyment for poor and lonely people (Pri Tzadik, Ḥag Ha-Shavu’ot §5; see section 11 below).

In practice, the halakha follows R. Yehoshua, so we should split up the day and spend half learning in the beit midrash and half eating and drinking (SA 529:1). Some maintain that one must be very careful that the “half for God” is indeed at least half. Or Ha-ḥayim declares that if one takes more than half the day for himself, that extra part is considered stolen property (Rishon Le-Tziyon, Beitza 15b). Others maintain that it is not necessary to calculate precisely; one should just learn Torah approximately half the day (Pri Megadim). Usually people do not calculate the hours; unfortunately, the result is that we are very derelict about the time we dedicate to Torah. In order to revitalize this mitzva, we need to start calculating the hours and becoming accustomed to dedicating half the time to God. It would seem that the seven hours that a person normally sleeps can be left out of the calculation. Since a day of Yom Tov with tosefet lasts approximately 25 hours, there are then 18 hours remaining. Half of this time – nine hours – must be dedicated to God. While most of it needs to be dedicated to Torah study (“half for the beit midrash” in the words of Pesaḥim 68b), prayer can also count toward this half. However, this is on condition that the prayer service is not too drawn out with melodies or cantorial renditions; if it is, that time cannot be considered God’s half (Yam Shel Shlomo; MA). It seems reasonable that out of the nine hours for God, three may be used for prayer, but the remaining six should be devoted to Torah study.

Women too have a mitzva to study Torah on Yom Tov, and indeed, women customarily attended the derashot given on Shabbat and Yom Tov. Although women are not obligated to dedicate half of the day to God, one who does so is worthy of blessing.[2]


[2]. The rule is that in a disagreement between R. Eliezer and R. Yehoshua, the halakha follows R. Yehoshua. Indeed, this is the case here. Half of the day must be dedicated to God (R. Yitzḥak ibn Gi’at, Ra’avya, Or Zaru’a, and others, including SA OḤ 529:1). This is also the conclusion reached by the Yerushalmi (y. Shabbat 15:3): “Dedicate part to Torah study and part to food and drink.” It does not mention that this is the opinion of R. Yehoshua. Rambam seems to agree, as his daily schedule for Yom Tov reflects the opinion of R. Yehoshua (MT, Laws of Yom Tov 6:19). Others who rule this way are SAH 529:10, MB ad loc. 1, and Kaf Haḥayim ad loc. 2.

Many maintain that R. Eliezer does not mean that one should dedicate 100% of the day to God or 100% to ourselves. Even one who learns Torah all day needs to eat something so he won’t be fasting and suffering on the holiday. Rather, R. Eliezer means that if one chooses to devote the whole day to study, he does not need to have a significant meal. Likewise, one who wishes to set aside the whole day “for you” – festive meals and physical pleasure – is still required to pray and to study a little Torah, as is required every day (Rabbeinu Peretz and Ra’ah, Beitza 15b; Shelah, Masekhet Shavu’ot, Torah Or 16). According to Me’iri (Beitza loc. cit.), if one was so involved in his Torah study that he neglected to eat anything at all, he has still fulfilled the mitzva of Yom Tov. According to Sefat Emet (Beitza loc. cit.), even R. Eliezer agrees that one may split up the day into two equal parts; what he means is that it is also acceptable to choose to devote the day entirely “for God” or entirely “for you.” (It should be noted that when it comes to prayer as well, R. Eliezer is of the opinion that the primary mitzva is dependent upon the person’s choice, in accordance with m. Berakhot 4:4: “If one makes his prayer set [and unchanging], his prayer is not supplicatory.”)

It would seem that according to R. Yehoshua, one may count the time praying as part of the half for God. This is the conclusion one reaches after reading through Rambam’s Yom Tov schedule, and it is cited in SAH 529:10 and MB ad loc. 1. (See Harḥavot to Peninei Halakha: Shabbat, vol. 1, 5:1 n. 10.) Nevertheless, most of the half for God must be devoted to Torah study. This is why R. Yehoshua’s formulation in Pesaḥim 68b is “half for the beit midrash.” In his time, the beit knesset dedicated to prayer was a separate building from the beit midrash dedicated to study.

Some say that according to R. Yehoshua, one must be very precise regarding the half for God. For example, Or Ha-ḥayim states that if one extends his lunch and does not make up the time in the afternoon, it is as if he has stolen some of God’s part of the day (Rishon Le-Tziyon, Beitza loc. cit.). Others are of a similar opinion, including Baḥ, OḤ 242; Pnei Yehoshu’a, Beitza loc. cit.; Sha’agat Aryeh §69; Kaf Ha-ḥayim 529:10. It also would seem to be the opinion of Yam Shel Shlomo (Ḥullin, ch. 1 §50) and MA (introduction to OḤ 529) that we should scold cantors who drag out the prayers, as that time is not included in the half for God. On the other hand, some are of the opinion that there is no need to be exact here. Pri Megadim states this explicitly (Eshel Avraham 242:1), as does Sefat Emet (Beitza loc. cit.). Some feel that this can be inferred from those who cite R. Yehoshua without specifying how the day is to be split up. Nevertheless, it would seem that even according to them, one is obligated to study Torah for a little less than half the day. Perhaps they mean that one may learn more than half the time on one holiday, and less than half the time on another, so that things average out at about half the time. Since we see that people are not meticulous about the number of hours they spend studying Torah, in my humble opinion, even those who are less exacting would agree that today it is necessary to calculate the hours of Yom Tov in the way I detailed above, in order to restore Torah study on Yom Tov to its proper place. The calculation should include the night as well, as it is part of Yom Tov. Indeed, we find that there were study sessions which convened at night (t. Beitza 2:6; Tosafot, Pesaḥim 109a). However, one may leave out of the calculation the time he needs to sleep, which leaves us with nine hours of Yom Tov which must be devoted to God.

It would seem that even though one must be careful not to dedicate less than half the day to God, nevertheless if one properly observes the mitzva of simḥa at the festive meal by eating meat and drinking wine, and still has time left in his “half for you,” he may add to his Torah study. This does not detract from the mitzva. The difference is that how to fulfill the part “for God” is not at a person’s discretion, but rather is designated as learning Torah, while how to fulfill the part “for you” is at a person’s discretion. If this were not the case, what options would there be for one who has already spent three hours at a meal, cannot eat any more, and does not want to sleep? Would he be obligated to speak about secular matters in order to fulfill the “half for you”? Furthermore, even during a meal it is proper to share much Torah (Avot 3:3; San. 101a). Would it cross anyone’s mind to say that if he has already fulfilled his half for God, he may not share words of Torah at the table? Rather, the fundamental lesson we learn from R. Yehoshua is that it is obligatory to dedicate the appropriate amount of time to a significant meal. This is addressed in Shabbat 119b, where R. Zeira warns that Torah scholars should not engage in so much Torah study that it is at the expense of oneg Shabbat. See the Harḥavot here and the Harḥavot to Shabbat 5:1-4, for the many sources which I cite for this halakha.

07. The Festive Meals – “Mikra’ei Kodesh

It is a mitzva to have two festive meals on Yom Tov, one by night and one by day. This is one of the primary expressions of the sanctity of the holiday. All the holidays are referred to in the Torah as mikra’ei kodesh (sacred occasions). As the same term is used for Shabbat, in this area the holidays are equal to Shabbat. The Sages elaborate: “How does one sanctify them? With food, drink, and clean clothing” (Sifra, Emor 12:4). Similarly, Rambam writes: “Just as we are commanded to honor Shabbat and enjoy it, so are we commanded regarding the holidays, as the verse states: ‘[Call Shabbat “delight,”] the Lord’s holy [day] “honored”’ (Yeshayahu 58:13). All the holidays [as well as Shabbat] are referred to as mikra’ei kodesh” (MT 6:16; see also SA 529:1).

There is a difference, however. On Shabbat, the Sages ordained, based on allusions in verses (Shabbat 117b), that we partake of three meals, on account of the special holiness of Shabbat. In contrast, on Yom Tov the mitzva is limited to two meals, one by day and one by night (Rosh; Tur). People need to eat two meals every day, and the mitzva on holidays is to turn these meals into notable, festive ones (SA 529:1; Birkei Yosef ad loc. 3; MB ad loc. 13; Kaf Ha-ḥayim ad loc. 24).

It is a mitzva to eat bread at each of these meals (see 2:5 below), and it is a mitzva to have two loaves, just as we do on Shabbat, and for the same reason: since the manna did not fall on Shabbat or Yom Tov, a double portion of manna fell on the day before Shabbat and holidays (SA 529:1; Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 7:3).[3]

Even though Shabbat is holier than Yom Tov, on Yom Tov there is a mitzva to serve better food and wear fancier clothes than those of Shabbat, because of the special mitzva to enjoy Yom Tov, as we will explain in the next section.


[3]. Both Shabbat and Yom Tov are referred to as mikra’ei kodesh. Just as it is a mitzva to honor Shabbat and enjoy it, as is stated explicitly, “Call Shabbat ‘delight,’ the Lord’s holy [day] ‘honored’” (Yeshayahu 58:13), so too it is a mitzva on Yom Tov. Rambam says this in MT, Laws of Yom Tov 6:16. Shulḥan Arukh agrees: “One must honor it and delight in it, just like on Shabbat” (529:1). See Peninei Halakha: Shabbat, vol. 1, ch. 7 n. 2, where we describe the disagreement among Rishonim as to whether the obligations of honor and delight are biblical or rabbinic. The homiletical exposition of the phrase “mikra kodesh” makes it sound like it is a Torah law. This is the position of Ramban. On the other hand, the source of the details is Yeshayahu, which implies that the law is not biblical. This is the position of Rambam and Sefer Ha-ḥinukh.

It seems from Rambam that on Yom Tov one must have three meals (MT, Laws of Shabbat 30:9, although Beit Yosef suggests it does not necessarily mean this). In practice, almost all poskim are of the opinion of that on Yom Tov there is a mitzva to have only two meals. Tur states that this was the practice of Rosh. This is also the ruling of SA 529:1; Tosfot Yom Tov; SAH; and MB ad loc. 12. Levush explains that because of the extra mitzva of simḥa on Yom Tov, the Sages were not strict in requiring a third meal, as sometimes it is a burden. Ḥida writes that based on kabbalistic teachings, three meals serve no purpose on Yom Tov. Some advise adding a dish to the Yom Tov meal, which can be considered the third meal (one of the opinions in Kol Bo, as cited in MA and MB ad loc. 12). If one gets hungry toward the end of Yom Tov, it seems proper that he eat a third meal or at least have a snack, because otherwise he will suffer on the holiday.

According to most poskim, it is a mitzva to eat bread at each meal, whether because of oneg Yom Tov (Me’iri; Maḥzor Vitri; Responsa Rabbi Akiva Eger §1), or because of the mitzva of simḥa (Ri; Rosh). However, according to Tosafot (Sukka 27a s.v. “i ba’i)” and Rashba, there is no mitzva to eat bread or matza at Yom Tov meals, apart from the first night of Pesaḥ and the first night of Sukkot. See below 2:6, and in the Harḥavot here, regarding one who forgot to say Ya’aleh Ve-yavo in Birkat Ha-mazon.

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.

09. Meat and Wine at Yom Tov Meals

In Temple times, the joy of the pilgrimage festivals was expressed primarily through bringing ḥagiga offerings in Jerusalem, as we read, “You shall rejoice before the Lord your God…at the place where the Lord your God will choose to establish His name” (Devarim 16:11), and “You shall sacrifice there peace offerings (shelamim) and eat them, rejoicing before the Lord your God” (Devarim 27:7). This is explained below in section 15.

Since the destruction of the Temple, men fulfill the mitzva of additional simḥa by drinking wine and having a festive meal (Pesaḥim 109a; SA 529:1). It can also be fulfilled by drinking other alcoholic beverages, as they are mood enhancers. However, it is preferable to use wine, which is considered the most dignified of all drinks. Drinking grape juice does not fulfill the mitzva; as it is not alcoholic, it is not a mood enhancer. How much wine is necessary to enhance one’s mood? Enough to cause a bit of difficulty with concentration, such that a rabbi would be considered impaired and thus prohibited from giving a halakhic ruling (MA 99:1). Some Torah giants would drink so much wine during the Yom Tov meals that they refrained from giving rulings until the following day (Beitza 4a; Kareitot 13b; Shakh, YD 242:19). The Sages estimate that minimally, to achieve the requisite level of simḥa one must drink slightly more than a revi’it of wine (75 ml), though most people would need to drink considerably more than that to achieve such a state.

Nevertheless, one should not overdo the drinking, as we are not meant to get drunk. Drunkenness is not to be equated with simḥa, but rather with frivolity, silliness, and escapism. We are commanded to celebrate in a way that is connected with life and which infuses it with meaning and sanctity.

Even though the primary way for a man to achieve simḥa is through drinking wine, there is also a mitzva to eat red meat at the festive meals, as this is also enjoyable. Thus, drinking wine is an obligation (ḥova), while eating red meat is a mitzva (SA 529:1; SAH ad loc. 7; MB ad loc. 11). If one prefers poultry or is unable to obtain red meat, he should eat poultry, as it too is festive and brings joy (Ḥavot Ya’ir, end of §178).

The primary expression of the additional simḥa is at the daytime meal. (The primary expression of all festival mitzvot is during the day.) True, there is a mitzva to have an abundance of good, enjoyable food at night – even more than one would at a Shabbat meal. In the evening, though, there is no mitzva to have wine as there is during the day.

Women, too, are obligated to have enjoyable feasts on Yom Tov, but they are not obligated to drink wine. If a woman enjoys wine, she does have a mitzva to drink some. If a man does not enjoy drinking wine or eating meat, he does not have to force himself to do so. Rather, for the Yom Tov meals, he should make sure to have the foods which make him happiest (Sha’agat Aryeh §65).[5]


[5]. The Gemara formulates it as follows. “It was taught: R. Yehuda b. Beteira says: When the Temple existed, the only simḥa was with meat, as it says, ‘You shall sacrifice there peace offerings and eat them, rejoicing before the Lord your God’ (Devarim 27:7). But now that the Temple no longer exists, the only simḥa is with wine, as it says, ‘Wine cheers the hearts of men’ (Tehilim 104:15)’” (Pesaḥim loc. cit.). It is reasonable to assume that during Temple times as well, people enjoyed drinking wine on Yom Tov, but the joy of the korban was so great that they fulfilled the mitzva of simḥa with it, even if they did not drink wine. However, nowadays, when we have no sacrificial meat to eat, the mitzva is to drink wine. Beit Yosef expresses surprise that Rambam (MT, Laws of Yom Tov 6:18) includes eating meat as a current Yom Tov obligation. SAH 529:7 states that there is an obligation (ḥova) to drink wine, and a mitzva to eat meat. This is implied by Baḥ and MA. BHL 529:2 s.v. “keitzad” and MB ad loc. 11 state this as well.

We have seen that one should drink more than a revi’it, as a rabbi who drinks a revi’it is disqualified from rendering a halakhic ruling. Nevertheless, one who drinks only a revi’it in the course of a meal may give a ruling, because the food eaten during the meal lessens the effect of the alcohol. MA 99:1 quotes Hagahot Smak that after a Yom Tov meal in which more than a revi’it has been drunk, a ruling may not be rendered. The Gemara states that there were rabbis who, after having the festive meal at night, would wait until the following day to hand down rulings (Beitza 4a). We see from this that they drank a large amount, as the effects of the wine did not wear off until the next day (Responsa Rashba 1:247; Shakh, YD 242:19).

According to Darkhei Teshuva (YD 89:19), men are obligated to have two festive meals that include meat and wine, one by day and one by night. Therefore, it objects to those who have a dairy meal on Shavu’ot night. It would seem that even Darkhei Teshuva would concede that the daytime meal is more important, just as it is on Shabbat (Pesaḥim 105b; SA 271:3). However, according to Sefat Emet (Sukka 48a) and Arukh Ha-shulḥan He-atid (Kodashim 199:17), the obligation is to eat meat and drink wine at one Yom Tov meal, which can be either during the day or at night. Arukh Ha-shulḥan adds that there is a mitzva to have two meals. The common practice is to make sure to have a significant meal during the day – usually with red meat and wine – and to add something extra festive at night beyond the usual Shabbat fare. However, we need not insist on eating red meat and drinking more than a revi’it of wine then. Netziv writes similarly in Ha’amek She’ela 67:8. For men who do not enjoy meat and wine, as well as for women, the festive meals do not fulfill the first part of the mitzva of simḥa (to do something special which gives much enjoyment), but rather the second part (to add something to the meals beyond the normal Shabbat food).

10. Women’s Mitzva of Simḥa

It is a positive commandment for women to rejoice on the festivals. Even though this is a time-bound positive commandment, it is incumbent upon both men and women, as the verse explicitly states: “You shall rejoice in your festival with your son and daughter” (Devarim 16:14). Furthermore, a man must join with his wife to eat the shelamim offering that was bought with the money of ma’aser sheni (second tithe). The source is the verse: “You shall feast there in the presence of the Lord your God, and rejoice with your household” (Devarim 14:26). The Gemara explains that “household” here means “wife” (Yevamot 62b). Even though women are not obligated to make a pilgrimage to the Temple and offer sacrifices on the festivals, nevertheless they have the same obligation of simḥa that men do. Therefore, women who did make the pilgrimage would fulfill the mitzva of simḥa through eating the peace offering (MT, Laws of Pilgrimage Offerings 1:1). Women who did not come to the Temple on the festivals needed to find other ways to enjoy themselves (Sha’agat Aryeh §66).

Ever since the destruction of the Temple, women’s mitzva of extra simḥa is fulfilled through the purchase of new clothing or jewelry for the festival, as these bring women more joy than food. Even if they do not wear the new clothing throughout the festival, it still brings joy to the entire festival and constitutes fulfillment of the first part of the festival mitzva of simḥa (doing something special which gives one enjoyment, as explained above in section 8) for women.

In addition to the first part of the mitzva of simḥa, there is a Torah commandment for women to delight in wearing their best clothes and jewelry, as well as through drinking wine and eating meat at the meals. This is the second part of the mitzva of simḥa. However, it is not necessary for a woman who does not enjoy drinking wine or eating meat to force herself to do so. Rather, she should eat the foods which make her happiest.

In the past, it was standard for the husband to be the one to buy clothes or jewelry for his wife before the festival, since in most families the husband was the sole provider and was in charge of the money and the purchases. Additionally, since there was not a wide selection of clothes or jewelry, a woman would enjoy any new item of clothing or jewelry which he bought. The very fact that her husband bought it for her would intensify her simḥa. In contrast, now that there are so many types of clothing and jewelry available, choosing has become complicated. In many families, it has become the norm for the wife to choose clothes or jewelry for herself, and for the budget to be set by the couple in accordance with their means (as explained below in section 12). In order for the husband to participate in the mitzva, it is appropriate for him to encourage his wife to buy an item of clothing or jewelry for the festival. This way it can be considered a gift from him to her, which will increase her simḥa. There are men who make the mistake of spending hundreds of shekalim on a beautiful etrog, while spending very little on clothing for their wives. What they are forgetting is that buying clothes or jewelry for their wives fulfills a biblical mitzva, while buying an etrog that costs ten times as much as a basic kosher one fulfills only an optional enhancement (hiddur).

An unmarried woman, whether single or previously married, is obligated to fulfill all aspects of the mitzva of simḥa. She should buy an item of clothing or jewelry for the festival, have enjoyable festive meals, and participate in enjoyable events, while avoiding sad activities (Sha’agat Aryeh §66).

11. To Enjoy and Bring Joy to Others

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).[6] 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).


[6]. We find this requirement throughout the Torah. For example, regarding the simḥa experienced upon bringing tithes and offerings in which one obligated himself, the verse states: “You shall rejoice before the Lord your God with your sons and daughters and male and female slaves, along with the Levite in your settlements, for he has no territorial allotment among you” (Devarim 12:12). Similarly, regarding the simḥa of bringing the first fruit (bikurim), we read: “You shall enjoy, together with the Levite and the stranger in your midst, all the bounty that the Lord your God has bestowed upon you and your household” (Devarim 26:11).

12. Festival Expenses

In general, the Sages encourage everyone to minimize expenses and to save money. People can use their savings to help their children train in a profession and start a family as well as to support themselves in their old age. Nevertheless, the Sages do not recommend minimizing expenses when it comes to the festivals. Rather, people should make appropriate purchases, in accordance with their means (Ḥullin 84a; Beit Yosef 529:1). Some people waste their money on luxuries, remembering to be frugal and save only when it comes to mitzva-related expenses. What they should be doing, however, is being frugal when it comes to luxuries, and generous when it comes to mitzva expenses. They should not worry that they might suddenly face unanticipated expenses that they will be unable to meet as a result of spending too much on Shabbat, festivals, and other mitzvot. The Sages assert that even though a person’s yearly income is determined on Rosh Ha-shana, this allotment does not take into account Shabbat and Yom Tov expenses, or tuition for children’s Torah education (Beitza 16a). If people spend less on the festivals, the money they save is deducted from their allotment; if they spend more, their allotment is increased. Thus, if people spend appropriately for mitzva needs and are also frugal during the week, they will not suffer for it; rather, they will succeed in living and saving properly.

If one finds himself with a temporary shortfall before a festival, it is appropriate for him to go into overdraft at the bank or to take out a loan, in order to enjoy the festival. He should not worry that something might go wrong and prevent him from repaying his debt. After all, God assured the Jews: “My children, borrow money on My behalf and sanctify the day; and believe in Me and I will repay” (Beitza 16b). This is on condition that one does not rely on a miracle, but rather has a stable business, regular income, or savings upon which he can draw. It is in such cases that the Sages say that one should not worry lest he be unable to repay the loan. As long as he works diligently and does not waste his money on luxuries, God will bless his efforts and help him pay off his debt. In contrast, one who does not know how he will repay a loan should not take one out to cover festival expenses, as people who borrow money and do not repay it are deemed wicked. He should not ask for charity either. Rather, he should eat simple foods on the festival, following R. Akiva’s dictum: “Turn Shabbat into a weekday rather than accepting charity” (Pesaḥim 112a). As a reward for not taking charity, he will become wealthy (m. Pe’a 8:9). In contrast, if one is already poor and must accept charity in any case, he should accept charity to cover festival expenses as well (MB 242:1).

Some make the mistake of thinking that in order to fulfill the mitzva of simḥa on the festival they must buy the most expensive food and clothing available, just like rich people do, even though this is entirely beyond their means. In fact, the mitzva is for each person to spend in accordance with his means. One who has an average salary should buy meat and wine and other tasty foods in the way that people of average means prepare for an important meal. The simḥa of the meal depends on drinking wine and having more tasty foods than one’s normal weekday menu. It does not depend on how it compares with the meals of the wealthy. (See Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 2:3.)

The same is true for buying clothes and jewelry for the festival – there is no mitzva for people of average means to buy items that are appropriate for the wealthy. The primary expression of simḥa is in the additions made for the festival when compared with the weekday – not in successfully competing with the rich. One who thinks that she can be happy only if her clothes are more expensive and more beautiful than anyone else’s will never be happy. She will always be jealous of others, and the desire for even more special clothing will stain her spirit.

Rather, the main thing is that a person be happy with his lot, and be frugal with his weekday expenditures in order to have more to spend on mitzvot, in accordance with his income. As a result, he will merit blessing. Indeed, the Sages tell us: “Who is wealthy? One who is happy with his lot, as we read: ‘When you enjoy the fruit of your labors, you will be happy and prosper’ (Tehilim 128:2). You will be happy in this world and prosper in the world to come” (Avot 4:1).

13. Singing, Dancing, and Outings

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.

14. The Festive Mood and the Prohibition of Mourning and Sadness

It is a mitzva to be in good spirits for the duration of the festival. At first glance, this would seem to be an easy mitzva, since everybody wants to be happy. However, in practice this mitzva is difficult to observe, because ever-present worries and tensions work against one’s happiness. Even so, this is the mitzva incumbent upon us during the festivals. We must transcend our worries and concerns, overcome our disappointments, and rejoice with God. To do so, we must remember that God chose us from among all the nations, gave us His Torah, sanctified us with His mitzvot, and brought us to the good land so that we could merit full and good lives – lives that have value and sanctity, and that can elevate the entire world and endow it with blessing and guidance until the world is completely redeemed. We will thus consider the great mission with which each of us is tasked. We remember all the good things in our lives. We strengthen our faith and recognize that all the hardships and exiles in Jewish history have had a positive purpose – to refine us, elevate us, and bring us closer to achieving our ultimate purpose. These meditations put us in a joyous mood throughout the festival.

There is no complete simḥa unless both body and soul are involved. Therefore, the festival mitzva of simḥa includes physical enjoyment – eating, drinking, and wearing nice clothes – as well as spiritual enjoyment – studying Torah and reciting the festive prayers.

On the festival, everyone must avoid whatever worries or saddens him. Additionally, he should not lose his temper or get angry. There are people who do not know how to enjoy spending time with their family. At every family gathering, they find a reason to cause a fight, bring up old grudges, and make their relatives miserable. This is all because they do not understand the great sanctity of the festival. Their festival observances are all performed by rote, devoid of spiritual content. As we have seen (section 11), these people should focus on the values and holiness of the festival, and this will help them become happier. They will avoid criticizing family members and keep away from remarks that are likely to be painful. Instead, they will try to compliment their family members and whoever else they meet. They will thus be able to enjoy themselves and bring joy to others during the festivals; these blessings will spill over into the weekdays as well.

Since it is a Torah commandment to be happy on Yom Tov and Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, one may not engage then in sad activities, even if the sadness is connected to a mitzva. Thus one may not fast for penitential purposes on a festival, and may not eulogize or lament the dead (MK 27a; SA 547:1-2). If the deceased is a Torah scholar, he is eulogized before the burial, because the honor due the Torah supersedes the holiday (MK 27b; SA YD 401:1; below 11:5; Harḥavot).

Similarly, it is forbidden to mourn on a festival. If someone dies before the festival, the mourning period ends with the start of the festival. Even if the mourner had a chance to mourn for only one moment, the mourning period ends once the festival begins (MK 14b; SA 548:7). In contrast, if one dies during the festival, the mourning period begins after the festival. During the festival, the mourner should do his best not to cry or be sad. He should rather occupy himself with the festival and its mitzvot (SA 548:1). If it is Sukkot, he is not exempt from the mitzva of sukka even if he is sad. He must overcome his anguish and sit in the sukka (Sukka 25a; SA 640:5). At the same time, even though he is not yet sitting shiva, his friends and relatives may come to comfort him (SA 548:6).

15. The Mitzva of Making a Pilgrimage to Jerusalem in Temple Times

As long as the Temple stood, there was a mitzva to travel there for the festivals: “Three times a year, all your males shall appear (yeira’eh, literally ‘will be seen’) before the Sovereign Lord, the God of Israel” (Shemot 34:23). The Torah also says: “Three times (shalosh regalim) a year, you shall hold a festival for Me” (Shemot 23:14). Because of this mitzva, the festivals are referred to as regalim, as people would travel to the Temple by foot (regel). Those who were unable to walk the distance from Jerusalem to the Temple Mount because they were old, sick, or lame were exempt. Others who were exempt from the mitzva were the blind, the deaf, and the mute, as their “appearance” before the Lord is incomplete. The uncircumcised and the impure are also exempt (Ḥagiga 4a-b; MT, Laws of Pilgrimage Offerings 2:1).

This commandment applies to men and not women, because it is a time-bound positive commandment from which women are exempt. This exemption enabled women, when necessary, to remain at home and take care of the children, the infirm, and the elderly. Nevertheless, if women were able to go and did so they fulfilled the mitzva. In practice, many women did go. If a child was able to walk the distance from Jerusalem to the Temple Mount, his father was obligated to take him along.

Since the men were commanded to make the pilgrimage, there was concern that enemies would come to pillage during the festivals. The Torah therefore promises that in the merit of the Jews connecting to God in the Temple they would inherit the land without fear of enemies: “I will drive out nations from your path and enlarge your territory; no one will covet your land when you go up to appear before the Lord your God three times a year” (Shemot 34:24).

Three korbanot were required on the pilgrimage festivals: re’iya, ḥagiga, and simḥa (Ḥagiga 6b). First, the mitzva of re’iya involved appearing in the Temple courtyard with an olat re’iya (pilgrimage burnt offering), which was consumed in its entirety in the fire of the altar. If one came to the courtyard without an ola, not only did he negate a positive commandment, but he transgressed a negative commandment as well: “None shall appear before Me empty-handed” (Shemot 34:20).

Second, ḥagiga refers to the shalmei ḥagiga (pilgrimage peace offering), only the fat of which was offered on the altar. Some of the meat was given to the Kohanim, while the majority of it was eaten in purity by the pilgrim, his relatives, and their guests.

Third, the commandment of simḥa included the shalmei simḥa (festive peace offering), one or more animals as needed. The more relatives and guests there were, the more shalmei simḥa had to be offered. If one had a separate obligation to bring offerings – such as ma’aser behema (animal tithe) or korbanot neder u-nedava (offerings in which he obligated himself) – he fulfills the mitzva of simḥa by offering them and eating their meat (MT, op. cit. 1:1; 2:8-10).

Rambam writes (MT, op. cit. 2:14):

When a person offers the shalmei ḥagiga and shalmei simḥa, he should not eat on his own with just his wife and children present, telling himself that he is fulfilling the mitzva in the ideal way. Rather, he is obligated to make the forlorn and the poor happy, as we read: “the Levite, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow” (Devarim 16:14). He wines and dines them in accordance with his means. One who eats his offerings without including these others is roundly condemned: “Their sacrifices will be like mourners’ bread – all who eat of it will be impure – for their bread will be for themselves alone” (Hoshea 9:4). The mitzva of inviting is particularly relevant to the Levi’im. This is because they have no portion in the Land, and none of the tithes that are given them are meat.

Normally, the offerings of individuals are not brought on Yom Tov. Nevertheless, the three offerings described above – olat re’iya, shalmei ḥagiga, and shalmei simḥa – are brought then, since it is a mitzva to offer them on the first day of the festival. On Shabbat, though, these offerings are not brought. If one was unable to offer them on the first day, he may do so at any point during the festival. On Pesaḥ, he has until the seventh day; on Sukkot, until the end of Shemini Atzeret; and on Shavu’ot, until six days after the festival. After that, the mitzva has been lost (MT, op. cit. 2:4-8).

16. Making the Pilgrimage Nowadays

The commandment to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem was nullified with the destruction of the Temple, as the mitzva is dependent on the ability to bring the offerings. Nevertheless, many Jews came and continue to come to Jerusalem for the festivals. The Sages tell stories of how men and women still made the pilgrimage after the destruction (Nedarim 23a; Shir Ha-shirim Rabba 4:2; Kohelet Rabba 11:1). Later, in the geonic period, R. Hai Gaon was one of those who traveled from Babylonia to Eretz Yisrael for Sukkot. In the periods of the Rishonim and Aḥaronim, many Jews living in countries near Eretz Yisrael would make the pilgrimage (Kaftor Va-feraḥ §86; Maharit 1:134).

Some poskim write that even though there is no longer an obligation to make the pilgrimage, one who goes to the area of the Temple for the festival fulfills a mitzva, as sanctity has never departed from the Temple Mount (Ḥatam Sofer; Shai Kohen, vol. 2 p. 523).

During Temple times, there was an additional mitzva to purify oneself by immersing before the festival (RH 16b), as only those who were pure were permitted to enter the Temple courtyard and eat sacrificial meat. However, now that the Temple is in ruins, we cannot offer korbanot, nor do we have the red heifer necessary to achieve purification from the impurity of corpses. Thus the obligation to purify oneself for the festival is null and void. Nevertheless, some maintain that even today one must immerse before the festival (Beit Shmuel, EH 55:10; Sho’el U-meshiv, Mahadura Telita’a 1:123). According to the majority of poskim, however, there is no obligation to immerse before the festival nowadays; those who choose to do so are acting piously. One who finds immersion difficult can fulfill this pious practice with “nine kavim” instead. This means he should stand in the shower while nine kavim (about 11 liters) of water streams down on him uninterruptedly. He should ensure that this water comes into contact with his entire body.[8]


[8]. The Gemara formulates it as follows: “R. Yitzḥak stated: A man is obligated to purify himself for the festival” (RH 16b). Most poskim maintain that this was to enable him to enter the Temple and eat the sacred meat of the offerings, and therefore the mitzva does not apply today. Those who state this include: Rabbeinu Ḥananel, RH loc. cit.; Rambam, MT, Laws of Tum’a of Food 16:10; Ra’avad; Tosfot Rid; Smag; Sha’agat Aryeh §67; Tzitz Eliezer 20:22; Ḥazon Ovadia, Yom Tov, p. 102. True, according to Rosh (Yoma 8:24), if one could purify himself with the ashes of the red heifer even after the destruction of the Temple, he would be obligated to do so. However, nowadays when there is no such possibility, the mitzva does not apply. Others maintain that R. Yitzḥak’s statement was referring to his time, which was after the destruction (Beit Shmuel, EH 55:10; Sho’el U-meshiv, Mahadura Telita’a 1:123). The halakha does not follow them, and immersion before the festival is only a pious act. One who finds it difficult to immerse can fulfill the pious practice by washing in nine kavim of water, as we see in Responsa Mahari Weil §191; Rema 606:4; MB ad loc. 22. In talmudic measurements, a kav is four log, and a log is six eggs, so a kav is 24 eggs. According to the more precise calculation of Rambam’s opinion, an egg is the equivalent of 50 cubic centimeters, so nine kavim ends up being 10.8 liters. According to R. Ḥayim Naeh, nine kavim is 12.4 liters. (See Peninei Halakha: Berakhot, ch. 10 n. 11.)

17. Visiting One’s Rabbi

“One must visit his rabbi on the three pilgrimage festivals” (RH 16b; Sukka 27b). This is so that he can honor his rabbi and learn Torah from him. Doing so allows a person to connect with his rabbi and receive spiritual guidance and inspiration from him. This mitzva shares something with the mitzva to make a pilgrimage to the Temple, as the Sages declare: “Visiting one’s rabbi is comparable to visiting the Shekhina (Divine Presence)” (y. Eruvin 5:1). The holy days when people are off from work are the proper time to do this. Indeed, it is an age-old custom to do so, as we see from the words of the Shunamite woman’s husband. When he saw his wife setting off to see Elisha the Prophet on a weekday, he asked: “Why are you going to him today? It is neither New Moon nor Shabbat” (2 Melakhim 4:23). This implies that on holy days people visited the prophet (the current equivalent of whom would be the rabbi). (See Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 5:15.)

The primary reason for visiting one’s rabbi is to listen to his Torah classes. This tradition dates back to Moshe Rabbeinu. The Sages explain that Moshe instituted that: “They should enquire and discuss matters pertaining to the day – the laws of Pesaḥ on Pesaḥ, the laws of Shavu’ot on Shavu’ot, and the laws of Sukkot on Sukkot” (Megilla 32a). They further stated:

God said to Moshe: “Gather together large groups and publicly teach them…to teach and instruct Israel about what the Torah permits and forbids. Thus My great name will be glorified among My children.” (Yalkut Shimoni, Vayak’hel §408)

People were very careful to attend these sermons, and in this way they fulfilled in an enhanced way the mitzva of visiting their rabbi. However, one who greets his rabbi after services by saying “Ḥag same’aḥ” or “Good Yom Tov” has also fulfilled the mitzva, albeit be-di’avad. Some enhance the mitzva by visiting their rabbis in their homes to hear their words of Torah and moral instruction as well as stories about Torah giants. If many students wish to do this, they should come in groups. This way, they will not burden the rabbi, take away from his personal Torah study time, or detract from his festival simḥa with his family.

The Rishonim explain that the precise parameters of this mitzva depend upon geography. One who lives very close must visit his rabbi every Shabbat. One who lives a little further away should visit him at least once a month. A person who lives a great distance from his rabbi needs to visit him at a minimum on the three festivals, as R. Yitzḥak states (based on Rabbeinu Ḥananel and Ritva; see BHL 301:4 s.v. “le-hakbil”). All this is on condition that he will come home to sleep, because the mitzva of simḥa on the festival must be together with his wife. If, in order to visit his rabbi, he would have to sleep away from home, he is exempt from the mitzva (Sukka 27b). However, there are those who are lenient about this, and others who attempt to find some justification for the leniency. In any case, if it bothers his wife, then even those who are lenient concede that he is forbidden to leave home and make the trip. Furthermore, according to most poskim, even if the wife consents, this custom is unwarranted.[9]


[9]. The Gemara formulates it as follows. “The Rabbis have taught: It once happened that R. Ila’i went to visit his rabbi, R. Eliezer, in Lod on a festival. He said to him, ‘Ila’i, aren’t you among those who rest on the festival?’ For R. Eliezer used to say, ‘I praise the lazy ones who do not leave their houses on the festival, since it says (Devarim 14:26), ‘Rejoice with your household’” (Sukka 27b). The Gemara then objects that this contradicts R. Yitzḥak’s statement that “One must visit his rabbi on the three pilgrimage festivals.” The Gemara then resolves the issue: “There is no difficulty. The latter refers to where he can go and return [home] on the same day; the former refers to where he cannot go and return on the same day.” In other words, R. Eliezer’s criticism is limited to a situation in which one does not return home. Many Rishonim rule this way, including Ra’avya, Or Zaru’a, Sefer Ha-hashlama, Hagahot Maimoniyot; Ritva, and Me’iri. In contrast, Rif, Rambam, and Rosh do not mention the condition that he return home the same day. Some infer from this omission that they think that it is only R. Eliezer who obligates a same-day return, while in practice the mitzva applies even when one does not return home the same day (Kesef Mishneh commenting on MT, Laws of Torah Study 5:7; Ḥida; Sefat Emet). This is the basis of the lenient opinion (Shevet Sofer §17). However, as we have seen, according to most Rishonim it is forbidden. Some even maintain that this is the opinion of all Rishonim, and that even those who left out the condition that they return the same day would agree with it (Pri Ḥadash; Mishnat Ya’akov). Therefore, it is preferable not to be lenient. Nevertheless, one who wishes to be lenient may do so, but only on condition that his wife agrees wholeheartedly to his trip. R. Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal writes this in Mishneh Sakhir 2:139. See Harḥavot 17:5.

It would seem that this mitzva is rabbinic. This is the approach of Pri Megadim, Pnei Yehoshu’a, and many others. Some have written that it is a biblical obligation (Sho’el U-meshiv; Yehuda Ya’aleh). Perhaps what they mean is that honoring Torah scholars in general is a Torah commandment, and that since the Sages ordained that one should visit his rabbi on the festival, by doing so one he is fulfilling a Torah mandate. (Bikurei Ya’akov 640:22 states something similar to this.) As to the reason for the mitzva, many write that it is in order to learn Torah (Ramban, Shemot 20:7; Responsa Rama Mi-Fano §6; Pri Megadim; R. Charlap elaborates at length in Beit Zevul 3:28). One also fulfills the mitzva of honoring Torah scholars by doing this (Rashi, Ḥagiga 3a; Noda Bi-Yehuda OḤ 2:94). R. Yonatan Eibeshutz suggests that based on the statement that “Visiting one’s rabbi is comparable to visiting the Shekhina” (y. Eruvin 5:1), we can say that since the destruction of the Temple, visiting one’s rabbi takes the place of making a pilgrimage to the Temple (Ya’arot Devash 1:12). See Harḥavot 17:1-4.