A number of readers have written me – some requesting, others demanding – that I address the latest conflict between the religious and the haredim: Who represents the Torah of Israel more faithfully? Who is right? Does the issue of army recruitment for yeshiva students represent a devastating blow, or is it an important tikun (improvement)? Are the Gedolei HaRabanim(eminent Rabbis) being shown enough respect?
All the same, I will instead permit myself to take pleasure in the preparations for Pesach (Passover holiday) and my new book ‘Peninei Halacha’ on the ‘Laws of the Festivals’, and share a few sweet words of Torah from the first chapter of the book. This is in keeping with the halakhawhich states that ‘questions are asked and lectures are given on the laws of Passover for thirty days before Passover’(Pesachim 6a), upon which a number of authorities have explained that if a Rabbi was asked two questions – one concerning Pesach and the festival, and another question regarding some other matter, he should respond first to the question about the festival (Ran, Rashba).
Four Components of the Mitzvah to Rejoice on the Festival
It is a positive commandment from the Torah to be happy on the Chagim (three Pilgrimage Festivals), as it is written: “You shall rejoice on your festival” (Deuteronomy 16:14). Examining this commandment, we find it is composed of four components.
A) For men – added joy, by means of eating a festive meal, accompanied with wine.
The central point of the commandment is to do something special involving added pleasure, which will radiate a feeling of joy on the entire festival. Since there is a difference between men and women in this matter, our Sages said that for the purpose of joy, men should eat a festive meal accompanied by wine on the day of Chag, and it is also a mitzvahto eat meat in this meal (Pesachim 109a). And although the actual time spent eating is limited, the enjoyment gained from the festive meal radiates and spreads to the entire festival.
By drinking grape juice, one does not fulfill the commandment because grape juice does not contain alcohol and does not elicit joy. The amount of wine that should be consumed to reach the appropriate level of joy is enough to make it somewhat difficult for one to concentrate; in other words, the amount of alcohol which, if consumed by rabbis, prohibits them from instructing halakha. Indeed, there were Gedolei Chachamim (eminent Torah scholars) who drank a lot of wine at the holiday feast, and refrained from instructing halakha from the time of the feast until the following day (Beitza 4a). The Rabbis determined that in order to reach this level of joy one must drink, at the very least, a little more than revi’it (75 ml) of wine. Most people must drink much more than a revi’it to achieve this level, but one should not over drink and become intoxicated.
As we will see further on, women are also commanded to eat a festive meal and drink wine if they enjoy it, however, this is not considered their simcha yetira (added joy).
Women’s Added Joy
For the purpose of women’s joy, it is a mitzvah to purchase new clothes or jewelry prior to the Chag. By purchasing a single piece of clothing one has fulfilled the mitzvah. The intention of buying new clothes is not necessarily to wear them for the duration of the entire Chag, rather, that the joy gained from wearing them, leaves a mark of happiness on the entire Chag.
In the past, the custom was for a husband to buy new clothes or jewelry for his wife prior to the Chag. Today, however, women usually select their own clothing or jewelry, while the budget for the purchase is determined by both husband and wife, according to their level of income. And in order for the husband to be a partner in the mitzvah, he should encourage his wife in this matter.
Some men make the mistake of spending hundred’s of shekels for an elegant etrog, but are frugal when it comes to buying clothes for their wives. They seem to forget that buying clothes or jewelry for their wives before Chag is an explicit mitzvah from the Torah, while buying an etrog whose price is ten times that of a regular kosher one, is a hiddur (enhancement of the mitzvah), which we are not commanded to fulfill.
A single woman or widow should fulfill the mitzvah of simcha (joy) in its entirety, namely, to buy clothes or jewelry for the Chag, partake in festive meals, participate in joyful events, and avoid getting upset (Sha’agat Aryeh 66)
2) Joy in Festive Meals and Clothing
Beyond the special festive meal, whose mitzvah is primarily directed towards men, and in addition to buying new clothes or jewelry for women, the Chagim, similar to Shabbat, are called “Mikrei Kodesh” (a sacred gathering), in which there is a mitzvah to sanctify them with pleasant meals and fine clothing. And given that on Chag, there is an additional mitzvahof “v’samachta b’chagecha” (“You shall rejoice on your festival”), both men and women must attempt to enhance (l’hadare) in these matters on Chag,even more so than on Shabbat.
For that reason, although the main aspect of added joy for men takes place specifically in the festive meal of the day, it is also a mitzvah for the evening meal to be finer than that of Shabbat evening meals. And even though the main aspect of added joy for women is buying new clothes or jewelry, it is also a mitzvah for them to eat important and joyous meals on Chag – more so than on Shabbat. It is even a mitzvah for them to drink wine if it makes them happy.
Additionally, it is not enough for a woman to buy new clothes or jewelry, rather, she must be more meticulous about the clothes she wears on Chag than on Shabbat. This is true for men as well: although their added joy is expressed by means of eating a festive meal on the day of Chag, it is a mitzvah for them to make sure their clothes are finer than those of Shabbat (Shulchan Aruch 529:1; Sha’agat Aryeh 65). The custom is that when one needs to purchase new clothes, he should try to buy them prior to, and wear them for the first time, on Chag.
3) Singing, Dancing, and Outings
Anything that gladden’s the heart is part of the mitzvah to rejoice on Chag, including singing, dancing, and outings. The more one sings and gives praise to Hashem, the better. Indeed, Gedolei Yisrael composed poems and special songs to give thanks and praise to Hashem on the Chagim.
Many people are accustomed to dance on Chag, and the source for this stems from the verse: “Celebrate to God your Lord for seven days” (Deuteronomy 16:15), where the Hebrew word for ‘celebrate’ (‘ta’chog’) can also mean ‘to dance’. Consequently, the Rabbis instituted dancing in the Simchat Beit Hashoeva [a special celebration held during the Intermediate days of Sukkot] (Ha’emek Davar, ibid; Pri Tzadik, Sukkot 17).
Similarly, it is a mitzvah for someone who enjoys taking outings to do so, to some extent. Since this is considered a joyous event, the Rabbis permitted carrying a baby who needs to be lifted on Chag (Beitza12a; R’ma 415:1).
Although, in contrast to the festive meals, fine clothes, and Torah study, which one is obligated to enjoy on Chag, all other joyful affairs are reshut (optional) – a person who enjoys doing them, fulfills a mitzvah; someone who does not, is not obligated to do so. Each individual may choose how to enjoy the Chag – some find greater enjoyment in singing and praising Hashem in the company of family members; others enjoy dancing at the Simchat Beit Hashoeva; while still others enjoy going on outings, or doing other enjoyable and meaningful things. In any case, one must make sure all these enjoyable events do not interfere with Torah study, because there is a mitzvah to dedicate half of the day to Torah study and prayer. One who enjoys learning Torah more than anything else – after fulfilling the mitzvah of simcha by eating pleasurable meals, it is a mitzvah to increase Torah study for more than half a day.
4) A Festive Mood
It is a mitzvah to be in a good, joyous and content mood for the duration of the entire Chag. Seemingly, this is an easy mitzvahto observe – who doesn’t want to be happy?! In practice, however, this is a difficult commandment to fulfill. It is said in the name of the Gaon from Vilna that the mitzvah of simchat Yom Tov is the hardest mitzvah to fulfill, for in order to accomplish it, one must remove from himself all types of sorrow, stress, and worry, and be in a state of joy and good-heartedness for the entire holiday.
Nonetheless, this is the mitzvah incumbent upon us onChag – to rise above the worries and troubles, overcome the anger, and rejoice in Hashem. To do so, we must remember that Hashem chose us from among all the peoples, and gave us His Torah, sanctified us in His commandments, and brought us into the good Land, so we can merit a full and good life filled with meaning, holiness, and helping to bring tikun olam (betterment of the world). As a result, we bear in mind the great calling imposed on all of us, we remember all the good things in our lives, are strengthened in emunah (faith) and the realization that all of the sufferings and exiles were intended for the good – to improve and elevate us to our goal.
Difficulties Enjoying Chag Due to Secular Influence
To fulfill the mitzvah properly, each member of the family must maintain a good atmosphere during the Chag, especially while dining. Everyone must try their best to avoid offensive speech and make an effort to cheer those gathered at the table with friendly words; this is the way to be truly happy.
On the other hand, there are some Jews who, having been influenced by secular culture, find family gatherings on the Chagim to be a burdensome and frustrating event. Cynically, they make snide remarks to their relatives about their appearance, or behavior. Then, out of nowhere, they remember past insults, and start bickering about them. Then, of course, everyone complains about their diet, which, until Chag, they so successfully maintained… This is the unfortunate outcome of secularism alienated from the sanctity of the Chagim and family values. All of this is manifest in the words and writings of most of the secular journalists.
The stronger our understanding is of the sanctity of the holiday and of family values, the easier it will be to refrain from upsetting our relatives. Instead, we will wish to compliment and gladden them, and thereby merit fulfilling the Chagim with happiness and peace, and draw blessing from them all year round.
The Mitzvah to Be Happy, and Make Others Happy
The essence of the mitzvah on Chag is to be happy and make others happy, because true happiness is achieved only when efforts are made to please others, as it is written: “You shall rejoice on your festival along with your son and daughter, your male and female slave, and the Levite, proselyte, orphan and widow within your gates” (Deuteronomy 16:14).
Upon further observation, we find that this mitzvah has two parts: First, to rejoice together with one’s family and household members. It should be pointed out that the word ‘ata’ (you) in the above mentioned verse, includes both husband and wife alike; one’s spouse always comes before all other relatives. Indeed, we find that the main detail of men’s simchais the festive meal, which is customarily prepared by the woman, and the main detail of women’s simcha is for her husband to buy her new clothes or jewelry. Both the man and the woman split the responsibility of sharing their joy with all the family members, for the simcha of the Chag is incomplete without their participation.
The second part of the mitzvah is bringing joy to neighbors and poor, lonely friends. The orphan and widow mentioned in the verse were typically poor, since their main source of sustenance was shattered, and the mitzvah to gladden them is by means of giving them tzedakah (charity). And the ger (convert), who left his homeland and family, may very well suffer from loneliness, and the mitzvah to make him happy is achieved by inviting him to participate in the festival meal.
It should further be noted that the Torah commanded to include the kohanim and levi’im (priests and Levites) in the joy. Their task was to teach and instruct b’nei Yisrael – both young, and old. From this, we can learn that today, Torah scholars, who are the Rabbis and teachers, should be made happy on the Chag, as were the priests and Levites (Binyan Shlema, 1:33).