Rabbi Eliezer MelamedThe writer is Head of Yeshivat Har Bracha and a prolific author on Jewish Law, whose works include the series on Jewish law "Pininei Halacha" and a popular weekly column "Revivim" in the Besheva newspaper. His books "The Laws of Prayer" "The Laws of Passover" and "Nation, Land, Army" are presently being translated into English. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be viewed at: www.yhb.org.il/1
It is a mitzvah to increase one’s Torah study on Shabbat and Chagim (Festivals), as our Sages said:
This is why Hashem gave the Chagim to Israel– so they could sit and learn Torah, with happiness and pleasure. For this reason, it is prohibited to work on Chol Ha’Moed (the Intermediate Days of the Festivals), as explained in Sefer HaChinuch:
Devoting Half the Time to Learning Torah
In the end, this is how the halakha was determined (Shulchan Aruch 529:1).
The obligation to dedicate half of Chag to learning Torah, also applies to Chol Ha’Moed, and this is why melakha, work, is forbidden (Aruch HaShulchan 539:4).
Furthermore, it is written in the Jerusalem Talmud: (Moed Katan, Chap.2, Halakha 3):
Must the Time be Calculated Accurately?
In practice, as a result of not calculating the hours, people tend to be very negligent in the amount of time intended for Torah study. Therefore it seems that in order to return the mitzvah to its proper place, it is essential to calculate the hours, and get into the habit of dedi
cating half the day to Hashem.
The Mitzvah for Women
The Words of Rabbi Moshe Ben Machir
“A person should not say: ‘Since I cannot do melakha on Chol Ha’Moed, instead, I will eat, drink, take an outing, and have a good time – because this is not what the Moadim were intended for, God forbid. The truth is, the Yomim Tovim were given to Israel only in order for them not to be busy with their businesses and jobs, and be able to study Torah without disturbances. They are days of grace and success for learning. Therefore, one should not waste them by eating, drinking, sleeping, and taking outings; rather, each person should engage in the field in which God has gifted him – those who master Tanach, should learn Tanach; those mastering Mishna, should study Mishna; and those who master Talmud, should learn Talmud. One should eat good and tasty food, drink according to his ability, and not sleep a lot – all this for his physical pleasure. Afterwards, for the rest of the day, one should gratify his dreary soul, which sits captive in exile, devoid of one to attend and care for it, because all are attracted to the needs of the physically afflicted evil inclination… And all of these days possess additional kedusha (holiness)… it is inconceivable to think that these days were endowed with kedusha so that one might eat, drink, and act as if they were ordinary weekdays. One who behaves this way on Chol Ha’Moed, behaves insanely, will be judged in the future, and desecrates the kedusha and virtue of these days.”
Indeed, there is also room for outings on Chol Ha’Moed, for we find that the Rabbis permitted carrying objects on Yom Tov for the purpose of taking an outing in the reshut ha’rabim (public domain). They also allowed a person who wanted to go on a trip by horse on Chol Ha’Moed to cut the horse’s nails, and repair its saddle and reins b’melechet hedyot[work done by a non-expert] (Shulchan Aruch 536:1). However, the intention was for short outings that add to simchat Ha’Moed (joy of the Moed) and are not tiresome and troubling – and certainly not at the expense of dedicating half the day to Torah study.
The First Foundation: The Constant Mitzvah of Talmud Torah
There are three foundations for the obligation of Torah study on Chag: First, the mitzvah of Talmud Torah, concerning which the Rabbis said it is equal to all the mitzvoth(Pe’ah 1a). Each and every Jewish male is obligated to fulfill this mitzvah, as it is written:
Consequently, one must study Torah all his life, and even in the hour of death, one should not abstain from attending the Beth HaMidrash, and learning Torah (Shabbat 83b). And whenever one can study Torah but chooses not to, he is considered as one who despises the word of God (Sanhedrin99a). However, on the weekdays, when busy making a living, it is difficult to learn a lot; nevertheless, one is obligated to set times for Torah study both during the day, and at night (Rambam, Hilchot Talmud Torah 1:8; 3:13). But on Shabbat and Chagim,when one is free from work, the mitzvah of Talmud Torahreturns to its proper place entirely. This is why Shabbat and Yom Tov were given to Israel – so they could be free from work, and engage in Torah study (see, Tanna D’bei Eliyahu Rabba 1).
Second Foundation: The Goal of Shabbat, Chag, and Chol Ha’Moed
Shabbat and Chagim are sacred days that were given to Israel so that on them, they could ascend the heights of Torah, thereby illuminating the regular days of the week. The Shabbat is intended to enlighten and elevate –every week – the six working days; each one of the Chagim is designed to illuminate its unique “light” for the entire year. Therefore, Moshe Rabbeinu established that on the Chagim, Israel would read a portion from the Torah relating to the holiday. He also established for Israel to “enquire and give expositions concerning the subject of the day — the laws of Passover on Passover, the laws of Shavu’ot on Shavu’ot, and the laws of Sukkot on Sukkot”(Megilah 32a; Shaar Ha’Tziun, 429:5). This is what Hashem said to Moshe Rabbeinu:
Gather for yourself large assemblies, and publicly expound upon the laws of the Sabbath before them, so that future generations will learn from you to convene assemblies on each and every Sabbath and Festival, and to bring them into the houses of study to teach and instruct the People of Israel in the words of the Torah –the forbidden and the permitted – so that My great Name will be praised among My children (Yalkut Shimoni, VaYakhel 408).
Third Foundation: The Mitzvahof Joy on Chag
A Pleasing Letter I Received
With Hashem’s assistance, the community Har Bracha has been fortunate to establish numerous Torah classes on Shabbatot and Chagim, given by talmidei chachamim (Torah scholars) living in the community. Following Chag HaSukkot last year, I received a moving letter from one of the residents of the community. I hereby present it to you, my readers, with certain parts omitted:
I never believed I could wake-up every Shabbat for the 6:00 minyan, in order to learn for two hours straight, afterwards! No matter if it was summer or winter, or how many times I had to wake-up for the kids in the middle of the night… when I sit and learn on Chol Ha’Moed, everyday, for many hours, and this, in addition to ‘Ushpizin’ (Sukkot guests), with all the important words of Torah spoken there! When I sleep a bit at night on Chol Ha’Moed, and get up with a giant smile on my face that can’t be wiped-off for the entire day…
I always want to be so happy learning Torah! I want to be able to stay up all night on the eve of Hoshana Rabba – going from the learning session in the Rabbi’s sukkah, to studying the daf yomi. Once upon a time, this seemed like the most illogical thing in the world… ask anyone who knew me 15 years ago, they will say you are fantasizing. That I could work 12 hours a day? Maybe. That I could be a good soldier? Possible. But that I could sit and learn Torah for hours on end? How could it be? … In my opinion, these are revealed miracles. My family is also with me in the clouds…
This short letter is the greatest proof of my heavenly feelings. Rabbi, I simply decided to communicate how I feel, and this is what came out. I hope it came out well. I don’t remember ever writing such an open letter to anyone…
Rabbi, I pray you merit many years to come, in strength and good health. I need it like air. With love and appreciation.”
My reaction was: This letter was the happiest thing that could have happened for me. Thank you very much. May you merit educating all your descendants in this fashion.