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The Mitzvot of the Festivals, 1: Simchat Yom Tov

Harav Aharon Lichtenstein
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This shiur is dedicated le-zekher nishmot Amelia Ray and Morris Ray
on the occasion of their ninth yahrtzeits
by their children Patti Ray and Allen Ray


Translated by David Silverberg

            The Gemara in Masekhet Pesachim (108b) states:

Rav Yehuda said in the name of the Shemuel: These four cups [of wine drunk on Pesach] must contain enough [undiluted wine] for a proper cup [after it is diluted with water].  If one drank them undiluted, he has fulfilled his obligation.  If he drank them [the four cups] all at once, he has fulfilled his obligation.  If he gave from his cup to his children and family to drink [such that he did not drink the complete cup], he has fulfilled his obligation.  'If he drank them undiluted, he has fulfilled his obligation' - Rava said: he has fulfilled his obligation of wine, but he has not fulfilled his obligation of 'cherut' [to conduct oneself in a manner reflecting freedom].  'If he drank them all at once' - Rav said: he has fulfilled his obligation of wine, but he has not fulfilled his obligation of four cups.

            The Gemara claims that drinking undiluted wine fulfills one's "obligation of wine."  Rashi and Rashbam explain, "he has fulfilled his obligation of wine - for he drank four cups of wine."  Meaning, in such a case one fulfills his obligation to drink four cups on a certain level, though not completely.  This is even more explicit in the Rif's text of the Gemara, which reads, "he has fulfilled his obligation of four cups," rather than, "he has fulfilled his obligation of wine."  Regarding the case of one who drinks four cups all at once, however, the Rashbam explains, "He has fulfilled his obligation of wine - [as required] because of [the mitzva of] rejoicing on Yom Tov, as we learn later [109a]: 'You shall rejoice on your festival' - with what does one rejoice?  With wine.'"  In this instance, one does not fulfill the obligation to drink four cups of wine on Pessach eve, but only the obligation of rejoicing on Yom Tov.  Tosefot (s.v. "yedei") explain more fully: "Meaning - the obligation of rejoicing on Yom Tov.  One would have thought that once they [Chazal] instituted the drinking of four cups, one fulfills the obligation of rejoicing on Yom Tov only if he fulfills the obligation of drinking four cups."  The Sha'agat Aryeh (68) challenges this explanation based on an explicit berayta which establishes that the obligation of simcha (rejoicing on Yom Tov) does not apply on the first night of Yom Tov:

'You shall be only joyous' - this includes the final night of Yom Tov.  Perhaps this includes the first night of Yom Tov?  When it says, 'akh' ['only'], it distinguishes [between the first night - when no obligation of simcha applies - and the last night - when the obligation does apply].  Why do you include the final night of Yom Tov and exclude the first night of Yom Tov?  I include the final night of Yom Tov which has simcha before it [as the obligation of simcha applies even before the final evening of Yom Tov], and I exclude the first night of Yom Tov which does not have simcha before it [as there is no obligation of simcha before the first night of Yom Tov].      (Sukka 48a; Pesachim 71a)

Although the berayta speaks about the first and final nights of Sukkot, the reason it gives for distinguishing between them applies equally to the first and final nights of Pesach, as well.[1] How, then, can the Rashbam speak of a mitzva of simcha on the first night of Yom Tov?  True, the text of this berayta in the Yerushalmi (Sukka 4:5) and Sifrei (Re'ei, 89) is reversed, such that the obligation of simcha applies only the first night of Yom Tov and not the final night.[2] Presumably, however, we would expect the sugya in Masekhet Pesachim to accommodate the text of the berayta as cited in the Talmud Bavli; thus, the Rashbam's comments indeed require explanation.

            The Sha'agat Aryeh raises a similar difficulty against the position of the Rif in Masekhet Berakhot (10a in the Rif's glosses) concerning the laws of aveilut (mourning).  According to the Rif, Yom Tov disrupts and cancels the period of aveilut already on the first night, even according to the view that the observance of mourning on the first night after the relative's death constitutes a Biblical requirement.  Now in general, Yom Tov cancels the observance of aveilut because the communal obligation of simchat Yom Tov overrides the individual requirement of mourning.  On the first night, however, as we have seen, no mitzva of simcha applies.  How, then, can the observance of aveilut be overridden already on the first night of Yom Tov?  The Sha'agat Aryeh thus establishes that although the Biblical requirement of simcha does not apply on the first night of Yom Tov, a rabbinic obligation in fact applies.  He attempts to draw further proof from the various sugyot in Masekhet Beitza[3] which allow certain activities in the interest of simchat Yom Tov, without alluding to any distinction between the night of Yom Tov and the daytime.  In this manner he suggests resolving the difficulty he raised on the Rashbam's comments.  Clearly, however, this does not answer the question against the Rif, and even the straightforward reading of the Rashbam implies that he speaks on the level of Torah law, rather than rabbinic enactment.  Further explanation is thus required to resolve these difficulties.

            It seems that we must distinguish between two aspects of simchat Yom Tov.  In a famous essay, the Sha'agat Aryeh (102) inquires as to whether this mitzva applies on Rosh Hashanah as it does on the three "regalim" (Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot).  He concludes that this obligation in fact does apply on Rosh Hashanah, for otherwise, he argues, the Torah would not have permitted "melekhet okhel nefesh" (normally forbidden activity for the preparation for food) on Rosh Hashanah.  This position - though independent of the Sha'agat Aryeh's proof - is also reflected in the Rosh Hashanah liturgy according to one view, accepted by several Geonim and early Ashkenazic authorities.  This view maintains that we include in our Rosh Hashanah - and even Yom Kippur[4] - service the standard, Yom Tov text, "ve-hasienu" as well as, "va-titen lanu… mo'adim le-simcha chagim u-zmanim le-sasson" - which explicitly speak of simcha.  And it stands to reason that even those who maintain that we do not recite these passages agree that the obligation of simcha nevertheless applies on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  They simply argue that we cannot define these festivals as specifically designated for this purpose.  Moreover, this issue appears to hinge on a dispute among the tanna'im in the mishna in Masekhet Moed Katan (19a) as to whether or not Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur cancel aveilut.  As we accept Rabban Gamliel's ruling, that "Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are like regalim [the three pilgrimage festivals - Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot]" with respect to aveilut, we may deduce that according to the final halakha, the simcha obligation indeed applies on these festivals.  At first glance, however, such a notion seems untenable, as the expressions of this mitzva do not apply on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: the "shalmei simcha" offerings are not brought, there is no requirement to partake of the sacrificial meat of "shelamim"; and on Yom Kippur we obviously cannot speak of an obligation to eat meat, drink wine - or even eat or drink at all.

            My father-in-law, Rav Soloveitchik zt"l, would often explain - and even in writing[5] - that we must view the simcha obligation as a mitzva in which the "kiyum" (essential fulfillment) and "ma'aseh" (concrete action/s required) stand apart from one another.  The kiyum is an emotional one, the realization of an emotional experience bearing a specifically defined quality.  The mandated actions - the consumption of meat and drinking of wine, or donning colorful clothing - serve merely as the external medium intended to trigger the creation of this experience.  It thus turns out that even though we define the specific mediums as Biblical imperatives, and one is obligated - when possible - to use them and carry out these activities, they are not necessarily indispensable to the fulfillment of the basic mitzva.  On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when there is no possibility of executing the central requirement of eating "shalmei simcha," the mitzva can still be observed through other means, so long as one achieves the emotional kiyum.

            "These words are worthy of the one who said them," but clearly they are valid only according to those who view the Biblical obligation of simcha as binding even in the absence of shelamim.  Tosefot (Moed Katan 14b, s.v. asei), however, hold that the Biblical imperative, "ve-samachta" refers only to the offering and consumption of shelamim; the other requirements are rabbinic in origin - a view that may have a source in the Yerushalmi.[6] According to this view, the requirement of simcha can override aveilut only because the latter, too, constitutes but a rabbinic obligation.  Likewise, liturgical references to simcha on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, if Tosefot accepted these references in the prayer service, relate only to the level of rabbinic enactment.

            We may, however, suggest a different distinction, one which would resolve our difficulty even on the level of Biblical obligation, and even according to Tosefot.  It would appear that the mitzva of simchat Yom Tov involves two different halakhot.  The first is the mitzva required because of the festival and exists within its framework, similar to taking the lulav and eating matza.  On the other hand, this obligation is not merely an isolated act performed within the confines of the festival, but rather an activity that occurs on the Yom Tov and is meant to leave its impression on it, to cast certain qualities upon it, and to deepen its character as a Yom Tov.  Just as the halakhot included under the category of "mikra kodesh" - be it the prohibition against melakha (forbidden activity), or eating, drinking and wearing fine clothing, or observing a day of Torah and prayer[7] - seemingly involve shaping the essence of the day and determining its nature, the same holds true concerning simcha.  While one may wish to argue that this element comprises not a second aspect of the mitzva of simcha, but rather an additional component of "mikra kodesh," it appears that this is not the case; indeed, simcha itself features two facets, as we may prove from Shabbat.  Although the Torah (Vayikra 23:3) explicitly includes Shabbat in its list of "mikra'ei kodesh," several Rishonim maintain that no obligation of simcha whatsoever applies on Shabbat, and for this reason it counts towards the required period of aveilut.[8]

            It seems clear that these two perspectives may differ in their form and parameters; the level and time of their fulfillment need not be identical.  As for the form of simcha, it certainly stands to reason that the first halakha will make more precise and stringent demands than the second.  Fulfilling a specific mitzva will likely entail clearly defined details, whereas to lend a general character to the day a broader requirement, through which a certain seal is stamped onto the festival, would suffice.  We may thus establish - as opposed to the theory posited by my father-in-law zt"l - that to fulfill the specific mitzva of simcha, one requires "shalmei simcha" or at least meat, wine and the like.  Establishing the character of the festival, however, can be achieved through other means, even without eating or drinking at all, such as on Yom Kippur.  Regarding their parameters, we may find certain festivals in which the mitzva of simcha as an independent halakha does not apply, while they still require simcha as shaping the essential quality of Yom Tov.

            Thus, if we consider the possibility of simcha on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we may arrive at a very simple answer.  The first halakha, of an independent mitzva that applies on a given festival, do not apply on these holidays, as it is instituted only with regard to the three regalim: the verses explicitly introduce this mitzva in the context of Shavuot and Sukkot, and we derive from there the obligation of simcha on Pesach, as explained by the Yereim.[9] The second halakha, however, of establishing the character of the day as a festival, relates to all festivals.  This is the meaning of the teshuva written by Mar Sar Shalom Gaon, cited by several Rishonim:

On Rosh Hashanah we recite in both settings - tefila and kiddush - "mo'adim le-simcha chagim u-zemanim le-sasson et Yom ha-Zikaron ha-zeh," for "These are the festivals of God" (Vayikra 23:2) marks the beginning of the unit [of the festivals in Vayikra, 23], and the end of the unit - "Moshe spoke of the festivals of God" (Vayikra 23:44) - closes the entire unit, including Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret.  They are all associated with one another to be referred to as, "the festivals of God, sacred occasions."          (Ravya, vol. 2, p.230)[10]

            With this background, we can easily explain the dispute between Rabban Gamliel and the Chakhamim regarding the disruption of aveilut by Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  Possibly, they do not argue at all as to whether or not simcha applies on these holidays.  According to all views, it does not apply as an independent mitzva, but rather as establishing the character of the day as a joyous festival.  They argue as to what precisely cancels the observance of mourning - the very nature of the day as a time of joy, which exists as well on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, or the specific mitzva of simcha, which applies only on the festivals.

            This dispute itself can be understood in two ways.  They may have argued about the significance and strength of this aspect of simcha, of establishing the character of the day.  Alternatively, they may have agreed on this point, and their debate surrounds the cancellation of aveilut by a Yom Tov.  According to the tanna kama in the mishna in Masekhet Mo'ed Katan (19a), although one does not observe mourning practices on a festival, the festival does not cancel the period of aveilut.  If the mourner observed two days of mourning prior to the festival, this view maintains, then he completes the term of aveilut after the Yom Tov.  We, however, follow the view of Beit Hillel, that so long as the mourner observed even one moment of aveilut before the onset of the festival, the aveilut is canceled.  According to this view, either simcha operates as a positive determinant that uproots and shatters the aveilut, or this view accepts the tanna kama's premise that the Yom Tov annuls only the observance of mourning on the festival itself.  However, Beit Hillel requires a contiguous period of aveilut.  Once it has been disrupted by the festival, it cannot be resumed after Yom Tov.  According to our approach, this very point may lie at the heart of the dispute between Rabban Gamliel and the Chakhamim.  We may suggest that in order to uproot and dissolve the observance of aveilut, a full-fledged mitzva of simcha is required.  In order to simply override its application on Yom Tov, however, even the definition of the day and the establishment of its character as a time of joy suffices; the aveilut is then automatically annulled.  Thus, the Chakhamim likely accept the first approach, and the necessary level of simcha does not apply on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  Rabban Gamliel, by contrast, adopts the second position, and this aspect exists even on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  In any event, regardless of how we explain this detail, this dispute can be very well understood on the basis of our general approach.

            According to this, we can easily resolve the difficulty raised by the "Sha'agat Aryeh" against the Rif.  The "Sha'agat Aryeh" claimed that as simcha does not apply on the first night of Yom Tov, the Biblically mandated practices of aveilut must be observed until morning.  Clearly, however, that which we said regarding Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur pertains as well to the first night of Yom Tov.  Although the mitzva of simcha as an independent requirement does not apply on the first night, the Yom Tov certainly begins already at nighttime, thus giving rise to the requirement of simcha as establishing the nature of the festival.  Since we follow Rabban Gamliel's ruling, that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur cancel aveilut, for in this respect it is a festival of simcha that clashes with aveilut, and no specific action of simcha is required, aveilut ends already at nighttime.

            Correspondingly, the Rashbam's comments regarding the case of one who drank four cups of wine all at once on Pesach, fit perfectly into our approach.  In light of what we have discussed, we may interpret the Rashbam's comments - "He has fulfilled his obligation of wine - [as required] because of [the mitzva of] rejoicing on Yom Tov," even though we speak of the first night of Yom Tov - to mean that he has fulfilled the obligation to establish the character of the festival as a time of joy, which applies even at night.  Granted, however, the individual has not fulfilled the independent mitzva of simcha required as a result of the festival.  Although the Rashbam here requires wine and refers in this context to the Gemara in Pesachim 109a - "'You shall rejoice on your festival' - with what shall one rejoice?  With wine" - this is only because he believes that even establishing the character of the festival requires wine.  This view runs counter to our understanding earlier of several Geonim and Rishonim with regard to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  But with regard to the fundamental distinction between the two halakhot of simcha, and the difference between them with regard to the time of their application, we may certainly explain the Rashbam in this light.  No difficulty thus arises from the principle established by the Gemarain Sukka that simcha does not apply on the first night.


[1] At first glance, we may perhaps wish to distinguish between Pesach and Sukkot in this regard: concerning the korban pesach - and, according to Rabbi Yehuda, concerning as well the prohibition against eating chametz and perhaps even that of possessing chametz - the festival of Pesach begins already at midday on Erev Pesach.  Clearly, however, this does not affect the application of the simcha obligation before nightfall of the fifteenth of Nissan.  The Gemara (Pesachim 71a) explicitly posits that according to the view requiring the sacrifice of the festival offerings "bi-sh'at simcha" - when the simcha obligation applies - one cannot fulfill the obligation of simcha by partaking of the meat of the korban chagiga offered on Erev Pesach.  It thus emerges that the simcha obligation does not apply at all before nightfall of the first night of Pesach.

[2] The Vilna Gaon emends the text of the Sifrei to read like the Bavli's citation of the berayta.  The commentary of Rabbenu Hillel, however, accepts the text as it appears in our versions of the Sifrei, though he does make reference to the continuation of the Gemara's citation - "Why do you include the final night… " - which does not appear in the Sifrei or Yerushalmi.

[3] Primarily Beitza 9b-10a.

[4] See "Machzor Vitri," pp. 360-361.

[5] See Shiurim le-Zekher Abba Mari z"l, vol. 1, pp. 188-190.

[6] See Yerushalmi, Chagiga 1:4; Shut Torat Refael 92.

[7] See Mekhilta, Parashat Bo - parasha 9 (on  Shemot 12:16); Ramban, Vayikra 23:2.

[8] See Tosefot, Moed Katan 23b s.v. "mann"; Sheiltot, Parashat Chayei-Sara 15 (and the Netziv's "He'amek She'eila" 7, 10); Behag, Hilkhot Avel (p.25 in Hildesheimer edition, p.42b in Traub edition); Meiri, Moed Katan 19a.  Talmid Rabbenu Yechiel mi-Paris discusses this at greater length: "A reason must be given as to why Shabbat counts [towards the required period of mourning] and does not disrupt [the observance of mourning], whereas the opposite is true regarding regalim.  Shabbat is not called a day of simcha, but rather a day of oneg (delight), that one must enjoy the delights of eating, drinking and fine clothing… and these are all permitted for a mourner, only he will be mournful and downhearted and will not rejoice - he may do this, too, on Shabbat.  See also the Ramban's "Torat ha-Adam" (Kitvei ha-Ramban, Rav Chavel edition, vol. 2, p. 223), who cites this explanation from the Sheiltot and Behag, alongside a different approach that he prefers to accept.

[9] See his comments in chapter 427, where the Yereim raises two possibilities as to the source of simcha on Pesach: "We find a 'gezeira shava' [comparison based on textual association] in Masekhet Shabbat… where we derive [a 'gezeira shava' from the common phrase] 'the fifteenth' - 'the fifteenth' from the festival of Sukkot [to the festival of Pesach].  Alternatively… whenever there is a chagiga [offering] there is [a requirement of] simcha."

[10] See sources cited in Aptovitzer's notes ad loc.


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