SIMḥAT YOM TOV

Rabbi David Brofsky

Midreshet Lindenbaum Faculty


The Torah commands in three places that one should “rejoice” on Yom Tov. Regarding Shavuot, the Torah says, “And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God” (Deut. 16:11), and the Torah mentions the obligation to rejoice twice in the context of Sukkot (Deut. 16:14–15). The Rishonim offer different suggestions for the source of the obligation of simḥa on Pesaḥ.[1]

How does one fulfill this mitzvah of “simḥa,” does this mitzvah apply nowadays, and more importantly, what is the nature of this commandment?

SIMḥA OF MEAT, GIFTS AND SPIRITUAL ENDEAVORS

One the one hand, the Gemara describes how in the days of the Beit HaMikdash, the mitzva of simḥat Yom Tov was fulfilled through eating the meat of the various korbanot offered on the festival:

Our Rabbis taught: [It is written,] “And you shall rejoice in your feast.” This includes all kinds of rejoicings as [festival] rejoicing. Hence the sages said: Israelites may fulfill their obligation with nedarim, nedavot, and maaser behema; and the Kohanim [fulfill their obligation with] the ḥatat and asham, the bekhor, and the breast and the shoulder [given to the Kohanim]. One might [think] also with bird-offerings and meal-offerings; [therefore,] Scripture teaches: “And you shall rejoice in your feast” – only with those [offerings] from which the ḥagiga can be brought. These [bird- and meal-offerings], then, are excluded since the agiga cannot be brought from them. R. Ashi said: It is to be deduced from [the expression]: “And you shall rejoice”; these, then, are excluded because there is no [festive] joy in them. (Mo’ed Katan 14b)

As it would seem that if the mitzvah of simḥat Yom Tov is fulfilled through eating the meat of specific korbanot, then this commandment must not apply nowadays, after the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash. Interestingly, however, the Gemara teaches:

We learned in a Beraita: R. Yehuda b. Beteira said: When the Beit HaMikdash is standing, simḥa is only with meat, as the verse says, “And you shall slaughter peace offerings and eat them there and be joyous before the Lord your God,” and when the Beit HaMikdash is not standing, simḥa is only with wine, as the verse says, “And wine shall gladden the hearts of man.” (Pesaḥim 109a)

This passage implies that although we can no longer fulfill the mitzvah of simḥa through eating the meat of the korbanot, one may still fulfill the mitzvah of simḥa in a different manner. Furthermore, the Gemara says:

The Rabbis taught: A person is obligated to make his children and the members of his household happy on Yom Tov, as the verse says, “And you shall be joyous in your holiday.” And how does he make them happy? With wine. R. Yehuda said: Men with what is appropriate for them and women with what is appropriate for them. Men with what is appropriate for them – with wine. And women with what? R. Yosef taught: In Bavel, with colored clothing and in Eretz Yisrael, with pressed flax clothing. (Pesaḥim 109a)

This passage similarly describes how one may fulfill the mitzva of simḥa through drinking wine and buying gifts for one’s spouse.

Does the simḥa achieved through drinking wine, and buying gifts for one’s family, fulfill the biblical obligation of rejoicing on the festival? Tosafot maintain that these passages refer to a rabbinic obligation; nowadays, when the festival sacrifices (shalmei simḥa) are no longer offered, the mitzva of simḥa on Yom Tov is only miderabbanan.[2] Rambam disagrees, however, ruling that the biblical mitzva of simḥat Yom Tov is in force even today:

Even though the simḥa mentioned here refers to the korban shelamim, as we explain in Hilkhot Ḥagigah, included in this simḥa is to make his children and members of one’s household joyous, each one according to his means. How? For children, one gives roasted kernels and walnuts and candies. For women, one buys clothing and pleasant jewelry based on what one can afford. And men eat meat and drink wine, for simḥa is only with meat and wine.[3]

Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik explains that according to Rambam, there are actually two types of simḥa – objective and subjective joy. One fulfills the objective mitzvah of simḥa through eating the korbanot. However, the subjective form of simḥa, which applied during the time of the Beit HaMikdash, as it does nowadays as well, is fulfilled in the manner described by Rambam.[4] Similarly, Rabbi Aryeh Leib Gunzberg (1695–1785) explains in his Shaagat Aryeh:

It seems to me that since the mitzva of simḥa that we were commanded to fulfill on the festival is not a specific mitzva, but rather a general mitzva that one is obligated to be happy on Yom Tov in all ways that he is able to rejoice, it is not similar to other mitzvot, regarding which all people are equal – the rich person should not increase and the poor person should not reduce. For this simḥa, each and every person is obligated to rejoice according to his means.[5]

Rabbi Soloveitchik explained that in Rambam’s view, the mitzva of simḥa is fundamentally an internal experience, which is achieved in numerous ways.[6]

In addition to the joy derived from dining on meat and wine and participating in festive Yom Tov meals, the Talmud discusses another element of simḥat Yom Tov – joy that comes from focusing on spiritual matters:

For it was taught: R. Eliezer says: On a festival, a man should either eat and drink or sit and learn. R. Yehoshua says: Divide it – half of it for the Lord [and] half of it for yourselves. R. Yoḥanan said: Both drew their inference from the same Scriptural verse[s]. One verse states: “A solemn assembly to the Lord your God” (Deut. 16:8) and another verse reads: “You shall have a solemn assembly” (Num. 29:35) How is this [to be reconciled]? R. Eliezer is of the opinion: Either the whole of it is for the Lord or the whole of it is for yourselves; while R. Yehoshua is of the opinion: Divide it – half of it is for the Lord and half of it is for yourselves. (Beitza 15b)

According to R. Eliezer, one may choose how to spend his time, but R. Yehoshua argues that one must divide his time between personal and spiritual enjoyment (etzyo lashem veetzyo lakhem). The halakha follows R. Yehoshua’s opinion.

Rambam describes how one should divide his time evenly between these activities:

Although eating and drinking on the holidays are included in the positive commandment [to rejoice], one should not devote the entire day to food and drink. The following is the desired practice:

In the morning, the entire people should get up and attend the synagogues and the houses of study, where they pray and read a portion of the Torah pertaining to the holiday. Afterward, they should return home and eat. Then they should go to the house of study, where they read [from the Written Law] and review [the Oral Law] until noon. After noon, they should recite the afternoon service and return home to eat and drink for Remainder of the day until nightfall.[7]

Although Rambam implies that “etzyo lashem veetzyo lakhem” applies to Ḥol HaMoed as well,[8] Tur limits this principle to Yom Tov itself and he writes simply that one should divide his time between his personal (lakhem) and spiritual (lashem) activities. He implies that one must simply spend a significant or meaningful portion of the day on each type activity.[9]

The Shulḥan Arukh cites Tur and omits the Yom Tov program described by Rambam.[10] Some Aḥaronim[11] cite Maharshal (Ḥullin 1:50), who criticizes ḥazanim who unnecessarily lengthen the service since their singing is not to be considered a fulfillment of “lakhem”!

THE JOY OF SHARING WITH OTHERS

We have discussed simḥa which is fulfilled through eating sacrificial meat, through eating festive meals, through celebrating with one’s family, and through engaging in prayer and Torah study. Interestingly, Rambam mentions another aspect of simḥat Yom Tov, one which has roots in the Torah and Nevi’im.  Rambam writes that one’s celebration must not only include his family, but must also include those who are in need of support on Yom Tov:

When a person eats and drinks [in celebration of a holiday], he is obligated to feed converts, orphans, widows, and others who are destitute and poor. In contrast, a person who locks the gates of his courtyard and eats and drinks with his children and his wife, without feeding the poor and the embittered, is [not indulging in] rejoicing associated with a mitzva, but rather the rejoicing of his gut. And with regard to such a person [the verse] is applied: “Their sacrifices will be like the bread of mourners, all that partake thereof shall become impure, for they [kept] their bread for themselves alone” (Hos. 9:4) This happiness is a disgrace for them, as [implied by the verse (Mal. 2:3)]: “I will spread dung on your faces, the dung of your festival celebrations.”[12]

Ultimately, one who rejoices alone, or only with one’s family, to the exclusion of others, is engaged in the “rejoicing of his gut” (simḥat kereiso), and not fully fulfilling the obligation of simḥat Yom Tov.


[1] See Pesaḥim 108b and Tosafot, s.v. yedei yayin; see also Yere’im 227 and Tosafot, Ḥagigah 8a, s.v. vesamaḥta.

[2] Tosafot Mo’ed Katan 14b, s.v. aseh deyaḥid.

[3] Hilkhot Yom Tov, 6:17–18.

[4] See Rabbi Aryeh Pomeronchek, Emek Berakha, p. 108.

[5] Sha’agat Aryeh 65.

[6] Shiurim LeZekher Abba Mari, vol. 2. See also UVikashtem MiSham, ft. 19 (pp. 210–11).

[7] Hilkhot Yom Tov 6:19.

[8] Ibid., 6:17

[9] Tur 529.

[10] Shulḥan Arukh 529:1.

[11] See, for example, Magen Avraham 569, and Mishna Berura 529:1.

[12] Hilkhot Yom Tov 6:18.