1 What is the reason for the requirement
to rejoice on Yom Tov?
The festivals are a time to rejoice in our connection to Gd and the privilege we have to serve Him, and thus there is an obligation to celebrate and experience joy on these occasions. This mitzvah trains us to constantly find joy in our mitzvah observance, and to use that joy to draw us closer to the Almighty.
2 What are the primary components
of the obligation of simhat Yom Tov –
rejoicing on the festivals?
During the times of the Bet Hamikdash, this obligation required us to rejoice through the consumption of sacrificial meat from special offerings (“shalmeh simhah”) which were brought for this purpose, or from other offerings. Additionally, this mitzvah requires celebrating by eating ordinary meat, drinking wine and wearing fine garments. Therefore, even nowadays, when we do not have a Bet Hamikdash and thus cannot offer sacrifices, this mitzvah still applies, as the second component does not require the offering of sacrifices.
3 Is there a mitzvah to experience joy
in other ways on Yom Tov?
The more one does to increase his joy on Yom Tov, the more fully he fulfills the mitzvah. Therefore, one should engage in any activities that lift his spirits and bring him joy, such as partaking of a favorite food or drink, taking a walk, or, on Hol Hamoed, playing or listening to instrumental music. Studying Torah also fulfills this mitzvah, because of the unparalleled joy that one receives through learning (Shaagat Aryeh 69; see Encyclopedia Taryag Mitzvot, p. 588). One must ensure, however, to avoid overindulgence in eating and drinking, which can lead to frivolity and intoxication – the antithesis of this mitzvah’s goal, which is to elevate us to greater spiritual heights.
4 How does one fulfill this mitzvah
if he dislikes meat and wine?
According to some opinions, one who finds other foods and drinks more enjoyable than meat and wine is not required to eat meat or drink wine, and may fulfill his obligation by enjoying his preferred delicacies (Shaagat Aryeh 65). Others maintain that even such a person must partake of meat and wine (Darchei Teshuvah, 89:19, citing Rav Chaim of Sanz). According to all opinions, however, one is not required to eat meat or drink wine if this would cause him discomfort (Maharsha, Hiddusheh Aggadot, Nedarim 49b).
5 On which holidays does
this obligation apply?
This mitzvah may be performed anytime during the evening, night or daytime on the holidays of Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simhat Torah. It applies both on Yom Tov and during Hol Hamoed. Some halachic authorities maintain that the mitzvah applies on Rosh Hashanah, as well. (See Sefer Yereim Hashalem 227; Shulhan Aruch 597:1 and Mishnah Berurah.)
6 Is fasting permitted on the holidays?
As a general rule, it is forbidden to fast on the holiday – even on Hol Hamoed – as fasting contravenes the mitzvah to rejoice through eating and drinking. However, one may fast if eating would cause him discomfort or harm, and some authorities permit fasting for those who find it enjoyable. Furthermore, if one had a frightening dream which causes him anxiety, and he wishes to fast as a means of annulling the decree he fears was issued against him, he may fast (Rama, Orah Haim 529:2; Mishnah Berurah 529:18-19). Some authorities permit fasting for the sake of repentance, as the spiritual benefit of fasting provides joys. In situations of crisis, a Bet Din (Court Of Torah Law) may declare a series of fasts that include a holiday, as long as the series of fasts began before the holiday (Shulhan Aruch 572: 2, Peri Megadim).
7 Is there a special obligation
to be joyous on Sukkot?
The Torah mentions the requirement of simhat Yom Tov – rejoicing on holidays – four times, three of which are in the context of Sukkot, indicating that there is a special obligation to rejoice on Sukkot, beyond the obligation of simhah on the other holidays. Accordingly, in the times of the Bet Hamikdash, there was a special mitzvah to conduct a Simhat Bet Hashoeva, an all-night celebration with singing and dancing on the second night of Sukkot.
The reason for this special obligation is that after having been purified during the Days of Awe, we rise to a higher level of devekut –
attachment to Hashem – and we thus rejoice and celebrate this great achievement. We also celebrate the atonement and state of purity we earned as a result of our sincere repentance. Additionally, in Eretz Yisrael, Sukkot is a time of heightened joy because the festival occurs at the end of the summer, when grain is gathered from the fields and the vineyards yield their wine-producing grapes. The Torah commanded us to observe a festival at this time in order to channel our joy towards honoring Hashem (Sefer Hahinuch, 324; see Encyclopedia Taryag Mitzvot, p. 616).
8 Who is obligated to rejoice on Yom Tov?
This mitzvah applies to all men, and different opinions exist among the Talmudic sages concerning the application of this law to women. Some maintain that women are obligated to rejoice on Yom Tov just like men, whereas others maintain that as part of the men’s obligation to rejoice, they must make an effort to bring joy to their wives.
9 Beyond the standard Yom Tov prohibitions,
which activities are forbidden because
they undermine the joyous, festive nature
of the day?
Due to the obligation to rejoice, the laws of mourning do not apply during the festivals, and eulogies may not be delivered, even during Hol Hamoed. The only exception is eulogizing a deceased Torah scholar, which is permitted on Hol Hamoed in the bier’s presence (Moed Katan 27b).
10 Why do we not recite a berachah
over this mitzvah?
Several different answers have been given to this question:
A) The sages did not institute a berachah for a mitzvah if it is not outwardly evident that the mitzvah act is performed for the sake of the mitzvah. When one eats, drinks and rejoices on Yom Tov, it is not obvious that he does this for a mitzvah, and thus no berachah is recited. (Magen Avraham 692:1).
B) Some explain that it would be inappropriate to recite a berachah over a mitzvah which is fulfilled through physical enjoyment, such as feasting (Mor Uketziah, Orah Haim 240).
C) One does not recite a berachah over a mitzvah which has no specific, prescribed limit, and the mitzvah of simhat Yom Tov requires feasting and enjoying to the best of one’s ability, without any specified limit.
D) Berachot are recited only over those mitzvot which require a specific act. The mitzvah of simhat Yom Tov, however, is fulfilled in numerous different ways – eating, drinking, wearing fine clothing, singing, dancing, and so on – and it therefore does not warrant the recitation of a berachah.
E) Finally, in the holiday prayers and kiddush, we recite the berachah, “mekadesh Yisrael vehazmanim” (“who sanctifies Israel and the special occasions), which perhaps functions also as the berachah over the mitzvah of simhat Yom Tov. (Encyclopedia Taryag Mitzvot, pp,609-610)