Mitzvah to Learn Torah on Chag and Chol Ha’Moed
It is a mitzvah to increase one’s Torah study on Shabbat and Chagim (Festivals), as our Sages said:
“The Sabbath and Yom Tov were given to Israel in order that they might study Torah”(Jerusalem Talmud, Shabbat 15:3).
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:
“The days of Chol Ha’Moed were not established in order to do melacha (work), but in order to rejoice before Hashem; in other words, to gather
in study halls, and listen to the sweet words of Torah” (Mitzvah 323).
Devoting Half the Time to Learning Torah
Seemingly, there are two conflicting verses regarding the intended function of Chag. In regards to Chag, one verse says that it is:
“A retreat dedicated to God your Lord” (Deuteronomy 16:8), while in another verse, it is written:
“A time of retreat for you” (in Hebrew ‘lachem’) (Numbers 29:35).
Concerning this apparent discrepancy, Rabbi Yehoshua said:
“Divide it: [devote] half of it to eating and drinking, and half of it to the Beth Hamidrash (study hall)” (Pesachim 68b; Beitza 15b).
In the end, this is how the halakha was determined (Shulchan Aruch 529:1).
Increase Torah Study on Chol Ha’Moed as Well!
The obligation to dedicate half of Chag to learning Torah, also applies to Chol Ha’Moed, and this is why melacha is forbidden (Aruch HaShulchan 539:4). Furthermore, it is written in the Jerusalem Talmud: (Moed Katan, Chap.2, Halakha 3):
“Rabbi Abba bar Memal said: If there was someone else who would be counted [agree] with me, I would permit [Israel] to work on Chol HaMoed! Work is only forbidden [on Chol Ha’Moed] so that they [Israel] can eat, drink, be joyful, and labor in Torah; but nowadays, they eat, drink, and act frivolously” (Moed Katan, Chap.2, Halakha 3).
From here we learn that the prohibition of bitul Torah (wasting time from learning Torah) on Chol Ha’Moed is more severe than the prohibition of performing melacha (Kolbo, note 60).
Must the Time be Calculated Accurately?
Some authorities are of the opinion that one must be meticulously precise not to dedicate less than half the time to Hashem, or as Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar wrote, that if one does so, he hasHashem’s stolen portion in his possession (Rishon L’Tziyon on Beitza 15b). Other authorities say that one need not calculate the time precisely, but rather, should learn more or less half the day (Pri Megadim).
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 dedicating half the day to Hashem.
Apparently, the seven hours that a person normally sleeps at night are not taken into account. That leaves eighteen hours from the twenty-five hours of Chag, out of which nine hours should be dedicated to Hashem. Although most of this time should be dedicated to Torah, or as our Sages said, “half of it to the Beth Hamidrash”, nevertheless, prayer is also considered to be included in the half intended for Hashem – provided they are not prolonged with melodies and Chazonus(Cantorial singing) – for if so, the time is not calculated in the half intended for Hashem (Yam Shel Shlomo, Magen Avraham). Consequently, out of the nine hours, approximately three hours can be counted for prayers, with roughly six hours dedicated to Torah study.
The Mitzvah for Women
It is also a mitzvah for women to learn Torah on Chag, as was the custom of women to attend Shabbat and holiday sermons (Jerusalem Talmud, Sotah, Chap. 1, Halakha 4). However, women are not obligated to dedicate half of the time to Hashem; someone who is fortunate to do so –tavo aleyha bracha (this is considered pious conduct for which she is blessed).
The Words of Rabbi Moshe Ben Machir
In the book, ‘Seder Hayom’, on the subject of Chol Ha’Moed, it is written:
“A person should not say: ‘Since I cannot do melacha 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.
It is amazing how much children enjoy learning Torah together with their parents!
The First Foundation: The Constant Mitzvah of Talmud Torah
There are three foundations for the obligation of Torah study on Chag: First, the mitzvah ofTalmud 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:
“Learn them and safeguard them, so that you will be able to keep them” (Deuteronomy 5:1).
The commandment is to study Torah day and night, as the verse says:
“But you shall meditate therein day and night” (Joshua 1:8).
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 (Sanhedrin 99a). 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 Torah returns to its proper place entirely. This is why Shabbatand 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 Mitzvah of Joy on Chag
Torah study is one of the expressions of the mitzvah of simcha (joy) on Chag, because the Torah makes a person happy, as it is written: “The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart” (Psalms 19:9) For this reason, it is forbidden to learn Torah on Tisha B’Av, and while mourning (Ta’anit 30a; Sha’agat Aryeh, 69).
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:
“Rabbi, I must share with you how I felt on Chag. I feel like I’m in Gan Eden! I can’t stop smiling, and I feel like people are staring at me, and thinking to themselves: “What’s going on with him, this crazy guy?!” And myself? I want to continue being crazy like this all my life! Torah study onShabbatot throughout the entire year, the escalation in the month of Elul, the Yamim Nora’im(High Holidays) here in the yishuv, and the highlight, of course – Sukkot…
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.
Q: What is the halakha concerning quinoa for Ashkanazi’s who are careful not to eat kitniyot(legumes) on Passover?
A: Some poskim (Jewish law arbiters) are makhmir (stringent) because quinoa is similar to certain types of kitniyot. Others are maykel (lenient) because the custom of the prohibition does not apply to them, since only in the last generation have people started to eat them. Additionally, the granules are much smaller than other types of grains, thus one can easily distinguish between them. In practice, someone who is makhmir – tavo alav bracha (pious conduct for which one is blessed), and someone who is maykel has what to rely on, provided they are checked well.