How to be Happy on Chag

One should be happier on Chag than on Shabbat * It is a mitzvah to devote half of the Chag to Torah study, and to add something new, such as wine or clothes which will spread joy throughout the Chag * Buying clothes is more important than buying an etrog * It is a mitzvah to rejoice in other activities as well, each one according to what makes them happy * One of the most difficult mitzvot is to be in a good mood * One should rejoice with family, and be careful not to ruin the atmosphere of the Chag at home * Giving gifts to employees before the Chag is somewhat similar to the mitzvah of pleasing one’s servants * One should think about people they know who are in need, and try to please them

Happiness on Chag compared to Shabbat

Chagim (holidays), like Shabbat, are holy days which are called mikrei kodesh (sacred holidays). It is a mitzvah to sanctify them with fine meals and nice clothing, as our Sages said: “And with what do you sanctify the day? With eating, drinking, and nice clothes” (Safra, Emor 12:4). But on Chagim, there is an additional mitzvah – to rejoice, as it is written: “You shall rejoice on your festival” (Deuteronomy 16:14). Accordingly, the meals of the Chagim should be finer than on Shabbat, and one should be meticulous to wear nicer clothes on Chag than on Shabbat. Therefore, if one needs to buy new clothes he should buy them before the Chagim, and rejoice in them on the holiday.

Indeed, our Sages enacted that three meals be held on Shabbat, learning this from hints within the verses (Shabbat 117b) and corresponding to the unique level of Shabbat, whereas on Chag, the mitzvah is to hold only two meals only – one at night, and one during the day (Rosh and Tur); however, one of the explanations for this is that the meals on Chagim are larger, and as a result, there is no reason to hold a third meal, which would only weigh heavily and not increase joy (Lavush).

The Mitzvah of Torah Study on Chag

Torah study is the fundamental mitzvah of Shabbat and Chagim. As our Sages said: “Shabbat and Festivals were given to us for the sole purpose of engaging in Torah study” (Jerusalem Talmud, Shabbat 15; 3). The mitzvah is based on three foundations: 1) on the constant mitzvah to learn Torah day and night, which in actuality cannot be fulfilled on weekdays because of the need to work and earn a living, but the Torah commanded us not to work on Shabbat and Chagim so we can fulfill the mitzvah of Talmud Torah. 2) On the kedusha (sanctity) of the holidays which is intended to be drawn in and absorbed through learning Torah that deals with Chag related issues. 3) On the mitzvah of joy, one of whose expressions is Torah study, this being the reason why it is forbidden to study Torah on Tisha B’Av and days of mourning (Taanit 30a; Sha’agat Aryeh 69; Peninei Halakha: Moadim 1:5).

Devote Half the Day to Hashem, and Half to Yourselves

It is a mitzvah to devote half of the day to Torah study (Pesachim 68b; S. A., 529:1). Some poskim (Jewish law arbiters) say one should be very careful not to study less than half a day, and thus wrote Rabbi Haim Ben Attar, that someone who learns less than half a day has stolen from Hashem’s portion (Rishon Lezion, Beitza 15b). Others say there is no need to calculate the hours precisely, rather the mitzvah is to learn approximately half a day (Pri Megadim). Seeing as the matter of Torah study on Shabbat and Chag has weakened in recent past, it seems there is room to arrange so that Torah study and prayer time together works out to be about nine hours (Peninei Halakha: Moadim 1:6).

The Four Components of the Mitzvah of Joy

In general, the mitzvah of joy on Chag is composed of four components: 1) doing something special that involves an additional aspect of joy, which will impart feelings of happiness throughout the entire holiday. 2) Seeing as there is an additional mitzvah of joy on Chag, the meals should be upgraded so they are superior to Shabbat meals, one should take care to wear his best clothes, and it is a mitzvah to learn Torah which brings joy. 3) To add additional joy by doing pleasurable things such as dancing or going on an outing. 4) To be in a good mood of joy and contentment. I will elaborate on the four components.

Added Joy in Drinking Wine at the Festive Meal

It is a mitzvah to do something special that involves additional joy which will spread happy feelings throughout the entire holiday. To do so, one should drink wine during the holiday meal. And although the time one spends eating the meal is limited, the joy of the meal radiates and spreads throughout the course of the entire holiday. There are some rabbis who are of the opinion that in the matter of drinking wine, both men and women fulfill the mitzvah of adding extra joy; others hold that by way of drinking wine only men fulfill the mitzvah, and this is the way the halakha was determined, as will be explained below. Nevertheless, a woman who enjoys drinking wine also fulfills a mitzvah.

A person who drinks grape juice does not fulfill the mitzvah because it does not contain alcohol, and consequently, does not make one happy. The amount of wine needed to effect happiness is an amount enough to make it a bit difficult for a person to concentrate, or in other words, until the point where it is forbidden for rabbis to instruct halakha. There were eminent Torah scholars who were used to drinking a lot of wine at the holiday feast, and refrained from instructing halakha from the time of the meal until the following day (Beitza 4a). Our Sages determined that in order to fulfill this mitzvah of joy, at the very least, one should drink a little more than a revi’it of wine (75 ml), and the majority of people require a good deal more than a revi’it to fulfill the mitzvah. However, one should not overdo it and get drunk.

Added Joy for Women

For the joy of women, it is a mitzvah to buy a new item of clothing, or a new piece of jewelry. The mitzvah is fulfilled through the purchase of one garment; the intention of the mitzvah is not that the woman has to wear the new outfit for the entire holiday, rather, that as a result of it, the added joy of the Chag receives expression.

There are some men who make the mistake of spending hundreds of shekels on an especially beautiful etrog and skimp on purchasing clothes for their wives, forgetting that buying clothing or jewelry for their wife is an unequivocal mitzvah from the Torah, whereas the purchase of an etrog costing ten times the price of a kosher etrog is a hidur (beautification of a mitzvah) that we are not commanded to fulfill.

Even an unmarried, divorced, or widowed woman must fulfill the mitzvot of joy in all of its components on her own, i.e., she should buy a new garment or piece of jewelry for the Chag, have joyful meals, attend happy events, and be careful to avoid depressing matters.

Joy in Festive Meals and Clothes

Besides the special meal which is the primary mitzvah for men, and buying new clothes or jewelry for women, we have learned that similar to Shabbat, the Chagim are called mikrei kodesh (sacred holidays), in which it is a mitzvah to sanctify them with superior meals and fine clothes. And because on Chag there is an additional mitzvah of joy, consequently, both men and women should beautify these mitzvot on Chag, more than on Shabbat.

Therefore, even though the primary additional joy for men is the festive meal during the day, it is a mitzvah for the evening meal on Chag to be superior to Shabbat evening meals. And although the primary additional joy for women is a new garment or a new piece of jewelry, it is a mitzvah for them to hold special and joyful festive meals on Chag, over and beyond those of Shabbat. It is also a mitzvah for them to drink wine if they enjoy it.

Also, it is not enough for a woman to buy new clothes or jewelry, but she must be more meticulous about her clothes on Chag than on Shabbat. The same holds true for men as well – although their additional joy is expressed in the festive meal during the day, they should also make sure their clothes for Chag are finer than those of Shabbat (S.A., 529:1; Sha’agat Aryeh 65).

Singing, Dancing and Outings

Anything that gladdens the heart is part of the mitzvah to rejoice on Chag, including singing, dancing, and outings. The more one sings and gives praise to God, the more praiseworthy he is, and indeed, Gedolei Yisrael (eminent rabbis) composed liturgical poems and songs to give thanks and praise to Hashem on the Chagim.

Many people are accustomed to dance on Chag, and the source for this stems from the verse: “Celebrate to God your Lord for seven days” (Deuteronomy 16:15), where the Hebrew word for celebrate (ta’chog) can also mean to dance. Consequently, our Sages instituted dancing in the Simchat Beit Hashoeva [a special celebration held during the Intermediate days of Sukkot] (Ha’emek Davar, ibid; Pri TzadikSukkot 17).

Similarly, it is a mitzvah for someone who enjoys going on outings to do so for a short amount of time. Since this is considered a joyous event, the Rabbis permitted carrying a baby who needs to be lifted on Chag (Beitza 12a; R’ma 415:1).

However, in contrast to the festive meals, fine clothes and Torah study which one is obligated to enjoy on Chag, all the other joyful features are reshut (optional), in other words, a person who enjoys doing them, fulfills a mitzvah; someone who does not, is not obligated to do so. Each individual may choose how to enjoy the Chag – some people find greater enjoyment in singing and praising Hashem in the company of family members; others enjoy dancing at the Simchat Beit Hashoeva festivities;  while still others enjoy going on outings, or doing other enjoyable and meaningful things. In any case, one must make sure all these pleasurable events do not interfere with Torah study, because there is a mitzvah to devote half the day to Torah study and prayer. A person who enjoys learning Torah more than anything else – after fulfilling the mitzvah of simcha (joy) by eating fine meals, it is a mitzvah for him to learn Torah for more than half the day.

Festive Mood

It is a mitzvah to be in a good, joyous and content mood for the duration of the entire Chag. Seemingly, this is an easy mitzvah to observe; who doesn’t want to be happy?! In practice, however, this is a difficult mitzvah to fulfill. It is said in the name of the Gaon from Vilna that the mitzvah of simchat Yom Tov (being happy on the holiday) is the hardest
mitzvah to fulfill for in order to do so, one must put aside all types of sorrow, stress and worry, and be in a state of joy and good-heartedness for the entire holiday.

Nevertheless, this is the mitzvah incumbent upon us on Chag – to rise above the worries and troubles, overcome the anger, and rejoice in Hashem. To do so, we must reflect upon the amazing and wonderful fact that Hashem chose us from among all the peoples, and gave us His Torah, sanctified us in His commandments, and brought us into the good Land, so we can merit a full and good life filled with meaning, holiness, and helping to bring tikun olam (betterment of the world). Consequently, we bear in mind the great calling imposed on all of us, we remember all the good things in our lives, are strengthened in emunah (faith) and the realization that all of the sufferings and exiles were intended for the good – to improve and elevate us to our purpose in this world.

Rejoice with Family

One of the mitzvot of the Chag is to rejoice in the circle of one’s family, as it is written: “You shall rejoice on your festival along with your son and daughter” (Deuteronomy 16:14). In order to fulfill the mitzvah properly, each member of the family must maintain a pleasant atmosphere during the Chag, especially at mealtimes. Everyone must try their best to avoid offensive speech and make an effort to cheer those gathered at the table with kind words, and as a result, achieve true happiness. Our Sages said in the Zohar that mealtimes are a time of battle, because before meals begin, the evil inclination intensifies with the aim of stimulating fights and insults, and a person must be prepared for battle and defeat the evil inclination by means of increasing love and affection between family members.

The Mitzvah to Be Happy and Gladden Others

The primary mitzvah on Chag is to be happy and make others happy, because true happiness is achieved only when efforts are made to please others, as it is written: “You shall rejoice on your festival along with your son and daughter, your male and female slave, and the Levite, proselyte, orphan and widow within your gates” (Deuteronomy 16:14).

From the Torah’s instruction to rejoice with one’s male and female slave, employers have learned that although their workers will be rejoicing with their families on Chag, nevertheless, they present them gifts before the holiday to make them happy.

In addition to that, before Chag, every family should think about which of their relatives and acquaintances are going through difficult times, and should cheer them up by inviting them to the meal on Chag. In particular, attention should be paid to new immigrants and converts, for often, specifically on the holidays, they feel lonelier, and it is a great mitzvah to include them in the joy.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting, informative, and thought-provoking articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at:

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