Halacha L’Moshe MiSinai
Volume 2: Number 24
May 22, 2006
Mitzvah 25 – It is a positive commandment to rest from work on Passover
Hafetz Hayim: Scripture states, “on the first day you shall have a holy convocation” (Lev. 23:7)Work is permitted, however, to prepare sustaining food for Jews, although not for non-Jews . (see Ex. 12:16) Whoever does work not needed for preparing sustaining food disobeys this positive commandment, and transgresses the negative commandment to do no work. (see Lev. 23:7) Burning a fire and carrying things out into the public domain are permissible, even if not for the purpose of preparing food. By the law of the Sages, ever festival day is to be observed in lands outside Israel for two days; but in the land of Israel, only one day is observed. Rosh Hashanah, however, is observed for two days in the Land of Israel also. It is in force everywhere, and at every time for both men and women.
There are a lot of assumed definitions at work here that need to be explained. On Shabbat, one is not permitted to cook food for any reason. On Festival (also called “Yom Tov”) the rules about working are a bit more relaxed. One is permitted to cook food needed for that day on a Festival, and one can carry an object into a public domain (which is not permitted on Shabbat unless there is an eruv) and one can transfer a burning flame on Festivals but one is not allowed to light a flame. On Shabbat both lighting the flame and transferring it are prohibited. The reason for the difference is one mostly about time. Since Shabbat is only 25 hours, than we can live without these work items without too many problems. But for a holiday, which can be from two to nine days long, we need to make sure that we can eat good food and that our abstaining from work does not undermine our need to rejoice on a festival.
The issue with cooking for a non-Jew does not apply if you are sharing your family meal with someone who is practicing another faith. It applies to those who may be coming to your home and you are selling them a meal. This is a prohibited transaction. If such a non-Jew eats with you as part of a meal plan, you can not cook for him/her on the holiday, but must prepare that food in advance as one would do on Shabbat.
Similarly sharing a holiday with friends, family and neighbors is what makes the day special. Therefore one is permitted to carry into the public domain on Festivals.
One does not need to study Bible long to realize that Pesach is only 7 days long and not the eight days that we observe today. The Hafetz Hayim correctly notes that this is a ruling of the Sages of the Talmud that, outside of the Land of Israel, one observes an extra day. The reason, as usual, is very practical. The new month was proclaimed in Jerusalem at every new moon. People would wait in the fields to be the first to see the moon and report to the Sages. They earned a feast if they were among the first dozen people to make it to the court when the new moon first appeared. As soon as the court accepted the testimony that the moon had been actually observed in the sky, they lit signal fires to alert the country that the month had started. They also sent out messengers by horseback to the far flung communities in Babylonia. These messengers took over two weeks to get to their destination. By then, those communities needed to celebrate the festivals. Since the moon travels around the earth in 29 ½ days, they did not know if the month started on the 29th of the month or the 30th of the month. Since it had to be one or the other, the far flung communities observed both days as holidays so they would not miss the important Festivals. Even when the calculations to establish the calendar were set, those communities outside of Israel still show the primacy of the Holy Land by keeping the extra day of the Festival. There has been talk of going back to one day for everyone, but, so far, that has not become Jewish practice.
Rosh Hashana is different. It is the only holiday that actually falls on the date of the new moon. No one could guess when that day would be announced so all communities, inside and out of the Land of Israel, keep two days for the New Year. Fast days, like Yom Kippur and Tisha b’Av are not doubled. It would be too hard to ask Jews to fast for two complete days.
It is necessary to light a yahrtzeit candle along with holiday candles for the first day of a Festival, so that when we need to light candles for the second day, we can transfer the flame and not have to kindle a new fire. Some people light these candles from the pilot light of their gas stove. This is also permitted. Since an electric stove does not have a flame, one can not start a new flame from the burners of an electric stove.
Next week: Mitzvah 26: Counting the days of the Omer.
Note: I am sorry that we have gone so many weeks without a lesson. Between my duties for Passover and my participation in this year’s March of The Living, we have had a long break. I hope to be more consistent in the next couple of months. Thank you for your patience.