Halacha L’Moshe MiSinai
Volume 2: Number 26
May 29, 2006
Mitzvah 27-29: Resting from Work on Yom Tov
Mitzvah 27 – It is a positive commandment rest from work on the seventh day of Passover.
Mitzvah 28 – It is a positive commandment to rest from work on the festival of Shavuot.
Mitzvah 29 – It is a positive commandment to rest from work on the first day of Tishre, which is Rosh Hashana
Hafetz Hayim: Scripture states,  (Lev. 23:8):  (Lev. 23:21):  (Lev. 23:24)“It is a holy convocation. It is in force everywhere, and at every time for men and for women.
Resting on Holidays is not the same as resting on Shabbat. The rest of Shabbat is more comprehensive than that of festivals since Shabbat can be only one day and a festival can be two or more days long. Cooking, spreading an existing flame and carrying from one domain to another are forbidden on Shabbat but permitted on a Festival. Shabbat is always set by the sun, every seventh sunset is the beginning of Shabbat. Festivals are set by the moon. They occur at the same phase of the moon each year. Since the lunar cycle was set by human beings, based on observations in the nighttime sky. Therefore, we can say that human being declare the Festivals but Shabbat is declared by G-d.
The procedure was to have people in the field looking for the new moon on the correct day. Since the lunar cycle is 291/2 days, it was not clear which of the two days it would fall. As soon as the new moon was spotted, the witnesses would run to the court to testify that the moon had been seen. There was careful cross examination to assure that the moon was actually seen, and although only two witnesses were needed, they would interview many others so that they would not assume that others had gotten there first and they were no longer needed.
As soon as it was determined that the moon had appeared and the new month had begun, signal fires were lit and riders sent out to officially declare the new month. Inside the Land of Israel, the people would know in a matter of days, if not hours, that the month had begun. In Babylonia, it would take over two weeks to get the news about the month. Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot would already be started by the time the riders arrived. It became, therefore, the custom to celebrate these holidays for two days instead of the usual one. Thus there were two Sedarim on Passover and the holiday was extended for an eighth day to make sure the seventh day was observed at the proper time. Shavuot and Sukkot, in a similar manner were extended to insure that those living outside of Israel would observe the festival at the proper time. After all, it had to be one day or the other!
Even when the calendar became fixed according to mathematical calculations, the primacy of Israel was affirmed by continuing the custom of having a second day of Yom Tov in lands outside of Israel.
Rosh Hashana is the lone exception, for it is two days long in both Israel and outside of Israel. Since the holiday begins at the very beginning of the month, there was no way to know if that night would be declared the new year or not. So everyone would observe Rosh Hashana on both days.
One would think that Yom Kippur would also be observed for two days, but this is not correct. Yom Kippur is far stricter than most Holidays but since there is a total fast on Yom Kippur, it would be too hard for Jews to fast for a second day. There is only one day of Yom Kippur.
In all cases, we do not work on Festivals, but we refrain from activities not in keeping with the holiday.
Next week: Mitzvah 30: Hearing the sounds of the Shofar.