Beit Midrash

  • Pesach
To dedicate this lesson
Chapter One-Part Three

One Who Demeans the Holy Days


Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

7. One Who Demeans the Holy Days
An important principle is articulated in Mishna Avot (3:11): "Rabbi Elazar Ha-Moda’i says: ‘One who desecrates holy foods, one who demeans the holy days … and one who expounds the Torah not in accordance with halakha, even if he has Torah study and good deeds to his credit, has no share in the World to Come.’"
R. Zvi Yehuda Kook would ask how one with Torah study and good deeds to his credit could not have a share in the World to Come. Moreover, since the mishna does not specify how much Torah study and good deeds this person has to his credit, it is implied that even if the person is a great Torah scholar, highly scrupulous in his observance of mitzvot, and a doer of many good deeds, he has no share in the World to Come since he demeans the holy days and expounds the Torah not in accordance with the halakha.
R. Zvi Yehuda went on to describe one who greatly respects tradition and is meticulous about fulfilling the halakhic requirements of the Seder, but considers it all the product of human intelligence. He explains that the importance of the Pesaĥ holiday and the Seder lies in the parents passing their traditions on to the next generations, imparting to them the moral principles of human liberty and a sense of mission to improve the world. The matza merely concretizes Israel’s historical consciousness, and the four cups of wine simply add a dimension of joy. Even though all of these lovely ideas are true, the central fundamental principle is missing: that God chose us from among all nations, gave us the Torah, and commanded us to celebrate Pesaĥ and eat matza on the Seder night.
R. Zvi Yehuda’s hypothetical Jew similarly honors Shabbat as a day when the family spends time together and grows closer, and when hardworking people can rest and engage in spiritual pursuits. He even adds that "Shabbat kept the Jews more than the Jews kept Shabbat." He forgets only one thing: that God commanded us to observe Shabbat, down to its finest detail.
This is what the mishna meant by "one who expounds the Torah not in accordance with halakha." Even though he studies it diligently, to him it is not God’s Torah but merely human wisdom, so he allows himself to interpret it any way that comes to mind. Thus he demeans the holy days; he thinks they are customs and traditions that human beings invented to give expression to all sorts of spiritual notions, thereby denying that they are God-given mitzvot of the Torah. Therefore, even though he may have studied much Torah and performed many good deeds, and he is thought of as a good, honorable man in this world – he has no connection with holiness. He has no share in the eternal historical mission of the Jewish people, and thus has no share in the World to Come.
8. One Inquires about the Laws of Pesaĥ Beginning Thirty Days before Pesaĥ
We inquire about and expound upon the laws of Pesaĥ beginning thirty days before Pesaĥ. We learn this from Moshe, who on Pesaĥ itself explained the matter of Pesaĥ Sheni, the make-up date for those unable to bring the Paschal offering, which takes place thirty days later. The main reason for this is that all of Israel had to prepare animal sacrifices as Pesaĥ approached, examining them to be certain that they were free of disqualifying blemishes (Pesaĥim 6a; AZ 5b).
This enactment was not canceled even after the Temple was destroyed; one must study the laws of Pesaĥ thirty days before the holiday arrives. As is well known, Pesaĥ has very many laws, pertaining to preparing the home for Pesaĥ, seeking and destroying ĥametz, baking the matza, and the Seder. Some Rishonim maintained that the enactment applies specifically to Torah scholars, enjoining them to prioritize answering practical questions about the upcoming holiday. According to this view, there is no universal obligation to set a fixed time for studying the laws of Pesaĥ (Ran and Rashba). Nevertheless, since many Rishonim maintain that it is indeed obligatory to set a fixed time for studying the laws of Pesaĥ beginning thirty days before Pesaĥ, it is proper that every individual do so, beginning on the fourteenth of Adar (Purim). It is also proper for schools and yeshivot to set a fixed time for studying the laws of Pesaĥ during this period.
There is a dispute amongst halakhic authorities on whether one is obliged to study the laws of the other holidays thirty days in advance. Some say that since this enactment was established primarily for preparing the animal sacrifices, and such sacrifices were in fact brought on the three pilgrimage festivals – the olat re’iya (pilgrimage burnt-offering), shalmei ĥagiga (pilgrimage peace offerings), and shalmei simĥa (festival peace offerings) – therefore it is proper to study the laws of each festival thirty days in advance. Others say that the practice today primarily concerns Pesaĥ, since its laws are so numerous and strict (MB 429:1). 1
These differences of opinion and distinctions concern advance preparations for the holidays. During the course of the holidays, however, there is an ancient enactment, ordained by Moshe, for people to study the laws and spiritual meanings of that holiday (Megilla 32a, MA 429:1).

1 Tosafot AZ 5b, s.v. "ve-hatnan" states that even after the destruction of the Temple this decree was not nullified. MB 429:1 (see also BHL ad loc.) reinforces the opinion that one must learn the laws of Pesaĥ thirty days before, and rejects Ran’s opinion since most Rishonim disagree with him. This is also the opinion of many Aĥaronim, including SAH 429:1-3, which explains the issue thoroughly and states that this is a rabbinic decree (as opposed to the opinion of Baĥ, which states that it is a Torah law). Conversely, see Yabi’a Omer 2:222, which explains that Ran and Rashba maintain that the essence of the decree is to first answer a person who asks about the laws of Pesaĥ, since he is asking about a pertinent issue, and that this is the opinion of most Rishonim. (There is also debate about the position of Shulĥan Arukh itself: some infer that it concurs with Ran from the fact that it only mentions the term "ask"; others reject this inference.) In practice, I used the terms "mitzva" and "proper" since not everyone agrees that this is an obligation. Moreover, even though according to Baĥ this is in fact a Torah obligation, most authorities view it only as a rabbinic decree.
It is also worth noting that there are authorities who maintain that the main obligation is for rabbis and Torah teachers to begin teaching the laws of Pesaĥ thirty days before the festival, but there is no obligation on each individual. This is what Ĥok Yaakov states in 429:1, 3, adding in the name of Rokei'aĥ, Raavan, and Kol Bo, that even the reading of Parshat Para right after Purim was established to remind the people to purify themselves for the upcoming Pesaĥ. Similarly, many Aĥaronim write that this is the reason for the establishment of the custom to teach the laws of Pesaĥ on Shabbat Ha-Gadol, as recorded in SAH and MB 429:2. Nevertheless, according to most authorities there is still a mitzva for every individual to delve into the laws of Pesaĥ during the thirty days prior to the festival. BHL rules accordingly. However, there is arguably a greater obligation for rabbis and teachers.

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