Positive Mitzvah Fifty-Four

Rejoicing on the Festivals

Devarim 16:14 You are to rejoice during your festival - you and your son and your daughter, and your male slave and your female slave, and the Levi and the proselyte, and the orphan and widow who are in your city.

We are commanded to rejoice on the Festivals.  The most important obligation in this Mitzvah is that of the compulsory Shelamim-offerings.  These Shelamim-offerings are in addition to the Shelamim-offerings of the Festival (referred to in P52), and they are called in the Talmud, "Shelamim-offerings of Rejoicing." (Chag. 7b)

Women are required to take part in the rejoicing. (Chag. 6b)

The words "You are to rejoice during your festivals", included the further injunction of the Sages that we are to rejoice by all possible modes of rejoicing, as by eating meat on the festivals, drinking wine, putting on new garments, distributing fruits and sweetmeats to children and women, and making merry with musical instruments and dancing in the Sanctuary, thought not elsewhere1  this being the Rejoicing of Beit HaShoevah2.  All these modes of rejoicing are comprised in His words, "You are to rejoice during your festival."

The Torah obliges us to include in this rejoicing the poor, the needy, and strangers.  The RaMBaM said:

"And when he eats and drinks [in celebration of a festival] it is his duty [also] to offer food to the stranger, to the fatherless, and to the widow, as well as to all other unfortunate poor.  He, however, who while eating and drinking in the company of his children and his wife bars the entries to his home, fails to offer food and drink to the poor and the wretched, rejoices not in a manner suitable on the occasion of fulfilling a Mitzvah, but merely to gratify his own belly.  Concerning such men [Scripture] says, 'There sacrifices shall be to them as the bread of mourners, all that eat thereof shall be polluted; for their bread shall be for their appetite' (Hoshea 9:4).  Such rejoicing casts disgrace upon them, as it is said, 'And I will spread dung upon your faces, even the dung of your sacrifices.'" (Mal. 2:3; Mishneh Torah, Zmanim, Hilchot Yom Tov 6.18)

The manifestation of joy was a vital factor in the Divine Service in Yisrael's Sanctuary and may be gathered from the following account of the ceremony of Beit HaShoevah:

"He who has not seen the Rejoicing of Beit HaShoevah has never in his life seen joy.  Men of piety and good works used to dance before them with lighted torches in their hands, singing songs and praises.  And countless Leviim with harps, lyres, cymbals, and trumpets and other musical instruments were there on the fifteen steps leading down from the Court of Yisrael to the Court of the Women, corresponding to the Fifteen Songs of Ascents in the Tehillim; upon them the Leviim stood with their instruments of music and made melody" (Suk. 51a).

1) Making merry with musical instruments and dancing, thought forbidden on a festival throughout Eretz Yisrael, was permitted in the Sanctuary.
2) This was marked by a great public festivity held in the Sanctuary during the evenings of the Festival of Sukkot, being associated with the libation of water on the Mizbeach during that festival.