LET'S GET BUSY!!! LEARNING THE LAW OF PESACH

 

In discussing the laws of bi'ur chametz (the destruction of leavened bread before Pesach), the gemara in Pesachim 6a mentions the possibility of carrying out this action thirty days before the holiday begins. The gemara then asks where this time frame comes from. The answer given is that there is a baraita that states that we must ask about and expound on the laws of Pesach for thirty days before Pesach. This law is based on the verses that discuss Pesach Sheni (Bamidbar 9), where Moshe told people who were impure that they would have to make up the Paschal sacrifice on the same date of the next month (i.e. 14 Iyar). Since he detailed these laws at the time of the regular Pesach (14 Nissan), the gemara learns that there should be a month allotted for the learning of these laws. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel dismisses this proof, and instead claims that one need only inquire about these laws for two weeks, beginning with the first of Nissan. He bases his law on Shemot 20, where Moshe is first commanded to instruct the Jews in the mitzva of Rosh Chodesh (sanctifying the new moon), and then to instruct them in the laws of Pesach. Since there are two weeks between the first of the month and the holiday itself, Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel feels that this is the mandated time frame required for this law.

The most problematic aspect of this gemara is that it is contradicted by another one. The last lines of Masechet Megilla (32a) state that Moshe established that the Jews should learn the laws of Pesach on Pesach, of Shavuot on Shavuot, and of Succot on Succot. Which one is it? Are we supposed to take a one-month running jump into the holiday, or is it sufficient for us to learn the laws of the day during "quiet time" on the holiday afternoon?

The earliest answer to this problem is given by the Tosefta on Megilla (chapter 3) and the Yerushalmi on Pesachim. They both suggest that while the main time for everyone to learn the laws is on the holiday itself, Yeshivot are to begin preparing a month earlier. This idea connects to an idea brought down by Ran on Pesachim. He notes that Tosefta Sanhedrin 7:5 rules that when two students ask questions, the student whose question is currently more relevant should receive an answer first. Thus, Ran notes that the gemara in Pesachim is setting a thirty-day "Pesach season," and within that time any question about Pesach is considered to be most timely and thus privileged to be answered first.

There is, however, another gemara that helps to shed light on what the issue is concerning this law. The gemara in Avodah Zara 5b states that a full thirty days were required for selecting and inspecting the lamb that was to be used for the Paschal sacrifice, since we are very strict in terms of identifying blemishes and we do not want this particular sacrifice to be messed up (since failure to take part results in the punishment of kareit). As such, when sacrifices still existed, people were generally involved in the laws or preparations for Pesach a month earlier. The question is whether or not this means anything today in a post-Temple society?

Before answering this question, there is one more issue that needs to be raised. Does this law apply to Pesach only, or does it apply to all three major festivals? While the gemara in Pesachim speaks only about Pesach, as do the verses, the gemara in Megilla applies across the board. How do we reconcile this aspect of the law?

The Beit Yoseif (O.C. 429) writes that even though we no longer have the Paschal sacrifice, we nevertheless maintain the custom of beginning to learn the laws of the holiday thirty days in advance. The Bach cites the Rokeiach, who claims that all three holidays require this thirty-day period. However, Bach refutes this statement by noting that only Pesach has the extra factor of the Paschal sacrifice, and this added element carries the day and makes Pesach the only holiday that requires the thirty-day period. The Ateret Zekeinim and the Be'eir Heitev both see the loss of the sacrifice as affecting the law, and thus both rule that we need only deeply involve ourselves in learning these laws right before Pesach. Specifically, they point to Shabbat HaGadol and the custom of the Rabbi delivering a length speech in which he details the laws of the holiday. Finally, the Pri Chadash suggests that even though there is no longer a Paschal sacrifice, we still maintain the thirty day time frame. His logic is that it is similar to the prohibition of working on erev Pesach. Even though that law began due to the fact that people needed to offer their sacrifices, it still lives on now that the Temple has been destroyed. So, too, this law should survive its original motivation and still be kept today.

With regard to the application of this law to Shavuot and Succot, we have already noted the view of the Bach who claims that this applies to Pesach only (and the Beit Yoseif sides with him on this). While the Chochmat Shlomo agrees with this view, there is a general consensus among Acharonim that this applies to all three holidays (see Magen Avraham, Be'eir Heitev, Chok Yaakov, and Pri Chadash).

The Pri Chadash offers a compelling proof for this broad application of the law. We noted that the gemara introduces this law in the context of bi'ur chametz, a detail which the Tur picks up on and includes in his formulation of this law. Similarly, we have by Succot the law of a "succah yeshana" an old succah. In brief, this law focuses on whether or not one may use a succah that was already in existence for some other reason in order to discharge his obligation to sit in a such on Succot. In discussing this issue, the gemara states that any Succah made within thirty days of Succot is presumed to be made specifically for the purpose of the holiday. Thus, the Pri Chadash notes that thirty days before a holiday is presumed to be the "holiday season," for Succot as much as for Pesach. On the other hand, the reason given by the Beit Yoseif adopts a similar pragmatic approach to rejecting this consensus view. He claims that Pesach needs thirty days for simple practical reasons it has many more laws and there is no backup plan. If one fails to make a Succah or procure a lulav and etrog before Succot, there are ways for him to make it up (such as borrowing from someone else). However, a person who fails to get rid of all of his chametz violates several commandments the very moment that Pesach begins. Thus, while it may be a good thing to get a head start on learning these laws, Pesach leaves a person with no option but to do so.

From a methodological standpoint, the view of the Pri Chadash would seem to have more resonance in halacha than that of the Beit Yoseif. The Beit Yoseif appears to be giving a reason for this law. The Pri Chadash seems to be establishing a formal time frame for the other holidays as well. The practical ramification would be the view of Ran, that according to the Pri Chadash, a student who asks about Succot thirty days in advance would be considered to be asking a most timely question. I would like to tentatively suggest that this may be why there is some resistance to applying this law to holidays other than Pesach. If one were to receive priority for his questions about Succot a month before the holiday itself, he would be trumping the questions that people have concerning Rosh HaShana and Yom HaKippurim. While the Tishrei holiday season may begin sometime in Elul, Succot itself has to wait its turn. This idea may play itself out by the debate as to whether or not the thirty days before Pesach begin on Purim or only the day after. The Chok Yaakov and the Be'eir Heitev both claim that one does begin on Purim, an idea with support from Sanhedrin 12b and Bechorot 58a (see Bach). Interestingly, the Pri Chadash resists joining with them and claims that one does not begin the Pesach season until after Purim. (Granted, Purim is of a lesser status and thus may not actually factor into this discussion, but it does provide some insight.)

Finally, one tidbit from the Chok Yaakov. He claims that the reading of Parashat Parah and of Parasha HaChodesh count as fulfillments of this commandment. Parah discusses ritual purity, which was required for any person who wanted to eat from the Paschal lamb, and HaChodesh details some of the laws of Pesach. As such, these readings, along with the various liturgies (yotzrot) recited by some congregations on these Shabbatot, serve as forms of involving oneself in the laws of Pesach already from almost thirty days before the holiday begins.


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