The holiday of Shavuot will be celebrated, G-d willing, at the conclusion of the period of the counting of the Omer this coming Friday (beginning from Thursday night), the 6th of Sivan (and outside of Israel on Shabbat, the 7th of Sivan as well). Let us, therefore, begin to discuss some of the pertinent laws of Yom Tov (which apply to the holidays of Pesach, Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot as well).
The Torah states (Shemot 12) regarding the various holidays, i.e. the first day of Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, the first and last days of Pesach, and the holiday of Shavuot: “No work shall be performed on them; however, any (work necessary for) food preparation eaten by all, this alone may be performed by you.” This means that any work which is forbidden on Shabbat is also forbidden on Yom Tov, besides for work needed to prepare food which is permissible on Yom Tov.
Some works pertaining to the Yom Tov food preparation which the Torah allows on the holiday itself include cooking, frying, baking, and the like.
Cessation of Work on Holiday
The Sefer Ha’Chinuch explains that the reason the Torah forbade performing work on holidays is in order for the Jewish nation to remember the great miracles that Hashem performed for them and their ancestors and to pass this message on to their children. If work was permissible on these days, the honor of the festival and joy of the holiday would be forgotten because everyone would be busy at work; thus, due to the prohibition of working on the holidays, the Jewish people will be free to gather in synagogues and Batei Midrash to hear words of Torah and wisdom from luminaries of the generation who expound Halacha and stories of the Torah. This is based on the teaching of our Sages, “Moshe instituted that the Jewish nation expound the laws of Pesach on Pesach, the laws of Shavuot on Shavuot, and the laws of Sukkot on Sukkot, as the verse states, ‘And Moshe spoke out the festivals of Hashem to the Children of Israel.’” Similarly, our Sages taught, “Shabbat and holidays were only given to the Jewish nation so that they may delve in Torah study.” We were therefore commanded to have a complete cessation of work, excluding work needed for food preparation (for instance, preparing a dish for a holiday meal, according to the conditions and procedures we shall lay out in following Halachot). Similarly, our Sages have taught, “There is no distinction between Shabbat and Yom Tov besides for [the prohibition of] food preparation.”
Half for Hashem and Half for You
Nevertheless, one should divide the hours of the holiday with half being spent in the synagogue and Bet Midrash and half being spent eating, drinking, and enjoying the holiday.
This year (5780), unfortunately, as a result of the global Coronavirus pandemic, holding prayer and Torah study services in synagogues may prove difficult in many regions around the world. Nevertheless, there are many people who wish to stay awake all night and study Torah at home. We must point out though that most people will not be able to remain awake all night in this manner and will fall asleep at some point or another during the night and later wake up to recite Keri’at Shema and pray with a Minyan (where legal and appropriate). One should be proactive in setting an alarm clock or by going to sleep fairly earlier so that one does not pray Shacharit on Shavuot, one of the most precious of the year, at too late an hour. Making sure to recite Keri’at Shema and the Amida prayer before their respective last times to do so is a holy obligation prescribed by Halacha, especially on the day we celebrate the giving of the Torah, while staying up all night learning on Shavuot is merely a righteous custom. One should therefore use discretion and give priority to what is most necessary.
The custom to adorn the synagogue with flowers and greenery on Shavuot applies to anywhere where prayers are being held, even if it is not a synagogue.
In the next Halacha we shall, G-d-willing, discuss which works may not be performed on Yom Tov although they are associated with foods preparation.