Towards a More Meaningful Holiday: The Dual Obligation of "Sho'alin Ve-doreshin"

  • Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon

Translated by Yoseif Bloch


            The gemara relates (Pesachim 6a-b):


We inquire about and investigate (sho'alin ve-doreshin) the laws of Pesach [beginning] thirty days prior.  Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says, "two weeks. What is the reasoning of the first view? Since Moshe stood up on Pesach and instructed concerning the Pesach Sheni [which occurs thirty days later], as it says: "The Israelites shall perform the paschal sacrifice in its set time" (Bemidbar 9:2) and then it says [introducing the concept of Pesach Sheni], "There were people who were impure by reason of a corpse" (Bemidbar 9:6)...


            The gemara derives from this halakha that one who "leaves with a caravan," i.e. within thirty days of Pesach must perform the search for chametz.  However, a competing source provides us with a similar but different law.  At the end of masekhet Megilla (32a), the gemara notes: "Moshe instituted for Yisrael that they study the laws of Pesach on Pesach, those of Atzeret (Shavuot) on Atzeret, and those of Chag (Sukkot) on Chag." The inevitable question arises: are we supposed to study the laws of each holiday a month before its advent, or rather specifically on the holiday itself?




The Ran to Pesachim 6 explains that the two gemarot are dealing with two different issues.  There is a halakha, certified by the Rambam (Hilkhot Talmud Torah 2:8), concerning two students who come simultaneously to ask their rabbi a question - whom must he answer first? "Two who ask, one on-topic and one off-topic, we deal [first] with the pertinent question." Accordingly, the Ran explains that the halakhic obligation to learn the laws of Pesach exists only on the holiday itself.  Our gemara in Pesachim comes to inform us that thirty days before a given holiday is the appropriate time to clarify all the holiday's various laws.  Therefore, one who inquires at that time is considered an "on-topic inquirer," and thus has precedence over the one asking about a tangential or unrelated issue.


The Ritva (Megilla 4a) provides support for this approach from the Yerushalmi (Pesachim 1:1), which notes that although we study Pesach's laws on Pesach, in a public forum, the study begins thirty days prior to the holiday.  In other words, on Pesach itself everyone learns the laws of the festival, while prior to that, inquirers would come to ask in the "public forum" (a study hall dedicated to practical halakhic questions).  The Ritva adds that he heard this from his master (presumably the Rashba, who in fact explains the discrepancy thus in his own commentary) who in turn heard it from "our great teacher," the Ramban.  The Me'iri (s.v. Ha-mefaresh, "Ha lamadta" ff.) understands this in a similar vein, as does the Maharam Chalawa. 


An additional application of this approach is brought in the Shulchan Arukh (Choshen Mishpat 346:13).  If the lender of a given object is, in any way, obliged to the borrower at the time of the loan, the object is considered to have the status of "be'alav imo," under the owner's supervision, and the borrower is no longer liable for any accident befalling the object.  The author of the Shulchan Arukh writes that normally students are considered to be obligated to their teacher, as the instructor may decide to teach whichever subject seems most intriguing at the time.  However, thirty days before the holiday, the teacher is obligated to the students, as they can compel their instructor (if they so desire) to deal only with festival related topics.  Therefore, if at that point they borrow an item from the teacher, it falls under the be'alav imo principle. 




The gemara (Megilla 4a) states that when Purim coincides with Shabbat, Megillat Ester is not read because of Rabba's decree (that seasonal mitzva-objects not be handled on Shabbat lest they be carried in a public domain).  Nevertheless, Purim-related topics should be discussed and studied on this Shabbat.  The gemara asks: what is taught by this statement? The law of studying each festival's laws on its day exists by all holidays; why should Purim be any different? The gemara replies that the innovation lies in the fact that we are not worried that studying topics regarding Megillat Ester will lead us to carry the scroll outside.


Tosafot (s.v. Mai Irya) explain by drawing a distinction between Purim and other festivals.  All others carry both an obligation to study their laws a month prior to the day, as we have seen in our gemara in Pesachim, and a requirement to study their laws on the day itself, as we have seen in masekhet Megilla.  Purim, by contrast, carries only the obligation on the day itself.  (It should be noted, however, that Purim itself still carries a dual obligation, as it marks the beginning of the month of Pesach-law study, since it always falls out exactly thirty days before Pesach.) Rav Achai Gaon (She'iltot Tzav 78) seems to imply likewise, as he states simply that there is an obligation to study thirty days before Pesach, suggesting an obligation unique to Pesach.  (We will return to this further on in relation to the Bi'ur Halakha's view.)




This approach is expanded by the Beit Yosef (OC 429), as well as by the Magen Avraham and the Machatzit Ha-shekel (ibid).  They distinguish between the different categories of required learning material: thirty days before the festival, there is an obligation to learn that holiday's practical laws, while on the day itself the underlying reasons are analyzed (as well as the laws applying to all festivals -- Beit Yosef), accompanied by a publicizing of the day's miracle (Magen Avraham).




The Bach (ibid.) provides a different answer.  According to him, the phrase (in Masekhet Megilla "the laws of Pesach 'be-Pesach'" does not mean "on Pesach," but rather "around Pesach." How far back is considered "around Pesach"? As the gemara in Pesachim explains, thirty days before, on Purim, the Pesach season of study begins.




The Beit Yosef adds one final answer, drawing a distinction between the laws of the paschal sacrifice and other laws.  The sacrifice has many halakhot, occupying half of the masekhet Pesachim, and it is appropriate to inspect the animal to make certain that it is free of blemish, etc.  This is to what the gemara in Pesachim refers when requiring a month-long preparation period.  Once this decree was instituted, the Beit Yosef writes, we maintain it even today, when the Pesach is not sacrificed.


The Opinion of the Rif


            The Rif quotes the gemara in Pesachim with one small alteration: "We inquire (sho'alin) about the laws of Pesach thirty days before it." His specific use of the term "sho'alin (inquire) while omitting "doreshin" (investigate), implies that he holds like I. Above.  Meaning our gemara deals with the pragmatic queries that individuals might have, and indeed, according to this view, this is the appropriate time for Pesach-related questions.  The Rashba (Megilla 4a, and 30a and Ritva (ibid) understand the concept in the same way.  They add that, conversely, the version in Megilla (according to their text) is "investigate (doreshin)," with no mention of "sho'alin" (inquiry). 


The Opinion of the Rambam


            The Rambam omits the law of "inquiry and investigation" thirty days before Pesach and thus clearly does not support approaches II, III, or IV.  He does however, mention other laws:


1)    The Rambam mentions the obligation of "the festival's laws on the festival" in Hilkhot Tefila (13:8).

2)    The Rambam cites the law of the two students, namely that the on-topic questioner has precedence (Hilkhot Talmud Torah 2:8).

3)    The Rambam rules that one who leaves town within thirty days of Pesach is obligated to inspect the house for chametz under any circumstances.  Apparently, the Rambam understands this law as having a much wider scope.


Rashba (Responsa 1:140) writes:


Thirty days before a festival one begins to gather and accumulate items for festival needs, but not earlier.  Thus, thirty days before a festival is already considered within the festival season, as we were taught, "We inquire about and investigate the laws of Pesach thirty days before Pesach"...  similarly as regards the chametz inspection...  and one who leaves with a caravan... 


In other words, all holiday preparations begin a month before the actual day.  The Me'iri (Avoda Zara 5b) writes similarly, that "it is appropriate to begin involving oneself in festival needs thirty days before the festival." Presumably, the source for this is the simple reading of our passage.  After all, the gemara derives from this law that one who leaves town within a month of Pesach must inspect his or her house for chametz, -- implying, that is, that Pesach preparations are to begin thirty days prior.  It would seem that all authorities agree to this principle, but argue concerning its application: Tosafot believe that this preparation implies an obligation to study, while the Ran feels that it merely redners this period appropriate for pragmatic inquiries, etc.


According to this, since the Rambam rules that thirty days before Pesach there is already an obligation to conduct a chametz-inspection (for one who leaves town even with no intention of returning during Pesach), he thereby demonstrates his opinion that this time is appropriate for Pesach preparations.  Indeed, the Rambam does not certify the obligation to study the laws of Pesach, and thus we may reasonably assume that he did not follow the approach of II.


By process of elimination, then, the Rambam seems to hold like I.  He rules that thirty days before Pesach begins "the Pesach season." If we add to this his rulings in Hilkhot Talmud Torah, that the on-topic inquirer must be addressed first, it therefore emerges that whoever asks within a month of Pesach concerning the holiday takes precedence, as he becomes an on-topic inquirer.


This may help explain an apparent difficulty within the Rema's ruling.  In Orach Chaim 429, he sees fit to juxtapose the "inquiry and investigation" law with the custom of "kimcha de-pischa," the communal appeal for the poor's Pesach needs.  What do these two halakhot have to do with one another?  Based on the above, we may posit that the Rema understands both issues as applications of a broader principle: all Pesach matters should begin concerning us thirty days prior to the festival.  Therefore, he writes that kimcha de-pischa should be a concern from this point (since one may leave and not return, etc.).  For an additional explanation of the Rema's ruling, see below.


A Proof to View I


      An interesting proof to approach I is brought by the Turei Even (author of the halakhic masterwork, "Sha'agat Aryei") in his comments at the end of masekhet Megilla: why does the Torah mention that Moshe taught the laws of Pesach Sheni thirty days prior, while concerning Pesach itself, it is written (in accordance with the dissenting opinion of Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel) that he began only on the first of the month? ("This month shall be for you..." [Shemot 12:2], stated on 1 Nissan, introduces the laws of the festival to be observed two weeks hence.)  Apparently, one must investigate the Pesach laws only when relevant questions are explicitly posited.  Therefore, since it was only regarding Pesach Sheni that a question was asked thirty days earlier (by those who had become ritually impure), only there did Moshe expend the effort to deal with its laws a month prior to the festival.


Tosafot, who follow approach II, would provide a simple answer (as they write on Pesachim 6b), mentioned by other commentators (even those who, like the Ran, follow approach I).  Moshe could have answered the question presented to him briefly and concisely.  The fact that he elaborated implies that he felt the need to teach them the laws themselves, even those about which no question was posed. 


(As an additional answer for view II, one may argue that it is impossible to bring a proof from the aforementioned verse, since it was stated before the giving of the Torah.)


The Halakhic Ruling


      The Shulchan Arukh (OC 429:1) writes: "We inquire about the Pesach laws thirty days prior to Pesach." The Bi'ur Halakha derives from this that the Shulchan Arukh holds like the opinion of the Ran and the Rashba, that there is no obligation to INVESTIGATE the Pesach laws at that point; only the INQUIRY element begins a month before. 


On the other hand, the Bi'ur Halakha cites the Ba'al Ha-itur, Or Zaru'a, and She'iltot, in whose words he sees implicit approach II.  They use the term "investigation" as well, implying that they see an obligation to delve into investigation, not just inquiry, a month before Pesach.


A New Explanation of the Shulchan Arukh


            On the one hand, the Shulchan Arukh does use the term "inquiry," seemingly corresponding to approach I.  On the other hand, he has already noted in Hilkhot Talmud Torah the precedence of the on-topic inquirer.  Therefore, if the only halakha thirty days before Pesach is the preference given to questions regarding Pesach, then the Shulchan Arukh should have omitted the law here (as the Rambam does).  The fact that he does not omit it implies that he wants to teach us something in addition to Pesach laws' being considered relevant, on topic issues


            It appears that the Shulchan Arukh here advocates a new approach.  There is no obligation to sit down and learn all of the Pesach laws, but one is required to ask about and clarify unresolved issues before the festival's arrival.  In other words, the Shulchan Arukh maintains that "we inquire."  Not only is a question about hilkhot Pesach considered an on-topic inquirer, but he is in fact obligated to ask.  (The Rif can be explained in the same way.)


            The Bi'ur Halakha considers the view of the Rashba and the Ran the minority opinion and therefore leans toward the obligation to study -- via both inquiry and investigation -- thirty days prior to the festival.  However, as we have seen, other Rishonim support their approach: the Meiri, the Ritva quoting "our great rabbi" (see above), and the Maharam Chalawa.  Furthermore, it is logical to assume that even the Rambam and the Rif, and perhaps even the Shulchan Arukh (as the Bi'ur Halakha explicates his approach), support this idea.


            The Bi'ur Halakha's halakhic decision is that one should begin studying the laws of the festival a month prior.  It seems appropriate to add a number of points to this ruling:


1)            Yeshiva students and the like, who are frequently asked regarding the laws of the festivals, certainly have an obligation to learn thirty days prior, according to all opinions.  If these thirty days are the time to inquire regarding the laws of the festival, then Yeshiva students must be able to provide answers!  (See also Kiddushin 30a, which requires that Torah matters must be "sharpened in your mouth, so that if anyone asks you something, you will not stammer, but rather reply immediately.")

2)            According to our explanation of the Shulchan Arukh, it is logical to assume that each person must clarify, before the festival comes, any point which he or she finds unclear.

3)            It is also logical to assume, especially in light of the above, that there is a distinction between the various holidays.  Indeed, the Beit Yosef writes, that only Pesach has the thirty-day requirement since it has many laws, but the other holidays, which do not have nearly as many laws, need not be studied too long before the holiday itself.


However, Rashi (Berakhot 30a, Sukka 9a, Bava Kama 113a, Sanhedrin 7a, and Bi'ur Ha-gra ad loc.), who seems to imply that Sukkot's laws, too should be studied thirty days prior.  (It is logical to assume that this extends only to Pesach and Sukkot, as the latter also has a wealth of laws compared to other holidays, including the laws of the four species, the laws of sukka construction, and the laws of sukka residence.)


We should also add that as regards Pesach and Sukkot, a person is more involved with dealing with the special objects of the holiday (sukka, the four species, chametz, matza) and thus has less free time prior to the holiday; consequently, the holiday study must begin even earlier.  Similarly, one must learn before these holidays in order to have the know-how to apply at the preparatory stages: what to look for when purchasing the four species, how to build a sukka, how to make a kitchen usable for Pesach, what level of cleanliness is expected, etc. Thus, Sukkot and Pesach may have a unique status in this respect.




The contradiction between the two gemarot (Pesachim 6a-b and Megilla 32a) can thus be resolved in the following ways:



Ran, Rashba, Ritva, Me'iri, Maharam Chalawa (explicit); Rambam, Rif, Shulchan Arukh (implicit in mention of "inquiry" only); Yerushalmi (implicit in "public forum" limitation):

THIRTY DAYS BEFORE: Appropriate to ask, considered on-topic inquirer.

Proof: Moshe did not teach about Pesach itself thirty days in advance, since he was not asked.  Application to ba'alav imo

ON THE HOLIDAY: Study even without questions.



THIRTY DAYS BEFORE: Study even without questions;

ON THE HOLIDAY: Review earlier material


Beit Yosef, Magen Avraham:

THIRTY DAYS BEFORE: Study laws of the holiday

ON THE HOLIDAY: Study philosophy of the holiday, publicize miracle


Beit Yosef:

THIRTY DAYS BEFORE: Study laws of the paschal sacrifice

ON THE HOLIDAY: Study other laws



THIRTY DAYS BEFORE: Study even without questions

ON THE HOLIDAY: "On"= Near, i.e.  thirty days before


Shulchan Arukh: (new explanation)

THIRTY DAYS BEFORE: Obligation to resolve halakhic questions and doubts

ON THE HOLIDAY: Study even without questions