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Issur Melacha (the prohibition to work) on Erev Pesach

Adar bet 5782 | March 2022

What happens in your house on Erev Pesach? Final touches on cleaning? Cooking? Setting the Seder table? Afternoon nap? Or perhaps preparing final activities for the Seder? Is the nature of the day resting from all the Pesach cleaning, or preparations for the evening Seder?

The Mishnah in Pesachim clearly implies that after midday, melacha should not be performed at all. Regarding the earlier part of the day, the Mishnah describes two customs: according to one, melacha should also be avoided on Erev Pesach until midday; according to another, melacha is permitted until midday. The Babylonian Talmud compares this custom to the prohibition of performing melacha on Erev Shabbat samuch le-mincha (from mid-afternoon) – but determines that Erev Pesach is more stringent, both from the perspective of timeframe (from midday, not mincha) and stringency (one who does not avoid melacha on Erev Shabbat is said to not be blessed in the fruit of his labor, whereas one who does melacha on Erev Pesach is excommunicated).

The concept of issur melacha in this context does not parallel the melachot that are prohibited on Shabbat; it refers to work that relates to conducting business and earning a living. Rishonim and Achronim imply that the issur melacha here is similar to the work prohibited on Chol Hamoed; therefore, that which is permitted on Chol Hamoed should also be permitted on Erev Pesach (according to Rav Ovadia Yosef, Erev Pesach is less stringent than Chol Hamoed).

Rishonim debated the reason for issur melacha, but agreed that this prohibition applies from midday on the 14th of Nisan. According to Rashi, the prohibition stems from the need to prepare for that evening: burning hametz (which is the reason for the opinion that melacha is prohibited from the morning), baking matza, dealing with the Pesach sacrifice, etc. Rashi viewed the 14th of Nisan as a day that ‘services’ the 15th, and therefore should be free of occupations or distractions other than preparations for the festival. Therefore, the issur melacha on Erev Pesach is comparable to that of Erev Shabbat – but is more stringent because there are more tasks to complete.

Following the Yerushalmi, Tosfot cite another reason. According to the Yerushalmi, melacha is prohibited on any day a sacrifice is offered – both for the one bringing the offering in practice, and for the one on whose behalf the sacrifice is offered. The issur melacha enables the owner of the sacrifice to participate in the act of offering by avoiding melacha and focusing on the sacrifice. Therefore, even if only one person brings the sacrifice on behalf of the group, anyone who wants to be included (in the case of the Pesach sacrifice – the entire nation) should avoid melacha. The Pesach sacrifice is not offered until after midday of the 14th of Nisan; but in this context, extending the issur melacha to the morning seems natural, since the nature of the day is sacrificial. According to Tosefot the prohibition is de-oreita in nature even today, despite the absence of a Pesach sacrifice. However, most Rishonim and Achronim adopted the position held by Rashi and the Babylonian Talmud, according to which the issur melacha relates to the preparations for the evening. In effect, this is a debate regarding the nature of the 14th of Nisan: is the essence of the day the Pesach Festival (חג הפסח) – a day of sacrificial offering, when the Pesach sacrifice is offered; or, is the essence ‘Erev Pesach’ – a day devoted to preparation for eating the Pesach sacrifice that evening, which includes offering the sacrifice among other preparatory activities. For most people, Rashi’s sense that the 14th of Nisan is a day of preparation strikes true. However, I do believe it is important to act in a manner that also reflects the Yerushalmi and Tosfot, and perceive Erev Pesach as a quasi-celebratory day with its own festive spirit. This can be achieved, among other things, by reading or reciting the laws and details of the Pesach sacrifice (which appear in the Temple Institute’s Hagadat ha-mikdash). May we merit to achieve the essence of the day according to both positions!

 

Rabbanit Dr. Adina Sternberg

has a B.A. in Bible from Hebrew University and a M.A. and Ph.D. in Talmud from Bar Ilan University. Adina studied in Midreshet Lindenbaum, Migdal Oz, Havruta and the Advanced Talmud Institute in Matan. She currently teaches Bible and Talmud at Matan, and Efrata and Orot colleges. Adina lives in Adam (Geva Binyamin) with her family.