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Belaboring The Point
“Since It Is Permitted Where Necessary,
It Is Permitted Even Where Not Necessary ”
(Bezah 12a)



The Torah states in regard to Yom Tov, “No labor may be done on them, save for that which is necessary for every person to eat,” (Shemos 12:16) implying that only melachos necessary for the preparation of foods – meleches ochel nefesh – are permitted. Nonetheless, our Sages received a tradition that the melachos generally necessary for preparing foods may be performed even when not for the sake of food preparation. For example, it is often necessary to carry through reshus harabim, the public domain, to bring food home. One may also carry other things, such as a child, lulav or Sefer Torah, even though these things are not necessary for ochel nefesh (Mechaber, Orach Chayim 518:1, Mishna Berurah s.k. 1). The Gemara explains this leniency with the enigmatic expression: “Since they were permitted for the sake of ochel nefesh, they were permitted even if not for the sake of ochel nefesh.” What is the meaning of this explanation? Why is permission extended to allow even melachos not necessary for ochel nefesh?


Compare To Metzora?

We find a similar leniency in Yevamos 7b: “Since it was permitted [overriding one prohibition], it was permitted [overriding other prohibitions as well].” There, the Gemara explains that a person who is ritually impure may not enter the Beis HaMikdash. A person afflicted with the impurity of tzaraas, however, must stretch his hands and feet into the Beis HaMikdash, in order to receive the treatment necessary to purify him. The Torah therefore permits him to do so. The Gemara then adds that if a metzora also had a different form of impurity, for example if he was also a zav, he may still extend his hands and feet into the Beis HaMikdash. Since his purification process overrides the prohibition against a metzora entering the Beis HaMikdash, it also overrides the prohibition against a zav entering.


A Matter Of Compelling Need

On closer examination, we find that the leniency discussed in our sugya is entirely unrelated to the leniency discussed there (although the Imrei Moshe does compare them, see Maleches Yom Tov, ch. 5). There, the metzora must extend his hands and feet into the Beis HaMikdash to receive his treatment. This obligation overrides any possible halachic objection. Although he is also a zav, he must still receive treatment, and therefore it is necessary to override the prohibition against letting a zav enter the Beis HaMikdash. That is to say the reason we allowed an ordinary metzora to enter applies equally to a metzora who is also a zav. In our case this is not so. The reason the Torah allows carrying on Yom Tov is in order to enable us to prepare food. This reason does not apply to carrying a child, lulav or Sefer Torah. Why then is it permitted to carry these things?


Laborious Work

The Ramban in his commentary on the Torah (Vayikra 23:7), notes that the posuk forbidding labor on Shabbos uses the expression, “On the seventh day… you may not perform any servile labor (melaches avodah)” (Vayikra 23:3). However, the posuk forbidding work on Yom Tov uses a slightly different expression, “You may not do any laborious work (meleches avodah)” (Ibid, 23:7).

He explains that the melachos necessary for ochel nefesh are not “laborious work.” Laborious work that is forbidden on Yom Tov includes planting, harvesting, digging and the like. According to this explanation, preparing food is not the reason why the Torah permitted cooking, carrying, and the like. Rather, the melachos involved in preparing food are deemed non-laborious work, which is permitted for any purpose (see Chasam Sofer on our sugya; Minchas Asher, Shemos 19).

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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.