Rosh Hashana in Lockdown – an Opportunity for Tikun
The absence of mass prayers and family meals are liable to cause sorrow, but it is our duty to make an effort and take advantage of the holiday for a tikun (correction) that will be a sign for the entire year * The large amount of extra time made available should be used to study Torah with the entire family, each one according to his interest and level * Because of the emotional distress and the different reality, this year, special emphasis should be placed on increasing joy and sensitivity to others during the two days of Rosh Hashanah
Celebrating Rosh Hashanah in lockdown is a great challenge. One can bemoan the loss of the beautiful and impressive prayers in the glorious synagogues with large gatherings and exceptional cantors. Instead, we will have to pray in makeshift minyans, in courtyards and on balconies, and even those privileged to pray in synagogues will be faced with synagogues divided by nylon partitions that detract from the beauty and dignity of the ‘mikdash me’at’ (the Temple in miniature), and hardly recognize other worshippers through the masks covering their mouths and noses.
Many families used to having holiday meals with extended family members, friends and neighbors will have to suffice with meals limited only to the company of nuclear family members, without grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandchildren. Throughout the year they look forward to the holidays, the opportunity to celebrate together; and behold, as the holiday arrives the restrictions are tightened, sorrow over the remoteness from beloved family members fills the heart, and sadness, liable to grow into depression, spreads.
Passing the Challenge – A Good Sign for the Whole Year
This is the challenge we are faced with: will we succeed, under the conditions of lockdown, to fulfill the mitzvot of the holiday properly? This challenge is especially important when it happens on Rosh Hashanah, because everything we do on Rosh Hashanah has an impact on the entire year. As our Sages said, “siman – milta he” (K’riytot 6a), i.e., symbols are meaningful, and if there are signs of blessing on Rosh Hashanah, this opens spiritual conduits of blessing for the whole year.
Accordingly, the Gemara (ibid.) recommended eating foods that have a good sign for the whole year at the Rosh Hashanah meal: karti (leek), so that “our enemies may be cut down (yikartu); rubya (black-eyed peas), so that “our merits may be plentiful (yirbu)”; tamar (dates), to signify that “our enemies and sins may come to an end (yitamu)”; selek (beet), “so that our enemies may be removed (yistalku)”; and dela’at (pumpkin), which symbolizes blessing, as it is large and fast-growing (SA 583:1).
The First challenge is Torah Study
The most important challenge is to study a lot of Torah on Rosh Hashanah, in order to open the year with a sign of blessing for all the Shabbatot and Chagim, that they be filled with Torah. As a result, the blessing of the Torah and its guidance will illuminate the working days, to add blessing to the life of every individual, and to the tikun of society and the world. As our Sages said in the Jerusalem Talmud about one who sleeps on Rosh Hashanah, his mazal (the angel charged with bringing him good fortune) will sleep all year, and the meaning is to be awake and study Torah for a good sign because, as the poskim have said, one who sits idle, even though he is awake, is considered asleep (M.B. 583:9).
Shabbatot and Chagim are intended for Torah study
In addition to the fact that the mitzvah of Talmud Torah is equivalent to all the mitzvot, and its reward is also equal to that of all the mitzvot, this is the purpose of the sacred days God has given us, namely, that we learn Torah on them. On all the weekdays we must work for the purposes of earning a living and the welfare of society; consequently, God fixed for us Shabbatot and Chagim in which we can stop working and engage in Torah. As our Sages said: “The Sabbaths and Holidays were given to Israel in order that they might study Torah” (Jerusalem Talmud, Shabbat 15:3). In practice, our Sages explained that the intention is to dedicate half of the day to Torah, and by doing so, the meals and rest are also considered absorbed with Torah, to the point where it can be said that in this way, “Shabbat is to be given over completely to Torah” (Tanna Debei Eliyahu Rabbah 1).
Their Holiness is Expressed in Torah Study
Moreover, the sanctity of the day should be reflected in the study of Torah, as our Sages learned from what is said about the holy days, that they are “holy to God,” and thus, half the day should be devoted to Torah study (Pesachim 68b; Beitza 15b). What’s more, the mitzvah of gaining pleasure (oneg) on Shabbat and Chagim is also fulfilled by Torah study, which is joyful, as it is said (Psalm 19: 9): “The precepts of the Lord are right, making the heart glad.” For this reason it is forbidden to study Torah on Tisha B’Av, and on days of mourning (Ta’anit 30a; Shaagat Aryeh 69). And one who has not yet succeeded to enjoy and rejoice in the study of Torah needs to make a cheshbon nefesh (an introspective reckoning) to find a way to learn Torah that will make him happy – perhaps he has chosen to study books that are less suitable for him, or maybe he is looking for external joy and quick gratification, and does not wait patiently for the deep pleasure and joy that gradually develops out of meaningful study.
Although ideally it is appropriate that part of the mitzvot of Torah study on Shabbat and Chagim be held in public this being the custom of Jews for generations, namely, to hold large drashot (sermons) and important classes on Shabbat and Chagim. And they were so fastidious about it, to the point where they forbade the study of the Prophets and Scriptures at a time intended for halakhic lessons (Shabbat 115a). And our Sages said that one of the reasons wealthy people become impoverished is because they do not participate in Torah lessons on Shabbat for blessing from study on Shabbat spreads to the six working days, and that there was a family in Jerusalem who set their meal at the same time of the drasha, and for this sin, became extinct (Gittin 38b).
Unfortunately in most communities – even without Corona – the status of Torah lessons on Shabbat has weakened – perhaps because care is not taken to devote their main thrust to practical halakha, as was the original directive. In any case, in the coming days of Rosh Hashanah, they should be for a blessing, the challenge that lies ahead for each of us is to study Torah diligently at home, in self-study, and in study with family members.
Advice for Studying at Home
In order to be able to study properly on Rosh Hashanah, it should be planned beforehand. Just as those who want to prepare joyful meals for the holiday need to plan what will be served at each meal for the first course, what will be served for the second course, and what for dessert, taking notice that each meal’s menu be slightly different so as not to bore the diners; and when there are diners with different tastes, two options are even prepared for some courses, so that each diner can choose the dish that suits him – so too, no less, the study on Chag should also be planned with interesting and varied topics, in halakha and Aggadah, in Tanakh and Talmud, so that before people get tired of one subject, they will be able to switch to another. Also, when there are younger and older children in the house, a tailored study for all ages should be prepared. Every family is different; consequently, each family has the responsibility to plan very carefully the study that suits it, with part of the study taking place together, and some taking place by each one individually.
We all know that when we face a serious challenge, we need to prepare for it – to think about all the details. And if one does not prepare, the chances of success are greatly reduced.
The Long-term Tikun
This matter of study at home seems to have been neglected. It would be fitting for rabbis and rebbetzins, fathers and mothers, to invest a great deal of thought on how to institute meaningful study at home, because the Torah is our life, and if we do not set aside the sacred days for study, we will not merit to receive its blessing. But if we succeed in organizing ourselves in meaningful Torah study, we will merit all the blessings of the Torah, both in our national and individual lives.
Obviously, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ method; rather, different suggestions should be raised so that each family, inspired by the different tips, can design the way that suits them at every stage.
Here is the opportunity to offer families who have managed to find a formula that suits them, to send them to the email firstname.lastname@example.org, and if suggestions are gathered that can benefit the public, with God’s help we will post them on the ‘Penieni Halakha’ Facebook page, and maybe publish some of them afterwards in this column.
The Joy of Chag
While Rosh Hashana is a yom teru’a (day of wailing) and a day of judgment, it is also a mikra kodesh (a sacred occasion), which we are commanded to sanctify through food and drink and honor with nice clothes (Sifra, Emor 12:4). Based on textual similarities in the Torah’s description of the various holidays, the Gemara concludes that the holidays share several features (Shevu’ot 10a), and just as there is a mitzvah to rejoice on the three pilgrimage festivals, so too, there is a mitzvah to rejoice on Rosh Hashana.
Thus, there is a mitzvah to serve two festive meals, one at night and one during the day, and joyfully consume meat and wine. However, Rishonim write that a person should not eat to satiety on Rosh Hashana, so that he does not come to act frivolously. Rather, he should stand in awe of God (SA 597:1). We see then that the meals on Rosh Hashana should be better and more joyful than those of Shabbat, but not as lavish as those of the pilgrimage festivals.
Seudah Shlishit (The Third Meal)
Since the first day of Rosh Hashanah is Shabbat, one must eat three meals. However, it is inappropriate to set seudah shlishit close to the end of the first day, because this third meal would be too close to the upcoming meal (supper of the second day). One option is to hold the second meal immediately after prayer, and even before four o’clock in the afternoon to hold a small meal for seudah shlishit. Second option, divide the big meal of Chag into two – in the first part, eat the first course, bless Birkat Hamazone, learn for about an hour, and then wash again and have the main course and dessert. The time of seudah shlishit is from half an hour after chatzot ha’yom onwards, i.e. after 13:15.
To Rejoice and Make Others Happy
The mitzvah of simcḥa (happiness) requires a man to include his entire family in his enjoyment, and to include the poor and despondent as well. This is not just a pious act, but is the simcḥa required by the Torah (Deuteronomy 16:14): “You shall rejoice in your festival with your son and daughter, your male and female slave, the Levite, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow in your communities” (Peninei Halakha: Moadim 1:11). This year we will not be able to entertain guests, and the challenge that lies ahead of us is to rejoice and make family members happy. To do so, each and every family member must overcome the bitterness resulting from the lockdown and maintain a good atmosphere especially during the meals – to avoid hurtful statements, and strive to delight those participating in the meal with words of friendship.
The challenge is great because often joy increases thanks to the large number of guests, and now, we all must be with the same relatives for many days to come. A sister might be tired of seeing her younger brother who annoys her, and he is tired of seeing her disgruntled face, angry that she is not allowed to meet her friends freely. It is a mitzvah for everyone to relax and overcome the tension and nervousness, and strive to imbue a pleasant atmosphere, volunteer to help wholeheartedly, and make each other happy with words of appreciation and compliments.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.