These days when lifestyles are changing against our will, it is an opportunity to examine our habits and arrange life properly according to Torah principles * On these Sabbaths, when we are not praying in public, and are at home for long periods of time, it is proper to be more careful than usual to dedicate time to Torah study * For those who are unemployed these days, it is appropriate to study Torah even during weekdays, thus, utilize their time and even strengthen their spirit * There is no justification for canceling women going to the mikveh these days, as long as preparations are done at home – but cancelling minyans is justified and even preferable
The days of seclusion forced upon us are an opportunity for each one of us to clarify for ourselves, the truths we have become accustomed to by rote. Now that lifestyle is changing, habits are inadequate; we must return to the foundations of Torah and mitzvot, and organize and arrange life in accordance with them. At the same time, we can dispense of unnecessary and bad habits, and adopt better ones. For example, evaluating the state of our children and their studies, seeing they are praying and studying properly, supplementing school work, and finding new learning challenges that will inspire them. As a result, when the days of seclusion are over, we will be able to continue growing wonderfully. Shabbat is one of the important foundations we have an opportunity to strengthen.
Preparations for Shabbat
It is a mitzvah to prepare on Friday for Shabbat, so that we can properly honor and take delight in it (oneg Shabbat), as it is written: “But on the sixth day, they prepare what they have brought in” [Shemot 16:5] (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 2:2).
It is a mitzvah to honor Shabbat, as it is written: “Call Shabbat ‘delight,’ the Lord’s holy [day] ‘honored’” (Yeshayahu 58:13). Part of honoring Shabbat is making sure that one does not dress on Shabbat as he would during the week (Shabbat 113a). Some authorities write in the name of Arizal that it is best not to wear anything on Shabbat that one has worn during the week. One who is spending Shabbat alone, and all the more so when in the intimacy of family, should still dress up, no less than any other Shabbat, because the clothes are not meant to honor the people who see them, but to honor Shabbat (Peninei Halakha, ibid., 2:4).
One should try to eat lunch on Friday before midday, and when necessary, up until three hours before Shabbat, in order to arrive at the Shabbat evening meal with an appetite. At the same time, we can also discard the habit of eating cakes or other tasty foods before Shabbat enters, thus causing harm to the honor of Shabbat, and the oneg of the meals. Even if it is helps children to concentrate on prayer and does not impair the Shabbat meal, for adults it is a negative and harmful practice.
Festive Meals and Prayers on these Shabbatot
On these Shabbatot more than others, it is appropriate to delight in Shabbat with delicious meals, however, without over-eating. It is also fitting to embellish Shabbat by singing zemirot (Shabbat songs), to complement tunes we have missed from tefilah b’tzibbur (public prayers).
This Shabbat, it would be good for all members of the household who are able to pray together, and in the Shacharit prayer, to read the Parshat HaShavua (weekly Torah portion) together from a Chumash (Pentateuch).
Torah Study on Shabbat
It is a mitzvah to study a great deal of Torah on Shabbat. Our Sages stated: “Shabbat and Yom Tov were given solely to study Torah on them” (Yerushalmi Shabbat 15c). In practice, our Sages said that half of our waking hours on Shabbat should be devoted to Torah and prayer. Practically speaking, half of our waking hours comes to approximately nine hours, and precisely on this Shabbat when we are confined to our homes, we should be more meticulous about this, for the virtue of Torah from which life and blessing stems, exceeds all the mitzvoth and is the deepest cure for all ills. May it be God’s will that out of the strengthening of Torah study this Shabbat, individually and in the intimacy of family, we will be able afterwards to increase Torah study on all coming Shabbatot, for good and long years.
Torah Study for the Unemployed during the Seclusion
For all the unemployed, it is great and important mitzvah to set a meaningful amount of time to Torah study during the days of seclusion. Our Sages said that the mitzvah of Talmud Torah is the equivalent of all the commandments (Pe’ah 1:1), and it is a mitzvah for all Jews to learn Torah day and night, as it is written: “Keep this book of Torah always on your lips; meditate on it day and night” (Joshua 1: 8). Also, anyone able to engage in the study of the Torah but fails to do so, has despised the word of God (Sanhedrin 99a). However, during the weekdays, when busy making a livelihood, it is impossible to learn a great deal, nevertheless, one is obligated to set times for Torah day and night (Rambam, ibid. 1: 8; 3: 13). However, on days when one is free from work, such as Shabbatot and holidays, or when one is on pension leave, the mitzvah of Talmud Torah returns in full force. This is especially important for the unemployed, whose mental state is liable to deteriorate, and if they utilize these days to grow in the ‘Torah of Life’ instead of being depressed, their lives will be enhanced, and in the process, they will gain strength in their jobs, for the glory of the Nation and the Land. Even teenagers need to take advantage of the considerable amount of time now available for significant learning.
On the Yeshiva Har Bracha website, there is a study program in ‘Peninei Halakha’ with exams, which can help students.
Incidentally, I was asked by men who are first-born, and concerned they will not be able to participate in a siyyum of a tractate on Erev Pesach, and are unable to finish one on their own. They asked if it was possible to finish a book of ‘Peninei Halakha’ and make a siyyum on it, and I replied that they may do so, since this involves the joy of finishing Torah study (Peninei Halakha: Pesach 13: 5).
Mikveh for Women Should not be Canceled
Q: Is there room in this time of concern about the Corona epidemic to postpone the mikveh of a woman for her purification, because of the fear she will contract the virus while tovelling (immersing) in the mikveh?
A: As a general rule, it is a mitzvah to tovell as soon as possible and not to postpone the tevila, even for a day, because by means of tevila, the mitzvah of ‘simchat ona’ (the joy of marital sexual relations) is fulfilled, which is a great mitzvah from the Torah, and is the concise expression of the mitzvah ‘ve’ahavta l’reicha c’mocha’, (love your neighbor as yourself), of which Rabbi Akiva said, it is a great general rule of the Torah (Peninei Halakha: Simchat Ha’Bayit 1:1).
Women should not be concerned of danger as long as those responsible for public health at the Ministry of Health have not prohibited it. And although it seems there is a certain risk of Corona infection in tovelling in a mikveh, we are not talking about a danger in which such a great mitzvah should be cancelled. Specifically, we encounter dangers throughout our lives, but as long as the chances of them occurring are very low, they are not to be taken into consideration. For instance, we travel by car for outings and visiting friends, although there is a concern that an accident may occur. And we do not obligate each and every person going down stairs to firmly hold on to the railing lest he fall and get injured. And we do not prohibit close relatives from visiting patients in a hospital for fear the visitor will contract one of the diseases.
We do not know enough about the danger of the Corona virus, so when it comes to acts of ‘reshut‘ and ‘chol‘ (permitted and non-binding acts) one may be machmir (act stringently), but when it comes to such a great mitzvah, those responsible for public health, who, according to their current instructions, operate the mikveh’s for women’s tovelling – however, instructing women to complete all preparations at home, and simply tovel in the mikveh – should be relied upon. According to their rules, in this manner, there is no danger for women to tovel in a mikveh.
My wife inquired and checked, and it turned out that in these days in our community of Har Bracha, the number of women who tovelled did not decrease at all. This fact is very gratifying, for it is evidence of the dwelling of the Shechina in the homes of our wonderful, holy families, whose lives are full of love, joy, and peace.
Cancellation of Prayers in a Minyan
Some people asked: If mitzvot should not be cancelled when those responsible for public health do not prohibit it, why on Motzei Shabbat Parshat ‘Ki Tisa’ did I write that the mehadrin (those who embellish the mitzvah) should pray b’yachid (individually) and not in a minyan, and just two days later, I wrote that it is correct for all to do so – even though public health officials did not prohibit it?
There are two main reasons for this: First, the mitzvah of minyan is from Divrei Chachamim (rabbinical ordinance), and in times of need, or when it is difficult – one is exempt from praying in a minyan. This is not the case with tevilat nashim (women’s immersion in a mikveh) which is associated with the mitzvah of ‘simchat ona’, a great mitzvah from the Torah, by means of which, couples fulfill the mitzvah of ‘ve’ahavta l’reicha c’mocha’, and is equivalent to all the mitzvot.
Secondly, although the instructions of the public health authorities were that minyans could be held with some caution, nevertheless, in my estimation, since most minyans normally consist of various people, there was room to gauge these rules would be difficult to abide, and therefore I thought it was preferable to cancel minyans.
Thirdly, I feared Chilul Hashem (desecration of God), as I had previously written: “If today, God forbid, because of religious practices the virus is more widespread, it will be a Chilul Hashem, and we will have to undergo a serious reckoning – because God gave us the Torah so its light and guidance would add life and blessing to us, and not the other way around.”
Nevertheless, I did not write that it was forbidden to pray in a minyan, seeing as the value of liberty is important, and as long as it is not prohibited by the instructions of those responsible – it should not be prohibited. However, the gaba’im (sextons) can decide to close the synagogue, not as a halachic obligation, rather, as public representatives.
Q: Why do men’s mikvehs have to be closed, whereas women’s mikvehs are open?
A: There is no comparison between them, for two reasons. 1) Tevilat nashim is a great mitzvah from the Torah, whereas the minhag of tevila for men is not even a mitzvah of Divrei Chachamim, but a Minhag Hassidut which the majority of observant Jews do not practice. 2) Women’s mikvehs are much cleaner than men’s mikvehs, both because women need to prepare for going to the mikveh beforehand, and also because in communities where men tovel, the number of men doing so, is one hundred times the number of women, consequently it is obvious that the difficulty in maintaining the rules of hygiene in the men’s mikveh is one hundred times that of the women’s mikveh.
An Additional Question
Q: Our Sages said (Ta’anit 11a): “A man may not have marital relations during years of famine.” This is also codified in the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 240:12). Perhaps these tense times can also be considered ‘years of famine’?
A: The meaning of ‘years of famine’ is a time when people die of starvation, and even those left alive suffer from hunger, and for that reason, one must not separate himself from the public and rejoice. At this time, however, we are only wary of an epidemic that may spread, but Baruch Hashem, the number of dead has not exceed the usual in the past (see, Peninei Halakha: Simchat HaBayit 2:14). Moreover, maintaining one’s health also depends on the joy of life, and therefore, as long as it is not a truly difficult time, it is a mitzvah to fulfill all the mitzvot of joy b’hidur. Let alone someone not working, for whom the joy of the mitzvah these days is greater (see, Peninei Halakha: Simchat HaBayit 2:7).
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.