What to do with all the time we’re NOT going to be davening in shul these High Holidays
Due to Corona, strict restrictions were introduced regarding the number of people allowed to congregate indoors. This will of course directly influence the davening in shul this year on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The result is that we will be left with many more non-shul hours than we are used to and we’ll have to reshape these upcoming High Holidays. But how should we go about it?
I would like to take the advice of Rav Steinsaltz zt”l who recently passed away. A few years ago, a friend’s husband consulted with Rav Steinsaltz about what he should strengthen and focus on in his Avodat Hashem. He did not have the time and energy to invest in learning, as he would have wished, and he felt he had to find another route to engage himself seriously with other mitzvot. Rav Steinsaltz weighed the issue at hand and answered:
The Mishnah Avot 1:2 teaches: “Shimon the Righteous was one of the last of the men of the great assembly. He used to say: the world stands upon three things: the Torah, the Temple service, and the practice of acts of piety”.
We see that there are three pillars in our service of G-d but that doesn’t mean that as individuals we have to uphold all three at the same time. We are serving G-d as a community, as klal Yisrael. Each one of us has their own שליחות (mission) upholding these pillars and during the course of our life, there are times when we emphasize one characteristic of our worship and service of G-d over another. Some periods in our life may be dedicated to many hours of learning, others to focusing on davening (prayer replaced the Temple service mentioned in the Mishnah) and there are times when we are called on as individuals and collectively to take particular care of members of the community – Gemilut Chassadim. Rav Steinsaltz’s advice was to think through which pillar out of the three was the right one to focus on and strengthen at a given point in time.
So too this year, we are called on to rethink the nature and characteristics of our Yamim Noraim. Presently, we are denied the long hours of davening together in shul. There are many members in each and every community that are instructed to stay home and not endanger themselves or others by coming to shul. This is our opportunity to engage with them, in a safe and secure way, wish them a happy new year and try to alleviate the loneliness so many are and will be experiencing. We can offer help to mothers with young children, who will be unable to attend shul at all since davening will be shortened or where there is only one minyan at Vatikin. There is still time to go over the list of members of the community that will need to receive meals or hear Shofar blowing at home. We have the time and opportunity to focus on the above and on the particular needs of each community.
Let’s use this year to refresh our thoughts and actions and uphold the pillars of our High Holidays in a different but much needed way. We haven’t lost anything, in fact we have gained a golden opportunity.