Rabbi Nisan Andrews: Feeling connected during the festival

Rabbi Nisan Andrews

By Rabbi Nisan Andrews

(AJNews) – A few weeks ago, we read from Parshat Re’ eh. In that Parsha, we find the instruction to build a Temple and not establish multiple locations for sacrificial offerings. The Temple alone should be the place of this form of devotion, and we read:

“You, together with your households, shall feast there before the Lord your G-d, happy in all the undertakings (lit. all to which you put your hand) in which the Lord your G-d has blessed you.”

This turn of phrase is questionable; why would we celebrate specifically – ‘what you’ve done with your hands’?

I recently found in a book, the Kli Chemda, a classic Torah commentary by Rabbi Meir Dan Plotzky (1866 – 1928) of Poland, an attempt to answer this problem with a novel reading of this passuk.

The Kli Chemda quotes Maimonides from the Mishneh Torah in Hilchot Yom Tov, where the Rambam states that when we sit down to our Yom Tov meals, we should do so in the presence of family. However, we must not only invite close family but extended family as well. Additionally, we should welcome – ‘all people who are dependent on us’. In essence, we should open our homes to the needy, enabling them to participate in our festive meal.

Kli Chemda then asks, what would happen if, for some technical or practical reason, the needy cannot gain access to our homes?

Well, explains the Kli Chemda, we can answer this query based on a new reading of the aforementioned verse: “and you should rejoice in everything that your hands have sent.” This means to say that when one cannot invite guests, one should prepare food parcels and send them to those who depend on them.

I believe the implication of this comment is that even if we can’t meet up for a meal, we can still foster fellowship through other creative means. For instance, if we cannot send food packages, a New Year’s card might suffice. If you don’t feel like sending a letter, give an old friend you haven’t seen in a while a call.

The verse emphasizes the importance of feeling connected to experience absolute joy during the festival. It’s not just going through the motions, but truly feeling a sense of togetherness and community. The prolonged absence of community due to COVID-19 further highlights this need. Thankfully, this Rosh Hashanah provides an opportunity to eat, pray, and revel in each other’s company.

I wish everyone a sweet new year filled with growth and good health.

Rabbi Nisan Andrews is the Rabbi at House of Jacob Mikveh Israel, the Jewish Orthodox Congregation in Calgary.

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