I am feeling really down. We are in lockdown and can’t go to shule. I have never missed a High Holy Days in my life. It just isn’t the same at home. How can I do this with joy?
It is indeed a huge challenge we face. Our hearts are heavy with the thought that shules lie empty, devoid of the usual crowds flocking to pray together, silent of the sounds of communal singing, shofar blowing and children playing.
But there is a message of hope in all of this. I came across an incredible teaching from three hundred years ago, that can be read as a direct message to us today. It comes from the great soul doctor and healer of broken hearts, the Baal Shem Tov. Here are his words:
“If people would only know how good it is to spend Rosh Hashanah at home, the Rebbe would be left alone without even a minyan to pray with him. But it says in the book of Proverbs: ‘The king is glorified in a crowd of people’, so Chassidim put themselves aside and gather together, all for the sake of God’s glory.” (Siach Sarfei Kodesh 1:471)
This is astounding. The Baal Shem Tov is saying that the most powerful Rosh Hashanah would be one you celebrated in your own house. The only reason we make big public gatherings is to increase God’s glory. And so we should. When possible, we congregate in shule, not for our sake, for God’s sake. But don’t think you can’t have the holidays at home. In some ways, that is even higher than being with the Baal Shem Tov for yom tov.
It seems that this year, God is putting His own glory aside, to give you the experience of elevated Yamim Noraim at home. The energy that normally happens in shule is being transported to your place.
This may happen only once in a lifetime. Indeed we hope so, as we want to be back in shule very soon. But in the meantime, let’s get ready to bring down Divine blessings for the new year, into the very place where we need it most – our homes.
Note: You could argue that the Baal Shem Tov meant that people would be better off attending their local shule rather than travelling to the Rebbe. However, in his time, most Jews lived in rural areas, often without a minyan. They would travel to their Rebbe in town before Rosh Hashanah. The Baal Shem Tov seems to be addressing these Jews too. And the suggestion that the Rebbe mightn’t have a minyan implies that even those who lived near the Rebbe would stay home if they knew how powerful it is.