Friday, October 2, 2009


[If you want a quick Yom Tov dvar torah, please go here for my YU/CJF Sukkot To Go article.]

Yom Kippur as a private citizen was wonderful for me, and a real change from Yom Kippur in the rabbinate.

The workload wasn’t all that different – I spoke after Kol Nidrei, leined in the morning, taught a class through the post-musaf break and leined maftir Yonah. But there were three major differences:
• I sat off to the side, out of the public eye;
• I didn’t need to think about Succot preparations;
• I wasn’t the one responsible to make sure davening ran smoothly.

That last one is the key; I was not responsible.

This shedding of responsibility has been the greatest change for me, during Yom Tov. I’m still getting used to it. We flew down to Atlanta, to my in-laws, yesterday, and Gd-willing we will be here through Simchat Torah. It’s very odd, being able to just go somewhere just before Yom Tov, not be responsible for the succah (shul or personal), or for arranging lulav/etrog distribution, or for shiurim and derashot and succah hops and hoshanos and minyan times and hakafos and all the rest.

To be frank, this irresponsibility feels very unJewish.

It feels unJewish because it takes away the Yom Tov preparations that would ordinarily force me into a Yom Tov frame of mind, reviewing halachos and thinking about davening and learning the classic passages of chumash and gemara that deal with the Yom Tov. תשבו כעין תדורו, לולב צריך איגוד, שמחת בית השואבה, תפלת גשם… all of these ordinarily inhabit my mind from the week before Rosh HaShanah, but now I’m rushing to catch up and I feel very unSuccosish.

And it also feels unJewish because I can’t shake the feeling that this is not the way a Jew is meant to live, in terms of communal responsibility and in terms of personal responsibility. It’s great to parachute in and just enjoy Tom Tov … but it’s not right.

A Jew is supposed to build a Succah.
A Jew is supposed to arrange Lulav and Etrog personally.
A Jew is supposed to cook and clean and do the laundry and get the home ready.
A Jew is supposed to volunteer for community responsibility.

So I feel somewhat unsettled, sitting here blogging and taking care of work on-line and preparing post-Yom Tov shiurim/programs instead of running around town inspecting succot and calling people to pick up their lulavim and worrying about whether the schach will stay down on my succah over yom tov and shopping for last-minute items.

Gd-willing, we are going to my family for Pesach, as our second part of this year’s Yom Tov Jaunt experiments. Maybe we’ll find a way to do that one differently, though, to enable me to feel more “a part of it.” More responsible.


  1. To be frank, this irresponsibility feels very unJewish.

    I don't think of you as being the paragon of irresponsibility.

    Seems to me that the trip helps with Shalom bayit and fits the old Kabed et eevecha, veh et eemecha responsibility too.

  2. Keep in mind that the level of responsibility in every sphere of Jewish life that you had in Allentown is atypical even among shul rabbis. In most communities, the mikvah is run by someone else, the eruv is run by someone else, the kashrus is run by someone else, and so on. Without knowing anything about Allentown or Sons of Israel, I wonder if having a larger shul and thus more baalei batim to do a lot of those things might have made the transition less drastic.

  3. Isn't it our responsibility to see to it that things get done, rather than necessarily doing them ourselves? Regarding the example of the succah, it has been my understanding that one's obligation is to live in the succah. We tend to build them ourselves since they generally do not assemble themselves. We have an obligation to have a clean house, clean clothing, etc., before Yom Tov. We clean our houses and clothing because they do not normally clean themselves.

    I suppose we really do have a personal obligation to volunteer for the community, but even there it is the results that count more so than the actions themselves. Is it better to visit someone who is sick or to make sure that his needs are taken care of if that means you cannot visit him? Is it better to arrange for two people to visit him if that means one will not be able to do so personally?

    Michael: There is a difference between having managerial responsibilities and handling things on one's own. Even in a small community you tend to have other people do the actual checking of the eruv, doing the hands-on kashrut work, etc. The tough questions still go to the Morah D'osrah. A larger community would have a larger eruv, more kosher establishments, etc., which means that unless the Rabbi is willing to let someone in the community pasken he still has to make the tough decisions, and of course make the time to make the tough decisions.

  4. Jack-
    It's definitely a wonderful trip, and I love my in-laws. The other piece of it is the problem.

    I hear.

    1) Even in making sure things "get done," there is a level of responsibility that does not exist when visiting someone who has already handled it.
    2) Re: Larger communities - I side with Michael on this. Larger communities have multiple shuls, with rare (any?) exception, and they have groups of Orthodox clergy who handle the larger eruv, vaad, etc as an aggregate.

  5. Adding to what R. Torczyner said, in a medium-sized community (such as Denver, where I am from) there are usually a group of baalei batim who run the eruv. If there are any complicated psakim, they might call one of the shul rabbis, but for most minor fixes it's the head of the eruv committee who gets called, not the rav.