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A Mitzvah To Call

This article was written for A Mitzvah to Eat. Find out more at www.amitzvahtoeat.org, or on Facebook and Instagram.

This year, I’ve been trying very hard to be consistent and count the Omer with a blessing every single day. I even invested in one of those sometimes pesky yet helpful Omer Counter apps that alerts me to count and asks me to be honest-‘Did you count that day?’ My focus, admittedly, is getting to Lag B’Omer, the 33rd day of the Omer that for many will end the mourning like customs that many Jews follow up until then. But counting is really meant to get you all the way to the holiday of Shavuot, where we now mark the anniversary of the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai.

Perusing the calendar, however, my heart stopped when I saw that Shavuot will be a three day Yom Tov outside of Israel – Shabbat then followed by two days of Yom Tov. Even regular Shabbat and Holiday observers who are accustomed to unplugging for those days, like myself, experience a degree of discomfort with such a long period of rest. In my family, we joke that we’re feeling, especially on the third day, the ‘Yom Tov hee-bee-gee-bees’ echoed in the meme “The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Yom Tov.”

But cute parodies and nicknames aside, for those struggling to disconnect from the outside world to observe Shabbat—which happens for only one day, once a week — this year’s calendar draw has the potential to not only overwhelm but cause real damage and harm.

We are commanded to be joyful on our holidays, Shavuot included, as we see in Devarim 16:11:
וְשָׂמַחְתָּ֞ לִפְנֵ֣י ׀ ה׳ אֱלֹקיךָ אַתָּ֨ה וּבִנְךָ֣ וּבִתֶּ֘ךָ֮ וְעַבְדְּךָ֣ וַאֲמָתֶ֒ךָ֒ וְהַלֵּוִי֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר בִּשְׁעָרֶ֔יךָ וְהַגֵּ֛ר וְהַיָּת֥וֹם וְהָאַלְמָנָ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר בְּקִרְבֶּ֑ךָ בַּמָּק֗וֹם אֲשֶׁ֤ר יִבְחַר֙ ה׳ אֱלֹקיךָ לְשַׁכֵּ֥ן שְׁמ֖וֹ שָֽׁם׃
You shall rejoice before the LORD your G-dֿ with your son and daughter, your male and female slave, the [family of the] Levite in your communities, and the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow in your midst, at the place where the LORD your G-d will choose to establish the divine name.

This directive is not only one of rejoicing but also of inclusion. We are commanded to rejoice with all people in the community, no matter their station in life. To truly feel that happiness, the mitzvah presumes the capacity for that joy in all participants. Preparing for the holiday of Shavuot itself, including the very counting up towards the date, might be enough to set oneself up for an enjoyable time. But for those who struggle with forced celebrations that require being happy, and/or who need supports that are not normally part of their community’s Shabbat or Yom Tov observance, this year’s Shavuot (Feast of Weeks), has the potential for something decidedly not joyful or inclusive.

It’s important to teach both those who struggle and our communities in general that no holiday or observance requires and elevates abject suffering. Even on Yom Kippur when we are commanded to ‘afflict our souls’, it is for the purpose of having us focus on repentance, teshuvah. Additionally, the affliction of Yom Kippur, such as the mitzvah to fast, is only for those who are not harmed by it. Suffering for suffering’s sake is never prescribed. So when it is potentially harmful to stay disconnected from sources of support not normally part of one’s community’s observance, we must compassionately make those important supports available.

When considering whether to make a call or make use of another support on Shabbat or Yom Tov, you might have questions or concerns like these: ”Maybe I don’t really need it? Maybe I can try to make it a little bit longer?” Our Jewish tradition has answers to these questions – it demands that we err on the side of protecting life/health and reducing suffering. Feeling like you are in distress and knowing that a call would be helpful is enough of a reason to do it. Notably, this applies to a regular Shabbat and any Yom Tov, not just Shavuot. But in planning to make use of supports that protect you from harm and reduce your suffering, you might find that doing what is needed enables you to feel more of the spirit of participation and happiness that Shavuot embodies.

If you need help and support, you are welcome to call anyone who might be supportive. We suggest making a plan ahead of the three day Yom Tov so that the person you would like to call has a chance to leave their phone on. We also want to uplift the WhatsApp peer support line run by ZA’AKAH, at 888-492-2524, specifically geared for those in distress on Shabbat or Yom Tov (description taken with permission from ZA’AKAH’s website). This peer support hotline, staffed by a rotation of volunteers, is available internationally at all hours of Shabbos and Yom Tov to provide support to those who feel they need it. Please note that they are not a crisis line.

We would also like to share these crisis resources for the United States from ZA’AKAH:
Emergency: 911
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-4673
Text Crisis Text Line: text HOME to 741741.

We are thankful to Instagram account @fromrockbottom_up, which provides suicide awareness education in the Jewish community, for providing us with these international crisis lines. We have verified all of them.

Australia
Text: 0477 13 11 14
Phone: 13 11 14
https://www.lifeline.org.au/

Canada
Text: 45645 (4 pm – midnight)
Phone: 1 833 456 4566 (24/7)

Crisis Services Canada

UK:
National Suicide Helpline: Tel: 0800 689 5652
https://www.spuk.org.uk/
Samaritans UK & Ireland: 116 123
Text SHOUT to 85258
https://www.crisistextline.uk/

Israel
Phone: 1201

ERAN

On Shavuot, as well as Shabbat and other Holidays, may we strengthen and support ourselves and each other so that we can participate and celebrate without suffering and harm.

About the Author
Rabbi Marianne Novak recently received Semikha from Yeshivat Maharat. She lives in Skokie, IL with her husband Noam Stadlan. She is an educator for the Melton Adult Education Program and a Gabbait for the Skokie Women's Tefillah Group. She recently joined the Judaic studies faculty at Akiba-Schechter Jewish Day School in Chicago, IL.
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