We are in the process of finalizing our shul’s plan for the Yamim Noraim. Because of social distancing, like most other shuls, we cannot have that many people in our main shul and, in addition to our outdoor minyanim, we will have two indoor minyanim in our main shul, one at around 7 or 7:15 am and one at around 10 am. The minyanim will be shorter than typical as we will begin davening at Nishmat and will cut out Mi She’bai’rach’s for layning and we may have to cut out some Piyutim to ensure that the first minyan finishes in time to clean the room before the second minyan begins.
There is talk all around the Orthodox community that we shouldn’t expect that this year’s Yamim Noraim will be like other years and we just have to accept it. We will not have hundreds of men and women gathered in one room davening and singing together in the hopes that our prayers will be accepted by Hashem. We may have to skip some of our most popular and powerful Piyutim about which we look forward to sing each and every year. Because we will have many more minyanim with less people in each minyan, we will have to spread people out into different minyanim with different baalei tefillah, many of whom are new to us. So perhaps our goal is to get through the Yamim Noraim. They won’t be great, they won’t be that meaningful, but we just have to get through them. But I think that we should think otherwise.
Remember Pesach. After the initial disappointment that many people weren’t going on a Pesach program or weren’t going to be with family, many people adjusted their expectations and truly had a meaningful Seder and a meaningful Pesach. For some people, this was their first Seder that they led, and they felt very empowered by the entire process. By being forced to lead the Seder, they had to prepare better and communicate their ideas and actually ended up understanding the Seder on a much deeper level this time. Indeed, even though many people would have rather not gone through a Pesach like this, they expressed to me that in some ways their Seder experience was enhanced and their emunah, their faith in God, is stronger as a result of their experience. Let me be clear, some people went through the motions because they missed their family and they were worried about sick family members and that is certainly okay. At the same time, many were able to make the Seder memorable in a very positive way.
We are a very resilient people. I think many of us have surprised ourselves with how we have been able to adapt and modify our expectations and grow as individuals during these trying times. So we can take the view that Rosh Hashana 5781 will not be the same and we will just go through the motions. Or we can take the view that we now find ourselves in what the Chayei Adam referred to as “ymei ratzon,” as days when we can appease Hashem in a most effective manner and we are approaching the period of “dirshu Hashem b’himatzo,” of seeking out God specifically now when He can be found, which begins on the 25th day of Elul according to the Ran. We can say that regardless of our surroundings, regardless of whether we must sign up for minyanim and must socially distance at shul or whether we must stay home and pray, we resolve to spend this month truly working on our relationship with God, on improving the intensity of our tefillot. We do not let this pandemic define us. Yes, we are nervous of what the Yamim Noraim will bring. But for many of us, all we need to do is draw on the strength that each one of us has shown that we already have.