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Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Getting through a 3-day Yom Tov

Rosh Hashanah 20

Today’s Life Yomi is dedicated by Ben & Eve Friedman in honour of their granddaughter Joey’s birthday.  Till 120 in good health!

Anyone who has experienced just one Shabbos can attest to the fact that the ‘gift of rest’ is incredible.  One day of the week we get to switch off the craziness of the world around us – no cellphones, no texting, no email, no Facebook and Twitter updates – one can finally breathe!

But isn’t it a little too much when we have a three-day Yom Tov?  There’s really no such thing as a three-day Yom Tov – the most a Yom Tov can be is two days.  But when Yom Tov starts or ends immediately after or before Shabbos, you get three holy days in a row, which is pretty heavy on even the most devout.  Somehow the novelty of unplugging wears off after a couple of days.

What are we doing wrong?

On Shabbos, we bless G-d “who sanctifies the Shabbos,” but on Yom Tov, we bless G-d “who sanctifies Israel and the festivals.”  The Talmud explains that whereas Shabbos is dependent upon the seven-day weekly cycle, Yom Tov is dependent on the High Court in Jerusalem’s determination as to the beginning of the new month.  Once they have announced the close of the old month and the start of the new month, the date of the festival is set.

When Ulla arrived from Israel, he told the Babylonians how lucky they were that the High Court in Israel had made a 30-day month of Elul.   
“They did you a real favour!” he exclaims.
“What favour?” they ask.
Ulla explains to them that the rabbis made an effort to set the calendar such that they wouldn’t have Shabbos and Yom Tov back to back.  This way, they’d be able to eat fresh vegetables.  Otherwise, sans refrigeration, they’d go bad after a couple of days.

Rabbi Acha the son of Chanina demurs:  “Actually,” he announces, “the rabbis are trying to avoid us having Shabbos and Yom Kippur back to back so that we don’t have any dead bodies lying around awaiting burial for a couple of days!”

The Talmud clarifies why Rabbi Acha doesn’t go with Ulla’s explanation – true, the vegetables might not last if you left them out for a couple of days.  But you could always refresh them by soaking them in warm water.

The complexity of celebrating Shabbos and Yom Tov back to back is not a new phenomenon.  The rabbis in Jerusalem were aware of the challenges and did their best to avoid placing us in a situation that people might resent.  Shabbos is meant to be pleasurable and Yom Tov is designed to be joyous.  We shouldn’t feel that they’re a burden.  So how do we keep them fresh for ourselves and our children?

Rabbi Acha tells us that we can keep our ‘little veges’ fresh by soaking them in warm water.  Don’t assume that they will keep themselves occupied for three days on their own.  You need to be creative to keep them excited and engaged. 

Shabbos and Yom Tov were given to us as a gift to carve out a space in time for our three pillars of personal spirituality, family and community.  Soak yourself in the warmth of Torah.  Make time to learn with your children.  Go out to the park and have a family picnic on Yom Tov.  Sing extra songs at the Shabbos table.  Prepare a topic for discussion at the table.

In today’s technological age, it’s an effort to get ourselves and our kids to switch off from the world and engage in what’s important one day each week.  It’s an even greater challenge to keep the momentum going for two or three days.  But with a little planning and creativity, you will wonder where the three days disappeared to; and together with your children, yearn for next Shabbos to roll around! 

Life Yomi dedications don’t cost a penny!  To dedicate a day of learning in honour of a birthday, anniversary or yortzeit, all you need to do is commit to sending the Life Yomi of the day (or another Life Yomi teaching of your choice) to 18 (chai) people!  You needn’t provide us with the names of recipients; all we need is the honouree’s name and occasion.  For more details, please email

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