By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
In a recent article, a writer expressed the sentiments of many who had returned from a year of study in Israel. These individuals prefer to identify with the Jews in Israel, during which one day of Sukkot and one seder are observed.
I come from a strong Conservative background and have always observed a second day seder and a second day of Yom Tov.
I empathize, however, with the sentiments expressed in the article, as I have felt the same way myself in the past after returning from a two-year stint in Israel.
Why do we not just have the whole world be like Israel and observe one day holidays and one seder in the Diaspora?
— Nicole R.
You struck a nerve, especially as I wrote a book about this subject. It’s called “Yom Tov Sheini Kehilchaso,” and it discusses your question as well as the myriad halachic questions that arise when Israelis visit the Diaspora or vice-versa for the holidays and other related issues.
Though I fully appreciate the emotional attachment to Israel and the desire to observe its customs, a deeper appreciation of the second day of Yom Tov will reveal that the way to remain attached to, and to appreciate Israel is through the observance of a second day in the Diaspora, to punctuate the mundane state of the Diaspora vis-à-vis the holiness of Israel.
The Talmud addressed this question more than 1,500 years ago. The reason for the original decree of two days’ observance in the Diaspora was that those living a far distance from Jerusalem would not be able to find out when the High Court sanctified the new month to know which day was Pesach or Sukkot. Therefore two days needed to be observed to erase all doubt. If only they had e-mail!
The Talmud asks, once the calendar was established and all knew which day was the holiday, why still keep two days?
The Talmud answers that the rabbis enacted in those places distant from Jerusalem which had observed two days until that time, should continue that custom, lest a decree would be issued by the anti-Semitic Romans or other rulers to discontinue the use of Jewish calendars. If this would happen the Jews would again be in doubt as to the day of Yom Tov and potentially desecrate the day (Talmud, Beitzah 4b).
As with all rabbinical decrees, the Talmud offers the halachic justification, but seems to hide the deeper meaning behind the rabbis’ decrees. It is a fascinating study to delve into the deeper meanings of these decrees, as is revealed in the Zohar and other Kabbalistic sources.
In regards to second days of holidays, the inner meaning is based upon the more profound meanings. Besides celebrating an historical event, such as the Exodus from Egypt, the holidays are a time of profound spiritual connection to the Almighty. The Torah instructs the entire Jewish people to “make aliyah” to Jerusalem three times a year, on the three Festivals, to visit the Temple and receive the “countenance of God,” (Deut./Devarim 16:16).
Although we don’t have that opportunity today, we still mention this in the Musaf prayer, as the basic concept still applies. A holiday is a time during which God reveals an inner light which, if one is in tune with it, can illuminate our souls, uplifting and permeating our very being with joy and connection.
The Kabbalists explain that this “light” shines brightest in Israel, which is the land God chose for us to experience the greatest spiritual connection to the Almighty. Therefore, in merely one day of Yom Tov or holiday, a Jew can internalize all the illumination inherent in the day.
In the Diaspora, however, that light must go through all types of spiritual filters until it reaches us, and dims in comparison to the light shining in Israel. Therefore the Sages enacted two days of Yom Tov in the Diaspora, as it takes twice the time to receive that same spiritual connection. Anyone who has spent time in Israel and has tuned in to its spiritual side can attest to the special uplifting feeling and exuberance one feels during a Jewish holiday there.
To observe two days in the Diaspora is to recognize the special nature of Israel. The way to identify with Israel is to pray, both days, for the opportunity for us and all Jews to return to our Holy Land, speedily and with peace, and with that unique connection to the Almighty which only Israel can provide.
May you and all the readers have a joyous two-day Sukkot holiday, and may it be a peaceful and joyous holiday in Israel and for Jews throughout the world.
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.