We find ourselves, both here and in Eretz Yisroel, apprehensive about our fulfillment of the Torah and service to Hashem, and alarmed about our health and financial stability, in the face of challenges not faced for many years. We are faced with the dangers of technology and popular culture’s dilution of our values on the one hand, and the ever-present fear of COVID-19 on the other. Our young children’s schools are closed to a greater or lesser extent, our older children’s schools are operating under significant constraints, and attendance in our shuls is down – of the ones that are still even open. The future is uncertain – may Hashem rescue us from calamitous decrees!

It is quite possible that the troubles we are facing are measure for measure: It may be that because we have been deficient in honoring the Torah, its commandments, and those who learn it, and because we have been deficient in acting respectfully in our shuls, our places for Torah and prayer have been shuttered. And it may be, too, that because of strife between groups and conflict between individuals, we have been compelled to distance one from another, as well as to cover our mouths and faces with masks.

The Rambam writes (Hilchos Taanios 1:2-3):

This is a characteristic of Teshuvah: When a calamity occurs and people cry out and blow the shofar, everyone will recognize that it is because of their misdeeds that this has befallen them, as it is written, “Your sins have caused these to be withheld…” (Yirmiyahu 5:25). It is in this merit that the calamity will be removed.

If the people do not cry out and blow the shofar, and instead say, ‘This calamity is a natural one; this disaster happened to be,’ then this callousness causes them to continue their misdeeds and that calamity will be followed by others…

Therefore, in these upcoming days of mercy and grace – in which we “Seek Hashem while He is there,” (Yeshayahu 55:6) and in which prayer and Teshuvah are accepted readily, annulling calamitous decrees – we must examine our actions, repent, cry out, and blow shofar that Hashem, in His mercy, eliminate this suffering.

We suggest the following concrete steps which can bring us closer to these goals:

  1. Torah: To undertake to increase our set times for learning Torah, to better support those who learn Torah, and to raise our children in Torah and fear of Hashem.
  2. Respect for shul: To act respectfully inside shul by not speaking or acting frivolously. It is appropriate that each shul appoint members who remind congregants not to talk in shul, especially during davening.
  3. Davening: It is appropriate, under our present circumstances, to be especially mindful during prayer, and certainly to not change in any way the recitation of the traditional prayers and piyutim. (It goes without saying that the blowing of the shofar should not be changed in any way.) The Mishneh Berurah (581:3) notes the custom of increasing the recitation of Tehillim during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah. One should endeavor, at least, to recite ten chapters on Rosh Hashanah, and five chapters each morning (after Shacharis) each of the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah. Congregations might consider dividing the whole Tehillim each day amongst themselves.
  4. Tzedakah: It is appropriate to give “kofer nefesh” to charity for each member of one’s family, in the amount of at least $18.
  5. Conduct with others: To avoid conflict; it is appropriate that each shul and each person set times for learning the laws of lashon hara, the keeping of which deters conflict.
  6. Sanctity: If circumstances oblige one to use the internet or a smartphone – it should be only with a kosher filter.

We close with words of blessing: May this year and its ordeals end in the merit of our Teshuvah, prayer, and Tzedakah; may the new year and its blessings begin, and may we merit a year of uplift of Torah and prayer, a year of health and prosperity, a year of healing and imminent redemption for all Jews.

Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of America

Rabbi Aharon Dovid Goldberg
Rabbi Aharon Feldman
Rabbi Aharon Schechter
Rabbi Elya Brudny
Rabbi Aryeh Malkiel Kotler
Rabbi Dovid Feinstein
Rabbi Hillel David
Rabbi Yitzchok Sorotzkin
Chacham Yosef Harari-Raful
Rabbi Yosef Frankel
Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
Rabbi Yeruchim Olshin
Rabbi Shlomo Eliyahu Miller
Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky
Rabbi Shimon Yehuda Svei

[undated, before September 14, 2020