January 2, 2022

Rosh Hashanah 19

The theme of much of today’s daf (Rosh Hashanah 19a) is the Jewish Calendar and the sanctity of the festivals, and it is here where various contrasts are drawn between the rabbinic festivals listed in ‘Megillat Ta’anit’ and the biblical festivals.
For example, we are taught in a Beraita that it is forbidden to fast on a rabbinic festival and on the day immediately preceding it, whereas though it is forbidden to fast on a biblical festival, it is permitted to fast on the day immediately preceding it.
But why is this so? Surely we should be equally – if not more – careful about maintaining the sanctity of the biblical festivals than the rabbinic ones?
The answer to this, which is repeated in different ways throughout the rabbinic literature, is that the Jewish people are naturally respectful and cautious towards the biblical festivals. Therefore, even if they fast on the day before a biblical festival, they will cease doing so before the onset of the festival.
In contrast, and especially given the fact that the Mishnaic period was when some of our rabbinic festivals were relatively new, there were those who paid less heed and showed less respect to the rabbinic festivals, which meant that some individuals who did fast – for whatever reason – on the day before a rabbinic festival would occasionally continue to do so even once the festival began.
Consequently, our sages felt that the sanctity of the rabbinic festivals needed strengthening and they therefore instituted stricter rules such as not fasting on the day before a rabbinic festival. As our Gemara explains, אין דברי תורה צריכין חיזוק – ‘the biblical festivals (lit. ‘the words of Torah’) do not need chizuk (strengthening)’ whereas דברי סופרים צריכין חיזוק – ‘the rabbinic festivals (lit. ‘the words of the scribes’) need chizuk’.
Today, a strong argument could be made that at least some of our rabbinic festivals are venerated far beyond some of our biblical festivals, and similarly, some relatively modern Jewish customs are given far greater respect and are observed with far greater care than numerous biblical laws.
And this is why it is our task, in every generation, to identify those aspects of Jewish living that – for whatever reason – require chizuk, and to do what we can to strengthen them.
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