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Going on Vacation during Challenging Times

הרב שי טחןד שבט, תשפד14/01/2024

Going on Vacation during Challenging Times: Navigating the ethical considerations and communal responsibilities

During the winter break season, many families choose to go on vacations to rejuvenate after a year of stress. While it is undoubtedly a joyous time that should be enjoyed, the question arises: is it permitted to go on vacation at a time when our brothers and sisters
in Israel are at war, many are still in captivity, and all Jews face serious threats from anti-Semitic propaganda and attacks?
The Gemara states (תענית יא,א): "When the Jewish people are immersed in distress, and an individual separates himself from the community, refusing to share in their suffering, the two angels accompanying him place their hands on his head, treating him as if he were an offering, and declare: 'This man who has distanced himself from the community, let him not witness the consolation of the community.'"
The Gemara continues: "When the community is engulfed in suffering, an individual may not say, 'I will go to my home, eat and drink, and may peace be upon my soul.' If one does so, the pasuk (ישעיה 22:13): 'And behold joy and gladness, slaying beef and killing sheep, eating flesh and drinking wine; let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die.' applies to him. The prophecy continues with the consequence in the next pasuk: 'Surely this iniquity shall not be atoned by you until you die' (ישעיה 22:14)."
Then the Beraita emphasizes that instead, a person should share in the distress of the community, exemplified by Moshe Rabenu during the war with Amalek, as described )in שמות 17:12(: "But Moshe’s hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat upon it." The Beraita explains that Moshe, despite having a pillow or cushion, chose to sit on a rock, expressing his solidarity with the suffering Jewish people. The Baraita concludes: "Anyone who is distressed together with the community will merit seeing the consolation of the community."
In Pirkei Avot (פרק ב משנה ד), we learn: Hillel said, "Do not separate yourself from the community," emphasizing the importance of joining the community in times of suffering (פירוש רבי עובדיה מברטנורא).
The Shulchan Aruch (סימן תקעד ס״ה)also underscores this principle, stating the same. However, commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch (משנה ברורה ס״ק יג, כף החיים ס״ק טז) appear to interpret this differently, suggesting that a person must join the community specifically in activities that benefit the community, such as prayer, fasting, or charitable giving, while otherwise, there may not be an obligation to do so.
However, because refraining from joyous activities during this time is not a prohibition but rather a recommended conduct, if an individual feels a significant need to temporarily leave the stress of the city for a few days for the sake of mental health, it is permissible.

Summary: While it's not forbidden to go on vacation, it is advisable to refrain from joyous activities during this time and instead empathize with the pain of Klal Israel. However, if an individual is genuinely stressed and in need of distressing, going on a vacation for that purpose is fine as this is not a strict prohibition.
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