Nechemiah’s advice to a chastened nation seems strange. “Today is holy to Hashem….Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks. Send portions to those who have nothing prepared….Do not be sad. The enjoyment of Hashem is your strength!” Nechemiah’s audience, no paragons of virtue, had good reason to cry any day of the year. They had many misdeeds that they needed to acknowledge. All the more so on Rosh Hashanah, when they accepted their guilt, and understood that they were standing before G-d Who was judging them at that moment. We would think that crying would have been both cathartic and beneficial to their repentance.
Moreover, the Ari z”l measured the sensitivity of our souls by our ability to cry. He looked down upon any person who could pass through an entire Yomim Norarim period without shedding a tear. Why would Nechemiah suppress the tears of his people, and even urge them to eat celebratory meals?
The Yerushalmi turns Nechemiah’s speech into policy for all time. “Ordinarily, a person awaiting judgment sits as if in mourning. Yisrael does not do that. They dress in finery, eat and drink, secure in the knowledge that Hashem will perform the miraculous for them.” Is not Rosh Hashanah supposed to be a time of awe, in which we see ourselves submitting to the judgment of Heaven? How can we expect a miracle, when we understand how vulnerable we are because of our sins?