Monday, September 29, 2008
Rosh HaShanah Begins Mon. Night
The Jewish People begin nearly a month of holidays Monday evening: Two days of Rosh Hashanah, followed on Thursday by the Fast of Gedaliah. The fast commemorates the end of Jewish rule in the Land of Israel following the destruction of the First Holy Temple some 2,500 years ago. Two days later will be the Sabbath of Repentance, a central day in the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur (inclusive). This is the annual period in which Jews take upon themselves to correct their faults of the past year, and more carefully fulfill the Torah's commandments, vis-a-vis both G-d and fellow man.
Asked why such a reckoning is not done more often throughout the year, Rabbi Shmuel Tal, head of the Torat HaChaim yeshiva in Yad Binyamin, has explained [the following is paraphrased]:
"One who plans a long journey is advised to first climb a hilltop and take a comprehensive view of the route he plans to take. However, if he continually climbs hilltops to take such views, he will not be able to actually proceed on his hike! The same is true here: We are given an opportunity once a year to take stock of our lives and where we are going, but most of the time, we must actually be living - performing the commandments and trying to follow G-d's way as best we understand... This does not mean that a person should not review and note his deeds and misdeeds every day - but the 'big picture' must be examined once a year."
Five days after Yom Kippur (Thursday, Oct. 9), the holiday of Sukkot begins. In Israel, the holiday is seven days long - one day of a Sabbath-like holiday, followed by six days of Chol HaMoed, on which many every-day activities are permitted (except for on Sabbath). Immediately afterwards, on Tuesday, Oct. 21, is the one-day Sabbath-like holiday of Shmini Atzeret/Simchat Torah, known as the Rejoicing of the Law. Tuesday night will see post-holiday Hakafot Shniyot celebrations - a continuation of the day's singing and dancing in honor of the Torah - all around the country.
Outside Israel, the holidays are celebrated slightly differently. Sukkot begins with a two-day Sabbath-like holiday (Oct. 14-15), followed by five days of Chol HaMoed, on which many every-day activities are permitted (except for on Sabbath). Immediately afterwards, on Oct. 21-22, are two days of Sabbath-like holidays: Shmini Atzeret, and then Simchat Torah, known as the Rejoicing of the Law.
New Year Commemorations
As the Jewish New Year is not a time of great joy, but rather a time for careful stock-taking of one's relationship with G-d, the Rosh HaShanah prayers - longer, more melodious, and more intense and inspirational than on a normal Sabbath - concentrate on G-d's Kingship and His judgment of all creatures. Based on the commandment in Numbers 29:1, 100 shofar blasts are dramatically sounded throughout the prayers, "awakening" us to improve our ways. The Tashlikh prayer is recited on Tuesday afternoon, preferably by a live stream of water in which we ask G-d to "throw away" our sins.
Upon returning home, special foods are served, especially sweet ones for a sweet year, as well as fruits that require a special Shehecheyanu blessing in honor of their being eaten for the first time since the previous season. Pomegranates are often served for this purpose.
As many as 40,000 Jews of all stripes, mainly Breslover Hassidim, are already in Uman, in Ukraine, to spend the holiday at the gravesite synagogues of their spiritual leader, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, who passed away in Tishrei of 1810. Many say that their "Rosh HaShanah in Uman" is a life-changing experience, or at least provides them the spiritual replenishment they need for the coming year. Some rabbis, however, oppose the idea of leaving the Holy Land to spend holy days in the Diaspora.