Judaism: Rosh Hashana Thoughts and Facts
Rabbi Dr Raymond AppleRabbi Dr Raymond Apple AO RFD is Emeritus Rabbi of the Great Synagogue, Sydney. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem, where he publishes OzTorah, a weekly email list and website with Torah insights from an Australian perspective.
Rosh Hashanah appeals to countless people who find their way back from the Jewish periphery, even if only for a few days. It’s characteristic of Jewish history to have estrangement and rediscovery. It is part of the drama of the covenant between God and Israel, with times of closeness and times of distance.
In Shir Hashirim, read six months ago on Pesach as well as regularly on Friday nights in some communities, the story is played out in miniature. Its two main characters, the boy and the girl, constantly seek one another, sometimes coming close, sometimes separated, never ceasing to dream of being together for good.
In Biblical language, Israel says to God, Hashivenu Hashem Elecha, "Bring us back to You”, and God replies, “Return to Me, and I will return to You”.
A. To ensure that there is a total of a hundred shofar notes. A well-known explanation links the number 100 with the lament of the mother of Sisera (Judges 5:28).
10 is one of the chief numbers in the Bible, and of course 100 is 10 times ten, so a hundred notes give the impression of completeness. Along similar lines the sages say that a person should say 100 blessings every day.
In relation to the shofar we should bear in mind that it is our call to God and also God’s call to us. We ask God to hear our voice – but at the same time God asks us to hear His voice.
This idea is reinforced by the partnership between the Pentateuch, Chumash, and the Book of Psalms. The five books of the Chumash are His five-fold call to us; the five sections of Psalms, Tehillim, are our five-fold response.
A. Tashlich is the symbolic casting off of sins in a body of water.
Some rabbis strenuously objected to the practice on the basis that it deflects you from the spiritual tasks of penitence, prayer and charity. Others disliked the symbolism of transferring your sins elsewhere without necessarily showing that you repent for your misdeeds and are determined not to do them again.
In favour of the practice it should be recognised that “casting off one’s sins”, based on a verse about God casting our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19), is metaphorical, a poetic way of saying, “I regret my sins so profoundly that I pray that God may remove any trace of them so that I may begin the new year with a clear conscience”.
A similar thing could be said about the section of the Yom Kippur Musaf liturgy that describes the removal of human sins by means of the scapegoat that was sent into the wilderness.
Q. Why do we repeat the word L’eyla in Kaddish between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?
A. This is the rule in the Kitzur Shulkhan Aruch 129:1: “In each Kaddish said from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, the word l’eyla (‘He is high’) is repeated thus: L’eyla l’eyla, ‘He is very high’ (without adding a vav – ‘and’ - to make the second word ul’eyla). Since the Kaddish contains 28 words, and during the year we say min kol – ‘above (all blessings)’ in two words, now we contract them into one word, mikkol”.
There are a number of questions to be raised regarding the double l’eyla:
* What is the purpose of the doubling?
* What has 28 to do with Kaddish?
The practice probably dates from the 15th century and Karo, the compiler of the Shulkhan Arukh does not refer to it in Orach Chayyim 582. The Magen Avraham (note 4) ascribes it to minhagim, but some rites never double the word; others do so throughout the year. Arguing for keeping the doubling to the Yamim Nora’im, the L’vush suggests that at this time of the year all God’s creatures appear before Him as sheep before a shepherd, and they look up to Him for His blessing.
Should we add a vav (“and”) before the second l’eyla? It probably makes no real difference, though the Biblical source of the phrase in Ezek. 41:7 and Deut. 28:43 makes omitting the vav linguistically preferable.
What is the connection of 28 (the numerical value of ko’ach) with Kaddish? The Talmud in Shabbat 119b says: “Whoever answers… b’chol kocho, his g’zar din is torn up”. Rashi says b’chol kocho is b’chol kavvanato; Tosafot says b’kol ram. Tearing up the g’zar din, the verdict, may be hyperbole; and there does not seem to be any real link between l’eyla and the number 28.
Kaddish has more than 28 words, but there are 28 letters from y’hei sh’meh rabba to da’amiran b’alma. If we want to keep to the 28 letters we need to say mikkol, not min kol, though there are other ways of contracting words such as d’kudsha (not di kudsha) and da’amiran (not di amiran).
Spiritually there is a value in doubling l’eyla. The Machzor distinguishes between the rank of the Melech Elyon and the melech evyon. A human “lowly king” who thinks too much of himself and regards himself as “the greatest”, imagines he can manage on his own without the Most High King. He needs a lesson in humility and to learn not to presume too much upon the generosity of the Heavenly Judge who is l’eyla l’eyla – high and lofty. In short, he needs to stop pretending that he is the one who is l’eyla.