Days of Awe Begin Sunday Evening with the New Year Holiday
The Jewish People begin the High Holydays, or Days of Awe, on Sunday evening, on the first of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, ushering in the year 5773 with nearly a month of special days: Two days of Rosh Hashannah on Monday and Tuesday, the Fast of Gedaliah on Wednesday and then Shabbat Shuva, the Sabbath of Repentance.
Rosh Hashannah is also the start of the Ten Days of Repentance which culminate with the solemn Fast of Yom Kippur on the tenth day of Tishrei. Special verses about repentance are added to the silent Amidah prayer said three times daily during these ten days. Sukkoth, or Tabernacles, the holiday of joy, follows five days later.
The preceding month of Elul has been dedicated to effecting change and approaching G-d. The shofar was sounded each morning after services, and Psalm 27 alluding to all three holidays was recited daily (and is continued till the end of Sukkot). Selichot, throughout the month in the Sephardi community and for the past week in the Ashkenazi community, were said at dawn.
This is Judaism's time for introspection, when Jews look back and examine their actions in the year that has just ended, seeking to improve their observance of the Torah’s commandments directed towards G-d and towards their fellow man. They are expected to ask forgiveness from those they may have offended or hurt during the past year, a stipulation for Heavenly forgiveness for sins towards one's fellow man.
Repentance includes several steps: recognition of the sin, confessing the sin, and resolving not to repeat it in the future. Many books and articles have been written on how to do teshuva, repentance, with the basic text being Maimonides' "Hilkhot Teshuva" [The Laws of Teshuva, ed.]. Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik's "Al Hateshuva", based on Maimonides' work, has become a classic text. Both works, and many others, are available in English.
Rabbi Chaim Druckman, venerable head of Or Etzion Yeshiva, formerly MK, head of all the hesder yeshivas and the Conversion Authority, said Monday at a study day about the Days of Awe that repentance, or teshuva, is a return to a person's source.
Fast of Gedaliah and Shabbt Shuvah
The Fast of Gedaliah commemorates the end of Jewish rule in the Land of Israel following the destruction of the First Holy Temple some 2,500 years ago, prompting the sages to say that the death of a righteous man is equivalent to the destruction of the Temple.
On the Sabbath of Repentance this coming Saturday, a special chapter is read from the book of the prophet Hosea, calling the Jewish people to repent and return to G-d. Rabbis traditionally deliver a sermon, drasha, on repentance, in the afternoon.
Observing The New Year Holiday
The Jewish New Year has several names, among them the Day of Remembrance and the Day of Judgment. It is a time for careful stock-taking of one's relationship with G-d, and the longer Rosh Hashannah morning prayers filled with emotion, responsive readings and songs, are therefore intense and inspirational – usually led by a carefully chosen cantor or member of the congregation - concentrating on G-d's Kingship, eternal presence and His judgment of all creatures.
“Repentance, prayer and charity avert the evil decree” is a central line from the Machzor, the special holiday prayer book, listing the course of action that it is hoped will lead to meriting a good year.
Upon returning home after the evening prayers, symbolic foods – simanim - are served, whose names in Hebrew allow a play on words. They include pomegranates (for our merits to be numerous) , beets and carrots (for our enemies to be destroyed) that we lead rather than follow (fish head).
There are especially sweet ones, such as apples dipped in honey, to symbolize a sweet year. In Israel, many Ashkenazim have adopted the more varied simanim of their Sephardi neighbors, adding to their traditional fish head, carrots, pomegranates, beets and apples, the more exotic ruvia, kara, and more. Booklets are available with the lists and special sayings for each food.
Fruits that require a special Shehecheyanu blessing, said for something new, because they are being eaten for the first time since the previous season, are served on the second night. Pomegranates are often used for this purpose. Traditionally, children - adults too -wear a new garment for the first time the second night which calls for saying the blessing. Candles are lit both nights, but it is forbidden to light a match on the holiday, so an existing flame is used to kindle them and the Shehecheyanu blessing said while lighting on the second night, somewhat questionable as this is one long holiday and not a new one, is intended to also cover the new fruit and clothes.
Another name for the holiday is Day of Sounding the Shofar. Based on the commandment in Numbers 29:1, 100 shofar blasts are dramatically sounded throughout the prayers, "awakening" us to improve our ways. The congregation refrains from speech from the first shofar blasts until the last ones at the end of the service..
The Tashlikh prayer is recited on the first afternoon, preferably near a live stream of water in which we ask G-d to "throw away" our sins.
Many religious Israeli youth spend the holiday at secular kibbutzim to lead the services, volunteer to lead services in the IDF and in hospitals.The IDF is prepared with tons of honey and apples, has received Rosh Hashannah cards from hundreds of kindergarteners, but is also on careful guard to keep synagogues and residents secure on the holiday.
Breslover Hassidim and others continue a custom of going to Uman, Ukraine, to pray at the gravesite synagogues of their spiritual leader, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, who passed away in Tishrei of 1810. Prominent rabbis, however, oppose the idea of leaving the Holy Land to spend Rosh Hashanah in the Diaspora.
On the Fast of Yom Kippur, the most solemn day of the Jewish year, the Kol Nidrei prayer ushers in the holiday at night and a shofar blast signals its end the next night. It is customary to begin building the sukkah for the seven (or nine in the Diaspora) days of that happy festival, right after the fast, so as to perform a mitzvah as soon as possible.
Arutz Sheva wishes all its readers and the entire Jewish people a sweet and good new year. May we be inscribed in the Book of Life for health and happiness, love of the Land of Israel and true peace.
For articles on the meaning of Rosh Hashannah, a tale of HaRav Kook for the hoiday, preparing spiritually for the New Year, meaning of Rosh Hashannah, preparing spiritually for the New Year , the three types of shofar blasts and the shofar's symbolism, click here. For more on the holiday, see Arutz Sheva's Judasim section with Rabbi Eliezer Melamed on the reign of G-d and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks feature with a special message.
News reporting will continue with Arutz Sheva’s reporter writing from Canada until the start of holiday NY time and then resume on Tuesday night Israel time with our Israeli reporters.