GOOD MORNING! Rosh Hashana begins Friday evening, September 10th! Many Jews all over the world are rushing to make sure that they have places reserved in their synagogues. I am reminded of the story of the person who had to deliver a very important message to a man in synagogue on Rosh Hashana. The usher wouldn't let him in because he didn't have a ticket. "Please, I just need a moment to tell him the message!" "No way!" says the usher, "No ticket, no entrance!" "Please," begs the man, "I promise ... I won't pray!"
Q & A: WHAT IS THE ESSENCE OF ROSH HASHANA AND HOW DO WE OBSERVE IT
Rosh Hashana is the Jewish New Year. Unlike the secular New Year which is celebrated in many parts of the "civilized" world by partying, drinking to excess and watching a little ball descend a tower in Time Square, the Jewish New Year is celebrated by reflecting upon the past, correcting one's mistakes, planning for the future, praying for a healthy and sweet year and celebrating with holiday meals.
Rabbi Nachum Braverman writes, "On Rosh Hashanah we make an accounting of our year and we pray repeatedly for life. How do we justify another year of life? What did we do with the last year? Has it been a time of growth, of insight and of caring for others? Did we make use of our time, or did we squander it? Has it truly been a year of life, or merely one of mindless activity? This is the time for evaluation and rededication. The Jewish process is called "teshuva," coming home -- recognizing our mistakes between ourselves and G-d as well as between ourselves and our fellow man and then correcting them."
On Rosh Hashana we pray that we are inscribed in the Book of Life for life, for health, for sustenance. It is the Day of Judgment. Yet, we celebrate with festive meals with family and friends. How can we celebrate when our very lives hang in balance? Ultimately, we trust in the kindness and mercy of the Almighty ... that He knows our heart and our intentions and with love and knowledge of what is best for us, will accordingly grant our decree.
At the festive meal both nights of Rosh Hashana it is customary to dip the challah, specially braided bread, as well as an apple, into honey symbolizing our hopes for a sweet year. There is a custom to eat various Symbolic Foods -- primarily fruits and vegetables -- each one preceded by a request. For instance, before eating a pomegranate, "May it be Your will ... that our merits increase like (the seeds of) a pomegranate." Many of the requests are based on plays on words between the name of the food and the request. Since these plays on words are lost on many who don't know Hebrew, there are those who have added their own requests. My favorite: before eating a raisin on a celery stick, "May it be Your will ... that I receive a raise in salary."
Another custom is Tashlich, a symbolic casting off of transgressions. It is done this year on Sunday after the Mincha, or afternoon prayers. Remember -- these symbolic acts are to help you relate to what you need to do in life, to awaken your emotions and passions; they are not an end in themselves. It is worthwhile to get a copy of the Rosh Hashana Yom Kippur Survival Kit to get a better understanding of the holiday, the prayers, the prayer services and the opportunity that is afforded to you to grow in spirituality, to come closer to the Almighty, to perfect yourself and to perfect the world! It is available from your local Jewish bookstore or by calling toll-free 877-758-3242.
Portion of the Week
Nitzavim & Vayelech
On the day of Moshe's death he assembles the whole Jewish people and creates a Covenant confirming the Jewish people as the Almighty's Chosen People for all future generations. Moshe makes clear the consequences of rejecting G-d and His Torah as well as the possibility of repentance. He reiterates that Torah is readily available to everyone.
Netzavim concludes with perhaps the clearest and most powerful statement in the Torah about the purpose of life and the existence of freewill: "I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil ... the blessing and the curse. Therefore, choose life that you may live, you and your descendants." (Now that's a real Quote of the Week!)
VaYelech begins with Moshe passing the torch of leadership to Yehoshua (Joshua). Moshe then gives Yehoshua a command/blessing which applies to every Jewish leader: "Be strong and brave. Do not be afraid or feel insecure before them. G-d your Lord is the One who is going with you, and He will not fail you or forsake you."
Moshe writes the entire Torah and gives it to the Cohanim and Elders. He then commands that in the future at the end of the Shmita (Sabbatical Year) the king should gather all the people during Succot festival and read to them the Torah so "... that they will hear and learn and fear the Lord your G-d and be careful to perform all the words of the Torah."
The Almighty describes in a short paragraph the course of Jewish history (that's starting from Deuteronomy 31:16 for the curious). Lastly, before Moshe goes to "sleep with his forefathers," he assembles the people to teach them the song of Ha'azinu, the next weekly Torah portion, to remind them of the consequences of turning against the Almighty.
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
The Torah states, "And it will be when all these things come to you, the blessing and the curse which I have given before you, and you shall take it to your heart ... and you will return unto the Lord your G-d..." (Deuteronomy 30:1-2). Why does the Torah tell us that "you shall take it to heart?"
Rabbi Yonoson Eybeshuetz explains that every life situation has its unique test of our character and can either be utilized for growth or can cause a person to have new faults. When a person has blessing in his life and is financially successful, he can free his mind from things that distract his concentration during prayers and Torah study. Poverty, too, can help a person elevate himself by breaking his arrogance and conceit. This will be beneficial in his relationship with the Almighty and with his fellow man.
On the other hand, wealth can cause a person to commit all kinds of wrongdoings and to remove himself from the Almighty. Poverty can prevent a person from seeking self-improvement. Everything is dependent on how a person utilizes or misuses both the good fortune and the difficulties that the Almighty sends to test him. Therefore, the Torah tells us "you shall take it to your heart." It is entirely up to you how you will respond to various life-tests.