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What does it mean for there to be a "Jewish" New Year?
Our lives are marked by many overlapping years: calendar years,
fiscal years, school years, birthday years. Most are of only abstract
significance, demanding only the replacement of a calendar, the
filing of a form. The school year stands apart, for parents and
children, in its personal significance. The first day of school
returns us to seriousness after summer vacation, and marks the
passage of a year as our children move from grade to grade to
Rosh Hashanah marks a calendar year - another year since Adam and Eve and
the Creation of the world. It is a serious occasion, more akin to the first
day of school than the first day of January. It is a time to see how much we
have grown over the year in a Jewish sense - a time for accounting for our spiritual,
ethical, religious growth.
Hence the shofar, the ram's horn: Like the alarm clock
on the morning of the first day of school, the piercing sounds
of the shofar are a wake-up call. We are challenged to
examine the lives we led in the year just concluded, and to think
about our paths for the year ahead.
The ram's horn also recalls a central theme of the Rosh Hashanah liturgy: the binding of Isaac. God had called on Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son; only when Isaac was already bound on the altar and the knife raised did an angel save Isaac's life. Instead of his son, Abraham offered a ram as the sacrifice. (Genesis 8:13).
The traditional liturgy asks God to remember this heroic act of faith and obedience. If we -- or our ancestor Abraham -- could act against our merciful nature for God's sake, then God can and should put His wrathful nature aside and have mercy on us.
For many past generations, the image of Isaac on the altar hit close to home: They knew that to raise Jewish children was to expose them to dangers of persecution and death. Let Abraham's voluntary sacrifice suffice; don't send the Cossacks this year
Today, however, the story of Abraham and Isaac is profoundly troubling for many of us. It seems to endorse the idea of human sacrifice - of killing those closest to us in the name of God.
But there's another way to hear the story - and the ram's horn. In this interpretation, the shofar is like the angel who prevented the slaughter of Isaac with his call of "Abraham, Abraham, don't raise your hand against the child!"
Like Abraham, we may feel righteous in our convictions. The shofar's clarion call is a directive to reconsider and with painful honesty to examine the courses of action that we are following.
|carrots||that our merits increase||carrot in Yiddish is mehren, which can also mean 'to increase'|
|beets||that our adversaries be removed||beet in Hebrew is selek, which is similar to the word for 'remove.'|
|dates||that our enemies be consumed||date is Hebrew is tamar, which is similar to the word for 'consumed.'|
|pomegranate||that our merits increase as the seeds of a pomegranate |
|fish||that we be fruitful and multiply like fish|
(of a fish or sheep)
|that we be as the head and not as the tail|
A custom observed on the first day of Rosh Hashanah in the afternoon
(or on the second day in the afternoon if the first day is the
Sabbath), is to gather at a stream or river to symbolically cast
away one's sins. The ceremony is known as Tashlikh ("cast
off" in Hebrew) and involves the throwing of crumbs from
one's pockets into the running waters and the reciting of biblical
verses. A central verse in the ceremony is from the Book of Micah
(7:19): "And you kill cast [vetashlikh] all their
sins in the depths of the sea."
Go to the zoo, to wish a happy birthday to the animals of the world
Start a journal with your children, even if just to remember the cycle of holidays
Take a family photo
Bless children under tallis
Exchange cards among family members, what you appreciate each other for
Mishpacha is Hebrew for "family". So don't be a stranger: Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
Mishpacha was initiated and funded by The
Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture.