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Rosh Hashanah

This is your wake up call

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 grade.

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.

On this topic:

This is your wakeup call

Abraham and the ram's horn

Tashlikh

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Abraham and the Ram's Horn

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.

Related:
Book of life, day of judgment

Shofar blasts

Yom Kippur

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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.

At home

Rosh Hashanah includes the standard holiday choreography of candle lighting and the Kiddush blessing over wine (see the Holiday: Words and deeds section), complemented with a variety of culinary customs highlighting the day's themes.

These begin with a round hallah loaf, recalling a king's crown - denoting God's kingship -- or alternately the ongoing continuity of the life cycle.

Apples are dipped in honey, expressing the hope that the coming year will be one of goodness and sweetness, and the following is recited: "May it be Your will, our God and God our ancestors, that our new year be good and sweet"

Several other foods became customary to eat, because of the connection of their names (in Hebrew or Yiddish Aramaic) to our prayers for the coming year. This is a partial list.

Before each food, a prayer is said that begins: "May it be Your will, our God and God of our ancestors..."

 
food prayer explanation
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
head
(of a fish or sheep)
that we be as the head and not as the tail

 

The custom of Tashlikh

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."

Parenting Tip

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

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