Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Rosh Hashana Guide for the Perplexed

Yoram Ettinger, September 28, 2011
Based on Jewish Sages

1. Rosh Hashanah and the Shofar (ritual horn) symbolize and commemorate:

The annual reaffirmation of Faith in – and Awe of - God;
Optimism in the face of daily adversity;
The first human-being, Adam, was created on the sixth day of The Creation;
The cycle of nature - seed planting season and the equality of day and night;
The opening of the Ark of Noah following the Flood;
The almost-sacrifice of Isaac (thou shall not sacrifice human beings) and the covenant of the Jewish People with God;
The three Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and Samuel the Prophet (who inspired Thomas Paine), were conceived/born during the month of Tishrei, which is called "The Month of the Strong Ones";
The release of Joseph from Egyptian jail;
Mt. Sinai and the receipt of the Ten Commandment and the Torah;
Deliverance from spiritual and physical slavery (which inspired the Abolitionist movement in the USA);
Reconstruction of the 2nd Temple and destruction of both Temples;
The ingathering of the Jews to the Land of Israel;
The first of the Ten Days of personal, annual self-examination (similar to a full service of one's car…). 2. Rosh Hashanah – unlike all other Jewish holidays – is a universal (stock-taking, renewal and hopeful) holiday. It is celebrated on the sixth day of The Creation, which produced the first human being, Adam. Rosh (Hashanah) means in Hebrew "beginning," "first," "head," "chief." The Hebrew letters of Rosh constitute the root of the Hebrew word for Genesis, "Bereshit", which is the first word in the Bible. Just like The Creation, so should the New Year and our own actions, be a thoughtful – and not a hasty - process. Rosh Hashanah is celebrated at the beginning of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, which means beginning/Genesis in ancient Akkadian. The Hebrew spelling of Tishrei is included in the spelling of Genesis. Rosh Hashanah is referred to as "Ha'rat Olam" (the pregnancy of the world), and its prayers highlight Motherhood, Optimism and the pregnancies of Sarah and Rachel, the Matriarchs, and Hanna, who gave birth to Isaac, Joseph & Benjamin and Samuel the Prophet respectively. Sarah (the root of the Hebrew word, Israel) and Hanna (the root of the Hebrew words Pardon, Amnesty and Merciful) were two of the seven Jewish Prophetesses: Sarah, Miriam, Hanna, Deborah, Huldah, Abigail, Esther. Hanna's prayer has become a role-model for God-heeded-prayers. Noah – who led the rebirth of humanity/world – also features in Rosh Hashanah prayers.

3. The three cornerstones of Rosh Hashanah, and of the Jewish spirit: Repentance (returning to good deeds – תשובה – in Hebrew), Prayer and Charity (doing justice – צדקה – in Hebrew) combined.

4. The Hebrew word for atonement/repentance is Te'shuvah, which also means spiritual and physical Return to God's core values and to the Land of Israel. On Rosh Hashanah one is expected to plan a "spiritual/behavioral budget" for the entire year. The prerequisite for a wholesome "budget" is humility, a pre-condition for an effective "stock taking." The three Hebrew words, Teshuvah (Repentance/Atonement), Shivah (Spiritual and Physical Return) and Shabbat (Creation concluded) emerge from the same Hebrew root. They constitute a triangular (personal, national and spiritual) foundation, whose strength depends on the depth of Education and Commemoration. According to King Solomon, "The triangular cord cannot be broken."

5. The Shofar (ritual horn) is blown on Rosh Hashanah as a wake-up call to mend human behavior. Rosh Hashanah is also called "Yom Te'roo'ah" (the day of blowing the Shofar). Shofar is a derivative of the Hebrew word for Enhancement/Improvement (Shipur), which is constantly expected of human beings.

6. The Shofar should be humble (it is bent, should not be decorated), natural and simple (no artificial sound), just like the ideal relationship among human-beings and between human-beings and God.

7. The Shofar is the epitome of Peace-Through-Strength: It is made from the horn of a ram, which is a peaceful animal equipped with strong horns, in order to fend off wild animals. The numerical value of the Hebrew word,"ram", is 41, equal to the value of "Mother."

8. While the blowing of the Shofar is a major virtue, listening to the Shofar is at least as pertinent a virtue. The Hebrew root of "listening" is Ozen, ear, which contains the balancing mechanism in our body. Ozen is also the root for "Scale" and "Balance", which is the zodiac sign of the month of Tishrei. Both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (when people balance their good deeds vs. bad deeds) are observed during the month of Tishrei.

9. The three ways of blowing the Shofar express the inner constant values (Te'kiyah), the tenuous nature of human actions (She'va'rim) and the determined pursuit of faith-driven long-term vision (Troo'ah). The last, and very long, blow of the Shofar (Te'kiyah Gedolah) represents long-term steadfastness capability in face of challenges and threats.

10. The three series of blowing the Shofar represent the faith of mankind in G-D's Kingdom (Malkhooyot), the centrality of history/memory/roots and God's Covenant with the Jewish People (Zichronot) and repentence/enhancement (Shofarot).

11. The blows of the Shofar represent the three Patriarchs (Abraham – mercy, Isaac – benevolence, Jacob – truth), the three parts of the Bible and the three types of human beings on judgment day (pious, evil and mediocre).

12. Rosh Hashanah services include 101 blows of the Shofar. It is the numerical value of the Hebrew spelling of Michael, a Guardian Angel, which was one of the names of Moses.

13. The pomegranate - one of the seven species blessing the Land of Israel - features during Rosh Hashanah meals and in a key blessing on Rosh Hashanah: "May you be credited with as many rewards as the seeds of the pomegranate." The pomegranate becomes ripe in time for Rosh Hashanah and contains - genetically - 613 seeds, which is the number of Jewish laws (of Moses). It was employed as an ornament of the Holy Arc, the Menorah (candelabrum) and the coat of the High Priest. It is employed as an ornament for the Torah Scrolls. The first two letters of the Hebrew word for pomegranate, Rimon – which is known for its crown - mean sublime (Ram). The pomegranate (skin and seeds) is one of the healthiest fruit: high in iron, anti-oxidants, anti-cancer, decreases blood pressure, enhances the quality of blood and the cardiac and digestion systems. Rimon is a metaphor for a wise person: Wholesome like a pomegranate.

14. Honey is included in Rosh Hashanah meals in order to sweeten the coming year. Sweet – מתוק – in Hebrew is spelled similarly to Correction (of the ego) – תיקון. The bee is the only insect which produces essential food. It is a community-oriented, constructive and a diligent creature

15. Commemoration Day ("Yom Hazikaron" in Hebrew) is one of the names of Rosh Hashanah. One can avoid - rather than repeat - past mistakes by learning from history. The more one remembers, the deeper are the roots and the greater is one's stability and one's capability to withstand storms of pressure and temptation. The more stable/calculated/moral is the beginning of the year (Rosh Hashanah), the more constructive will be the rest of the year.

May the New Year (5772 according to the Jewish calendar) be top heavy on Faith, Truth, Realism and Tenacity and low on cynicism, distortion, wishful-thinking and indecision,


No comments: