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The mournful sound of a shofar also serves to remind us of the need to repent for our sins.

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Special prayers, special food, special traditions like blowing the Shofar make Rosh Hashanah the focus of Jewish family life annually. (Image: chabad.org)

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Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, takes place on the first two days of Tishrei on the Jewish calendar. This year, that coincides with sundown on September 6th through nightfall on September 8th. This holiday is celebrated as the birthday of the universe and the head of the Jewish year. It is also celebrated as the birth of humanity as this is the day that G-d created Adam and Eve.

The two Days of Rosh Hashanah, along with Yom Kippur, are known as the High Holidays – Why is this so? To borrow phrasing from the Passover Haggadah, why are these holidays different from all other holidays?

Rosh Hashanah is of particular significance because it is the head of the year. 

Many years ago, I had a professor who used to say “The fish stinks from the head down.” In this case he was referring to business and reminding us that poor decisions made at the top filter down throughout the organization. The same concept holds true for Rosh Hashanah. What we do and think on Rosh Hashanah sets the tone for the rest of the year. 

In our prayers during Rosh Hashanah, we say that it is on this day that “all inhabitants of the world pass before G-d like a flock of sheep.” It is at this time that our fortune is determined. “Who shall live, and who shall die…who shall fall and who shall rise.” This is why Rosh Hashanah is referred to as Yom Hadin in our prayers, the Day of Judgement. This is the day when G-d sees all that He has created and decides what fate lies before them in the coming year.

Rosh Hashanah is also known as Yom Hazikaron, Day of Remembrance, and together with the holiday of Yom Kippur, is part of the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe, a time when we ask for forgiveness in earnest for our wrongdoings. 

We spend the majority of the day of Rosh Hashanah in synagogue praying. There are many additional prayers said during the holiday. In fact, there are so many extra prayers that we use a special prayer book called a Machzor for Rosh Hashanah prayers (there are also Machzors for Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Passover). On Rosh Hashanah our prayers focus on asking G-d to forgive us for our wrongdoings and profess our love and acceptance of G-d. When we admit our sins, we refer to the collective “we.”

Consider the following:

A man on an airplane decides that he wants to open the emergency exit mid-flight. His fellow passengers quickly restrain him and demand to know why the man would do such a thing. The man tells them that it’s none of their  business as he paid for his ticket, this is his seat, and if he wants some fresh air, he will open the door. The fellow passengers can only respond that what this man does affects all of the passengers on that plane.

As Jews, we believe that we are all part of one people, one nation, one community. As such, we are all responsible for one another. When one Jew transgresses, it has an effect on us all. Conversely, when one Jew performs Mitzvot, good deeds, it benefits all Jews. 

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Rosh Hashanah also includes some practices which are unique to this holiday. Some of those practices are seen during the festive meals that take place over the course of the holiday. During the holiday, we use a round challah for the blessing over the bread instead of a braided challah. This is to signify a full and complete year. We also dip the bread in honey instead of salt in order to symbolize our desire for a sweet year. Following hamotzi, we eat apples dipped in honey and  ask G-d to grant us a “good and sweet year.”

The Code of Jewish Law tells us that we ask for “good and sweet” because we believe that all that G-d does for us is good, though we may not  always understand the reason, hence the addition of “sweet.” Many people will also eat the head of a fish or ram as part of their meal to symbolize our wish to be a “head.” Families may also eat pomegranates on the first night of Rosh Hashanah as a wish for our deeds of merit to be as numerous as its seeds.

On the second night of Rosh Hashanah, it is traditional to introduce a new fruit that we have not had since its last harvest. We do this since it is our desire to say a blessing on something new on the holiday of the new year. In saying this blessing over a new fruit, we avoid the question of whether such a blessing is appropriate for Rosh Hashanah since we said it over the first night. Another practice unique to the holiday is that of Tashlich. It is the custom on the first afternoon of Rosh Hashanah. as long as it is not Shabbat, to go to a body of water and symbolically cast our sins into it; usually represented by crumbs of bread. In this manner we “cast our sins into the sea” (Michoh 7:19).

Of key importance to observing the dictates of Rosh Hashanah is hearing the sounding of the Shofar. The shofar is carved from the horn of a ram and it represents the sounding of a trumpet at a king’s coronation. The mournful sound of a shofar also serves to remind us of the need to repent for our sins. Additionally, the shofar connects us to the binding of Isaac by Abraham, the Akedah, which took place on Rosh Hashanah. It was a ram that took Isaac’s place as a holy sacrifice to G-d. 

“And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt-offering in the stead of his son.” Genesis 22:13 (Image: biblehub.com)

The shofar is blown after morning services throughout the month of Elul, which precedes Tishrei, in order to remind us to prepare for the coming time of judgement. There are also 100 blasts of the shofar blown during the Musaf service, the additional service immediately following the morning prayers, on both days of Rosh Hashanah except if one day falls on Shabbat).

In the past two years, due to the pandemic, many Jewish organizations have arranged home visits or sidewalk shofar blowing for those who could not attend services at a synagogue. If you require such a service, please email me at [email protected] or [email protected] and I will be happy to help you to make arrangements.

I would like to leave you with this final thought shared by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks obm in his article Ten Ideas for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. As we head into this year, keep in mind that “Life itself, every breath we take, is the gift of God. Life is not something we may take for granted. If we do, we will fail to celebrate it. Yes, we believe in life after death, but it is in life before death that we truly find human greatness.”

I would like to join everyone here at TheJ.ca in wishing you and your loved ones a Shana Tova U’Metuka, a happy and sweet New Year. 

Rav Corey Margolese is the founder of JTeach.ca, a not-for-profit organization that offers training and resources in the dangers of antisemitism, Holocaust education, and in Judaic traditions, culture and religion. He is a public school teacher. Corey is also the Director of Israel and Antisemitism Affairs for NCSY Canada

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

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