Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, begins tonight, and lasts for 2 days, until sundown on Tuesday night. The Jewish year follows the lunar calendar, and the number counts the number of years since Creation. This year we will mark the beginning of 5777.
To quote from previous Rosh Hashana posts, Rosh Hashana is not marked by great parties and merry-making for the Jewish New Year is also known as the Day of Judgement, the day when all humans are held accountable before Heaven for their good deeds and bad, and their fate for the coming year is decided. A good part of the two days of the festival is spent in emotional and uplifting prayers in the synagogue where we acclaim G-d as the King of Israel and as King of the whole universe, and where we ask Him to write us in the Book of Life, which remains open until Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) in 10 days time, giving us time to repent and atone for our sins.
The holiday is marked with the blowing of the Shofar (the ram’s horn), which is meant to literally sound an alarm to wake us up from our bad ways and return us to the righteous path. Aish has a thought-provoking article on Silence and the Shofar:
It is easier to get lost in the “noise in our lives” than to quietly look within ourselves.
But during these remarkable days, we are encouraged to ask ourselves who are we without the noise and trappings of this life. Who are we without the computer, money, relationships? Who are without the success, without the anxiety?
In moments of self-examination, we are being asked to be focused, quiet, and fully present.
In between the cacophony and business that pervades our world, a shofar will blow.
Imagine sitting with your friends and suddenly you hear a piercing siren. You are in a deep sleep and the baby begins to shriek. You will no doubt be woken up. Your attention will be diverted to where the sound is coming from. You will be forced to focus.
The shofar creates a focused moment when you cannot help but listen and be present. The shofar speaks to the Jewish soul in ways other disciplines cannot.
The shofar is our ancient meditation, encouraging us to withdraw from the noise of life and go in. It prods us to get intimate with ourselves and ponder our state of existence. It requests of us to be still, quiet, and open to the blessed unfolding of the New Year.
Here’s a short clip to give you an idea of what the Shofar sounds like. In the synagogue it will be sounded altogether 100 times in two sets of 30 and 4 sets of 10.
We also eat sweet foods to symbolise our wish for a sweet New Year. A classic staple at the Rosh Hashana table is the apple, which is round, symbolising the cycle of the year, dipped in honey for a sweet new year.
Even our Challahs are baked in a round shape to symbolise the circle of life and the circle of the year. They are often extra-sweet and have raisins inside for added sweetness.
On the second night of Rosh Hashana it is traditional to eat a fruit from the new season. The most popular fruit is the pomegranate, because of the beauty of its shape, because it is one of the 7 species of produce native to the Land of Israel, and because it is traditionally believed that it has 613 seeds, the same as the number of mitzvot (commandments) that a Jew is commanded to keep.