HASHONAH: SELECTED THOUGHTS
Hashonah, the Jewish New Year, is observed on the first and second
days of Tishri. It is
called Yom Hadin, the Day of Judgment, and marks the beginning of the Ten
Days of Teshuvah, which culminate in Yom Kippur. It is a solemn day, a time of self-examination, when we
reflect on our past mistakes and deeply regret our offenses
against God and the hurts that we have caused others.
Day of Judgment. The Talmud (Rosh
Hashonah 16b) teaches that three books are opened before G-d
on Rosh Hashonah: one for the wholly virtuous, one for total
evildoers, and one for those in-between. The first are inscribed
and sealed in the Book of Life; the second are inscribed and
sealed in the Book of Death; the fate of the third is held in the
balance between Rosh Hashonah until Yom Kippur -- if they repent
and are found worthy, they are inscribed for life; if not and they
are found unworthy, they are inscribed for death.
teaches that each of us should consider ourselves in the last
category. That is,
each of us should consider ourselves (and the entire world) during
the entire year as half-meritorious and half-guilty – one sin
tips the scale of guilt for ourselves and for the entire world;
one mitzvah tips the scale of merit for our ourselves and the
entire world. Incidentally,
how can Rosh Hashonah be both a Day of Judgment and a Yom Tov
(i.e., a day of celebration)?
While we are being judged, we know that G-d does so with
kindness and to give us life; thus, we celebrate.
Day On Which God Tests Our Hearts.
As we recite in the Rosh Hashonah liturgy, “give praise
to the One Who tests hearts on the Day Of Judgment; to the One Who
reveals the depths in judgment.”
As the Siach Sarfei
Kodesh teaches, deep inside the heart of every Jew – even
the most estranged -- there is a spark of Jewishness that remains
pure and perfect; this spark is reawakened and invigorated on Rosh
Day Of New Beginnings. Rosh
Hashonah, which occurs at the beginning of the month of Tishri,
has been a time of new beginnings throughout history. Among the new beginnings ushered in by Tishri are the following: (a) God created Adam on the first day of Tishri,
thus completing the creation of the universe (R’ Eliezer); (b)
the Patriarchs were born at Tishri; (c) God remembered Sarah, Rachel and Hannah, who had been
childless for many years; (d) Joseph was freed from prison (where
he had been confined on false charges), beginning his rise to
power in Egypt; and (e) the process of redemption of our ancestors
in Egypt began with the end of their bondage and harsh labor.
Additionally, the month of Tishri
is in the autumn, a
time when the harvest of the previous year has been gathered in
and we take stock in order to close the books.
Day Of Personal Introspection. The
knowledge that God sits in judgment of us on Rosh Hashonah,
determining our collective and individual fortunes for the year to
come, sobers us to do serious self-searching and
reappraise our personal life.
Proof of this is found in the details of the mitzvah
of Shofar. This
mitzvah does not prescribe an ensemble of instruments, but only one.
It thus emphasizes that our orientation should be, first
and foremost, on improving ourselves, and introducing sanctity
into even the ordinary and commonplace of our daily lives.
As Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch wrote, “first become a
blessing to yourself so that you may be a blessing to others.”
Additionally, the Shofar is symbolic of
prayer/introspection in the purest form – during the entire
year, we pray with our physical being (our throat, tongue, teeth
and lips); on Rosh Hashonah, we pray with our spiritual essence
ZICHRONOT AND SHOFAROT
Shemonah Esrei (Amidah), contains three special sections which
are devoted to the main themes of the day: (a) Malchuyot
(God is King), in
which we accept God as our sovereign King and Ruler of the entire
universe; (b) Zichronot (God
remembers and judges), in which we affirm our belief in Divine
Providence, that all of our deeds are remembered by God and that
we are rewarded or punished according to our actions (we also ask
God to remember Abraham’s supreme self-sacrifice when he bound
Isaac on the altar); and (c) Shofarot
(the Shofar), in which
we relive the Giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai which occurred
amidst thunder and lightning and powerful blasts of the Shofar,
and we anticipate the final redemption and coming of the Mashiach, (when “the Lord God will blow the Shofar”). Each of
these three sections is composed of an introduction followed by
ten scriptural verses that express the central idea of the
section: three of these verses are from the Torah, three from the
Writings, three from the Prophets, with the concluding verse again
from the Torah. In
the Chazzan’s repetition of the Amidah, the Shofar is blown at the end of each of the three sections.
enumerates ten symbolic meanings to the mitzvah of the Shofar:
Hashanah marks the anniversary of the creation and beginning of
God’s sovereignty over Creation.
coronates God as King;
Shofar proclaims the Ten Days of Repentance;
Mt. Sinai, the Jews shouted “we will do and [then] we will
listen” when they accepted the Torah; at that time, the sound of
the Shofar continually increased and was very great.
The Shofar thus
reminds us of our commitment to “do” and [then] “listen”
in the service of G-d;
Shofar reminds us of the
Prophets’ admonitions and calls to repentance;
Shofar reminds us to
pray for the rebuilding of the Holy Temple;
Shofar, a ram’s horn,
reminds us of the Binding of Isaac, and of our obligation to
sacrifice our lives in Sanctification of the Holy Name;
Shofar inspires fear and
trembling in our hearts;
Shofar reminds us of the
awesome Judgment Day of the future;
Shofar reminds us of the
long anticipated ingathering of the exiles and arouses an inner
yearning in our hearts for that time; and
The Shofar reminds us of (and
awakens our belief in and yearning for) the resurrection of the
Rebbe, z’tl brings down a number of additional beautiful
insights into the Shofar, including the following: (a) its sound
is compared to that of a child crying out to his/her parent (and,
in turn, to our crying out to G-d, our Father); (b) the use of an
animal’s horn reminds us that even our most hardened
“animal-like” instincts are included in the service of G-d;
(c) although many ritual vessels can become “tameh” (ritually
impure), the Shofar
cannot -- the Shofar is
the device with which we express our innate connection with G-d;
this connection can be neither severed or sullied; it remains
intact and is always ready to be drawn upon; (d) the Shofar
preferably has a bend in it, symbolizing our willingness to bend
our will to that of G-d; and (e) the mitzvah of the Shofar
is only fulfilled when it is blown with the intent of connecting
to G-dliness; the same is true of all mitzvos – they are not
simply tasks to be blindly carried out, but rather are spiritual
tools to connect with G-d in a meaningful way.
The apple and honey represents our wishes for a sweet year
for ourselves, our families and the entire Jewish people.
They also symbolize the following: (a) on most fruit trees,
the leaves appear first to provide a protective cover for the
young fruit. The
apple, however, appears before its leaves. We are like an apple because we are willing to live out our
Jewish lives even if it seems to leave us unprotected; (b) a bee
can inflict pain by its sting yet also produces delicious honey;
life has the same duality of potential; and
(c) it focuses on the duality of a “good” and
“sweet” year. Everything
that happens is for the good since it is part of Divine Will.
Thus, even things that look “bad” in our eyes are actually
“good”. So, we
ask God that the year be “sweet” (in addition to “good”)
because we know that everything will be for the good, but we also
ask that it be a “revealed” good (i.e., one that tastes
“sweet” to us).
The First Day.
The Torah reading begins with Sarah’s conception of Isaac
and his ensuing birth. The
Haftorah recounts how the childless Hannah was blessed with a son.
According to the Talmud, both Sarah and Hannah conceived on
Rosh Hashonah. These
readings remind us of Hashem’s mercy, and that sincere prayer
and repentance can bring about Divine compassion that overcomes
The Second Day.
The Torah reading recounts the Akeidas
Yitzchak (binding of Isaac), which recalls the sacrifices
Abraham and Isaac were ready to make for God, and the additional
merit to us on this day of judgment.
(It also describes Abraham’s substituting the ram for
Isaac, which is one of the reasons we blow the Shofar). The Haftorah
is from Jeremiah and ends with the famous verse “is Ephraim
(Israel) My Dear Son or Delightful Child, that whenever I speak of
him I should remember him? Therefore, My inner Self yearns for
him, and I shall surely take pity on him, says the Lord.”
God is, in effect, saying that after all of
Ephraim’s sins he does not really deserve God’s
compassion; yet, God was moved by his pleas and had mercy on him.
It also contains God’s promise to Jeremiah that the
Jewish people will be redeemed, and the very moving passage of
Rachael weeping for her children’s salvation.
TWO PARTING STORIES
A prince built a tree-house in his father’s orchard.
He failed to care for the tree and allowed vines and thorn
branches to grow around it. Soon,
it was impossible to approach the tree.
Fortunately, the royal gardener inspected the orchard once
a year and repaired all damage.
With his tools, he cleared the vines and branches and the
tree was free to breathe and grow again.
On Rosh Hashonah, G-d releases each of us from “prison”
and renews our lives. On
this day, we too have the opportunity to free ourselves from our
obstacles and renew our lives.
is a famous story about an elderly sage named Reb Zusia.
As he laid on his deathbed surrounded by his disciples and
wept, they implored, “you
were almost as wise as Moses himself”, “You were almost as
kind as our father Abraham” and so on.
Yet, Reb Zusia would not be comforted.
“When I pass from
this world and appear before the Heavenly tribunal, he said,
“they won’t ask me,
‘why weren’t you as wise as Moses or as kind as Abraham;,’
rather they will ask me ‘why weren’t you Zusia!’ Why
didn’t I fulfill my potential, why didn’t I follow the path
that could have been mine.”
On Rosh Hashonah, we confront our potential.