The Month of Tishrei ? Richest of the Year by Nechama Reisel
Volume 1 , Issue 1 (Sept, 1987 | Tishrei, 5748)
The month of Tishrei is the "richest" month in the Jewish calendar. It includes the most awesome days?Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, as well as the happiest days?Sukkoth and Simchat Torah.
Every Jew participates, in some way, in celebrating the High Holidays, which take place at the beginning of the Jewish year. These holidays give us a sense of renewal, and serve to inspire us for the entire year ahead.
Each of the holidays has a historical background. Our celebrations remind us of that special occasion and make us relive the historical and spiritual experiences of our forefathers. All this serves to remind us of the Divine presence in the universe and of God's special relationship with His people.
Between Rosh Hashana, which falls on the first day of Tishrei, and Simchat Torah, the 23rd day of Tishrei, there are many special observances whose primary purpose is to enhance this relationship. These observances occur on Rosh Hashana, the Ten Days of Penitence?the days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur?Yom Kippur, The Fast of Gedalia, which is one of the ten days, Sukkoth, Hoshana Rabbah. Shmini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah.
Rosh Hashana?Sept 24 and 25
Rosh Hashana is the beginning of the year. On that day, Adam. the first man, was created, completing God's design and creation of the universe. Since only after he had created man was God fully satisfied with his work. It is from this day, and not the day on which He commenced the creation, that we count the "head of the year," Rosh Hashana. And just as He evaluated His work on that day, so does He reevaluate and judge us each year on Rosh Hashana. This is the theme which runs through our prayers on these two days. and on all the days through Yom Kippur.
In the book of Bamidbar, Chapter 29 (Numbers, 29) we are enjoined to blow the shofar on the first day of the seventh month. (Tishrei is the seventh month of the Biblical year, while Nissan, the month of our redemption from Egypt, is the first month). This, thus, becomes the central mitzvah of the holiday.
Historically also, it was the custom to sound the shofar at the coronation of a king. It is, therefore, fitting that on Rosh Hashana we sound the shofar as we symbolically reaffirm God's kingship over His universe. Its awesome sound humbles us and awakens in us a desire to examine our lives and deeds, repent our misdeeds, and turn back to God and more spiritual ways in order to be worthy of being inscribed in the Book of Life for the coming year.
On the Sabbath before Rosh Hashana, the portion of the Torah beginning with Nitzovim (Deut. 29:9) is read. The passage refers also to Rosh Hashana. when we all stand before God. Central to the observance of Rosh Hashana and the "coronation" of God is Ahavat Yisrael, the love and unity of all Jewish people, which is expressly emphasized in the first verse of the reading.
On the first evening of Rosh Hashana, after the services, we wish each other "Leshana Tova Tikotaiv Vetachotaim," may you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.
On the first day of Rosh Hashana, we read the portion of the Torah which describes our forefather Isaac's birth. Abraham and Jacob are also said to have been born on the first day of Rosh Hashana.
On the second day. we read about the "Akeida", in which God tested Abraham's faith by requesting that he sacrifice Isaac to Him. Although Isaac. born when Abraham was one hundred years old, was the only child born to Abraham and Sarah, Abraham did not hesitate to do what God had commanded him to do. Isaac, also accepted his fate. Our reading of this event teaches us a lesson in humility and submission to God's will.
It is customary to eat foods which symbolize sweetness, blessings and abundance. We dip pieces of challah (which has been baked in the shape of a crown) into honey. We also eat carrots, which are sweet, and which are called "meren" in Yiddish. "Meren" means to multiply.
On the first evening, after eating the first piece of challah, we dip a slice of apple in honey and say the blessing over the apple adding, "May it be your will to renew for us a good and sweet year."Some people serve a fish head to symbolize our desire to be like a head, and not a tail.
On the second evening, after Kiddush we eat a new fruit which had not been previously eaten. Over this we recite the blessing"Shehecheyanu" to praise the Almighty for having given us life and for bringing us to this day.
After the Mincha (afternoon prayers) service of the first day, we go to a lake or river and recite the Tashlich prayers. At the conclusion of the prayers, we empty our pockets of crumbs and toss them to the fish in the water, to symbolize our intent to cast off our sins. If the first day of Rosh Hashana falls on a Saturday, or if it rains on this day, the ceremony is postponed to the second day.
It is also customary to refrain from sleeping during each day of Rosh Hashana. One explanation for this custom is that if one sleeps at the year's start, his good fortune also sleeps. (Jerusalem Talmud). Another, probably of folk origin, is that if one sleeps on Rosh Hashana, he will be sleepy all year-.
As we turn to the Almighty for mercy, forgiveness, kindness and charity and ask Him to grant us a good and sweet year, it is particularly important to give extra Tzedaka. On Rosh Hashana, since we may not handle money or write a check. the mitzvah may be performed by inviting a needy person to one's home for the Rosh Hashana meal. It is, however, of the utmost importance to be sure before Rosh Hashana that the unfortunate be provided with food and clothing so that they will be able to celebrate the holiday as everyone else does.
As all other holidays in the Jewish calendar, Rosh Hashana commences on the evening preceding the first calendar date of the holiday. Rosh Hashana is celebrated for two full days.
Asseret Yemai T'Shuvah (The Ten Days of Repentance)
Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and the days between are called Asseret Yemai T'Shuvah. the Ten Days of Repentance. During this time, special penitential prayers, Selichot, are recited each morning. It is also customary for people to ask forgiveness of those people whom they might have wronged, since only man can forgive wrongs done to him by his fellow man.
Tzom Gedalia (The Fast of Gedalia)
The day after Rosh Hashana (this year postponed to Sunday, September 27), is a fast day commemorating the murder of Gedalia. After the destruction of the first Temple and the exile of the Jewish people, Nebuchadnezzar the Babylonian king, allowed a small number of Jewish people to remain in Israel. Their leader was Gedalia. The King of Ammon, however, instigated a plot to have Gedalia and most of the Jews murdered. The few Jews who remained fled, in exile, to Egypt.
Shabbat Shuvah?Sabbath of Return
The Sabbath immediately following Rosh Hashana
is called Shabbat Shuvah because the first words of
the Maftir read on this Sabbath are "Shuvah
Yom Kippur - October 3
Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year. On that day. all of the Jewish people are united in their awareness of their mortality. It's observance is described and prescribed in Leviticus XXIII: 26-32. It is the day when man is most aware of his insignificance in the universe, and when he is most humble in his supplications to God. He confesses for his and all mankind's sins, and asks forgiveness by the Almighty, and is assured that repentance. Prayer and charity can save him from the dire punishment for which he may have been inscribed on Rosh Hashana. The prayers recited during this day, especially the Mussaf service, are among the most beautiful in all our liturgy. Over and over again, man reaffirms the supremacy of God over all His creatures. In keeping with this abject penitence, we may not eat, drink, wash,wear leather shoes, or cohabit from sunset the night before until after the starts have risen on Yom Kippur night, as we atone for our wrongdoings in relation to God.
Special Prayers and Observances
Before sunset on the eve of Yom Kippur, candles are lit. It is also customary to light memorial candles in anticipation of the Yizkor service which is chanted on Yom Kippur itself.
Kol Nidre, the opening prayer of Yom Kippur, is said before sunset. It is chanted while standing, with the ark open. The words themselves, are a declaration whose intent is to repeal all past vows and to nullify all future ones so that we may begin the observance of the day without bearing the sin of violated vows. This nullification pertains only to vows relating to matters between man and God, and not between man and man.
The prayer, however, has a more profound meaning. A vow represents a binding of oneself. This may be to things which are contrary to God's will or to our acceptance of Him. Kol Nidre is a Jew's official declaration of his disassociation from such evils.
The day of Yom Kippur is spent in prayer in the synagogue. Several special prayers are said, including the Yizkor service and the Seder Haavodah. The latter commemorates the services in the Temple in Jerusalem. During these services, the High Priest performed rituals in order to atone for the sins of the people.
Those who recite Yizkor, a prayer in remembrance of the souls of the departed, pledge to give charity in order to increase the merit of the departed and to enable their souls to ascend, for it is written, the deceased are as in need of atonement and forgiveness as are the living.
Incorporated into the Mussaf service is also a section which recounts the martyrdom of some of our sages during some of the darkest period of our history. These men were tortured and murdered for their belief in God. but they retained and declared this belief up to the moment of their death.
Neilah. literally translated as "closing" signifies the closing of the gates of heaven. At the conclusion of this, the final service, the cantor says the "Shema" aloud once, and the congregation repeats it, signifying his intention of being ready to offer his life for the sanctity of God's name.
It is customary to begin the building of the Sukkah immediately following the post-Yom Kippur meal, in fulfillment of the verse, "They shall go from strength to strength."
Sukkot - October 8-14
Following Yom Kippur comes Sukkot, the festival of Tabernacles, "The season of our rejoicing," which we are commanded to observe in Leviticus 23:42.
The sukkah reminds us of the
clouds of glory that surrounded and protected our people after they left Egypt,
during their forty years of wandering through the desert, on the way to the
Promised Land. It inspires us to believe that today, too, God gives us His
protection. and that is why we have outlived our greatest adversaries in all
The mitzvah of dwelling, eating and spending time in the Sukkah is unique in that the entire person is involved in a mitzvah. The mitzvah of Sukkah encompasses every part of the body. After the heart had been made upright through t'shuvah (repentance) on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, it achieves joy during Sukkot, a festival of many mitzvot and blessings. We light Yom Tov candles; we make Kiddush we say a prayer for the sanctity of the day, a blessing for dwelling in the Sukkah, the blessing of Shehechiyanu, in which we thank God for having brought us to this day, and the blessing over the four species.
The Four Species
One of the special mitzvot of Sukkot is that of the Four Species: the etrog, lulav, hadasim and arovot. We hold them close together as we recite a blessing over them, and then we wave them to all the four winds and upward and downward. Like all other mitzvot, this one should be performed because it is the will of God. However, like allother mitzvot, it has its particular significance and is meant to teach us a lesson. The most famous lesson is that allJews are one.
The etrog (a rare citron fruit) combines both delicious taste and a pleasant, fragrant aroma which is enjoyed by all. It represents the Jew who is both learned in Torah and observant of the mitzvot. The lulav (a branch of the date palm) is of the tree that bears a date, a good tasting fruit, but one that is odorless. It represents those among Israel who are Torah scholars, but do not particularly emphasize doing good deeds. The hadasim (twigs of myrtle) are fragrant, but tasteless. They represent Jews whose lives are filled with good deeds, but they are not learned in Torah. The arovot (branches of willow) have neither taste nor odor. They represent those among Jews who are unlearned in Torah and also do no good deeds. The mitzvah is performed by holding together the arovot and hadasim which have been placed in a container made from woven lulav strands and tied with a lulav strand and the lulav and etrog. This is to teach us that, like the etrog or lulav which cannot be used apart from the hadasim and arovot, no Jew is complete without his fellow Jew. Without the unity of all four species, there is no mitzvah. The four species also symbolize parts of the human being die etrog, the heart; the palm branch, the spine; the myrtle leaves, the eyes; the willow leaf, the mouth. Together, they symbolize the dedication of the entire person to the service of God.
Hoshana Rabbah - October 14
Hoshana Rabbah is the last day of the Sukkot festival. Although it is considered to be one of the days of Chol hamoed, the four intermediate days of the festival, it is, actually, a more solemn day than are those preceding it. It is the day on which the final sealing of God's judgement, which began on Rosh hashana, takes place. Itis the day on which He completes His review of man and the rest of the universe, and seals our fate for the year. During the morning service, we again say special penitential prayers. The congregation circles the Torah seven times holding the lulav and etrog in remembrance of the encircling of the holy altar in the Sanctuary, and chants prayers of supplication, Hoshanot. (Please help us).
Shmini Atzeret - October 15
Shmini Atzeret is a festival tied to but separate from Sukkot. Spiritually, it allows man to take a reluctant leave of the festivals. Special prayers for rain in Israel are chanted during the solemn Mussaf service. Yizkor is also recited and charity donated.
Simchat Torah - October 16
Simchat Torah is the last day of The festivities. At this time, the last portion of the Torah is read, and since we must never finish reading the Torah, we begin rereading it by chanting the first section of Genesis. This is a very happy occasion. All the Torah scrolls are taken from the Ark and are carried in a parade around the synagogue seven times. We rejoice and sing and dance with the Torahs in our reaffirmation of our acceptance of the covenant. The celebration is likened to that of the rejoicing of a bride and groom, for the Torah is betrothed to Israel as a wife is to her husband. Children are given gifts of candy and fruit to teach them that the Commandments of the Lord are sweeter than honey. This celebration takes place both the evening before and on the day of Simchat Torah, during the morning services.