Friday, October 24, 2008

Is Rosh Hashanah Really Rosh Hashanah?

Yesterday I wrote about Yom Kippur so today, naturally, I am going to talk about Rosh Hashanah. What fun is it to go in order. The more I celebrate this holiday, the more of an anomaly I find it. First of all, the holiday combines the theme of repentance, of starting the ten days of awe, or asking and praying for forgiveness, with the joyous aspect of celebrating the new year, of trying to get the year off on the correct foot. That dichotomy has always fascinated me.

A second aspect that I find interesting has to do with the fact that biblically, we do not celebrate Rosh Hashanah. Before you think I am not aware of the biblical reference, hold your comment. Certainly there is a reference to this holiday in the Torah. The Torah, however, references the first day of the seventh month. According to the Torah, Nissan (the month of Passover) is the first month. I am aware of all the different commentaries that explain how Tishrei (the month when we celebrate Rosh Hashanah) is really the first month, but the Torah never refers to it that way.

In addition, the Torah never refers to this day as the “New Year”, as Rosh Hashanah. The day is referred to as “Yom Hadin” (Judgment Day), Yom Hazikaron (The Day of Remembrance) and Yom Teruach (Loosely translated as the Day of Blowing the Shofar, since the Teruach is one of the notes blown on the shofar). Never is this day called the New Year.

It is fascinating how different customs, practices and beliefs come into being. Of course this is an important day and has significance. Still, there appear to have been some changes of the centuries that have been made to this holiday. It is just interesting to consider how things came to be.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Intense Versus Sad

Now that the Jewish Holidays are over, hopefully life can return to normal. I enjoy the Holidays but it is a bit much. I do have some reflections on the different holidays that I will be posting over the next few days (or weeks). Today I will start with Yom Kippur.

It is amazing to me how many people misunderstand the significance of this day. I was planning a lesson for Hebrew School and was looking at some YouTube videos. I look at the discussion that surrounded one of the videos about Yom Kippur. The comments were indicating that this was the saddest day on the Jewish Calendar.

Yom Kippur is intense, it is serious and it is important, but it is not a sad day. Judaism does have such a day, that day being Tisha B’Av. Yom Kippur, however, actually has a positive tone. The idea of Yom Kippur is purification, asking G-d for forgiveness so we can start the year with a clean slate. It is like the student who begins fresh at a new school. Instead of having the baggage follow you, you begin anew. That, certainly, is not a sad day.

It is true we deprive ourselves on this day in a number of ways. We are even told to afflict our souls. Still, a shehechayanu is made on this day (and it is only made on joyous occasions. We are told that we will be forgiven. So, I certainly disagree with the idea that Yom Kippur is the saddest day of the Jewish year, or even just a sad day.