The month preceding Rosh Hashanah is Elul. From the second day of Rosh Chodesh Elul until the day before Rosh Hashanah, the shofar is blown at the end of the Shacharit service. The purpose of this custom is to “arouse trepidation in the heart”. On the day immediately preceding Rosh Hashanah the Shofar is not blown, in order to distinguish between the blowing of the Shofar for Elul, which is of rabbinic custom, and the blowing of the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah itself, which is prescribed in the Torah.
According to Rabbi Eliezer, the World was created on the 25th day of Elul, and Adam six days later on Rosh Hashanah.
Approximately one week before Rosh Hashanah (depending on which day of the week is 1st day Rosh Hashanah) Selichot – penitential prayers are recited before Shacharit during the week.
Rosh Hashanah, meaning New Year is also known by three other names:
a) Yom Teruah – Day of Blowing the Shofar
b) Yom Hadin – Day of Judgment
c) Yom Hazikaron – Day of Memorial
Rosh Hashanah is celebrated for 2 days both in Israel and in the Diaspora.
The first day of Rosh Hashanah the Torah Reading in the first scroll deals with the birth of Isaac since it was on Rosh Hashanah that Sarah, his mother, was remembered by G-d with the promise of his birth.
On the second day, the Torah reading consists of the Akeida. (The testing of Avraham, with the commandment to sacrifice his son) (Bereishit Chapter 22).
The Musaf Amidah for Rosh Hashanah contains 3 sections only said on the two days of Rosh Hashanah. They are:
a) Malchuyot – stressing G-d’s Kingship over all the Universe
b) Zichronot – referring to G-d’s remembrance of acts of faith performed by our Ancestors.
c) Shofarot – verses concerning the shofar
Hatarat Nedarim – Annulling Oaths
At the Shacharit service on the day before Rosh Hashanah (when we do not say Tachanun), it is customary to arrange for hatarat nedarim, the “annulling of vows”. Anyone wishing to do so can annul his vows before any three other adult male Jews, who, for thus purpose become a symbolic beit din. The individual stands before this beit din and asks it to annul vows he may have taken during the year and to forgive him for anything that he might have said that was not in accordance with the laws of vows. Judaism is very sensitive to utterances of one’s mouth, especially to any vows or promises one might make as we see in Ecclesiastes (5:4), “It is better that you not vow than that you vow and not pay”. So too does the Torah caution us: “He shall not break his word. Whatever he utters from his mouth, he shall do”. (Numbers 30:3)
Hatarat Nedarim does not release a person from any obligations or promises made to G-d; for example, if a person vowed to fast on a certain day. We make sure that we do not enter the Days of Awe bearing vows that we have not kept, obligations not met, and unpaid bills. One should enter the Days of Awe free of any such burdens.
It is in this spirit that each of the four people in each group stands in turn in front of the other three and annuls all vows.
In order to be ready for the Day of Judgment, we try to examine our deeds and to summarize our actions for the past year, as in the verse, “Prepare to meet your G-d, O Israel” (Amos 4:12). We take stock, as it were, during the month of Elul which precedes Rosh Hashanah.
In the natural course of events, people to not repent overnight. Repentance is a complex phenomenon consisting of a number of stages and we attempt to take those steps which will arouse us to repent, improve our characters, and rectify our ways, to better our behavior. This requires time and effort so we begin the long process from the first day of Elul, thirty days before Rosh Hashanah.’
WHY WE BLOW THE SHOFAR:
Sa’adyoh Gaon gives ten reasons for the mitzvah of blowing the Shofar:
- Because – it is the day that Hashem created the World and became its ruler. Each year, on the anniversary of that event, we re-crown Him has our King – and it is customary to blow trumpets on the day of the Coronation.
- Because – it is the first day of the Aseret Yemei Teshuvah (the 10 Days of Repentance), and we blow to announce to all and sundry: “Whoever wants to do Teshuva is free to do so; he who fails to will have only himself to blame, when Hashem takes action”.
- To remind us of Ma’amad Har Sina (the day that we stood at Har Sinai to receive Torah and Mitzvot) as it written: “And the tone of Shofar got louder and louder”.
- To remind us of the admonitions of the Prophets, as it is written: “And the listener heard the tone of the Shofar (The Prophet’s warnings). He failed to take heed and destruction followed”.
- To remind us of the destruction of the Beit Ha’mikdash and the blowing of the trumpets of War. When we hear the Shofar we will pray for its rebuilding.
- To remember the Akeidat Yitzchak (the binding of Yitzchak- who was replaced by a Ram, of which we are reminded in turn, by the blowing of the Ram’s Horn).
- When we hear the blowing of the Shofar, we will be frightened and tremble, and break (submit) ourselves before our creator, for such is the nature of the Shofar, as it is written: “If a Shofar is blown in the City, will the people not tremble?”
- To remember the great day of judgment and to fear it, as it is written: “For the great day of Hashem is nigh, It is very close the day of the Shofar and of the blowing”.
- To remind us of the ingathering of the scattered ones of Israel, and to long for it, as it is written: “And it shall be on that day a large Shofar will be blown, and those who are lost in the land of Assyria will come, and those who are exiled in the Land of Egypt”.
- To remind us of Techiyat Hameitim, the revival of the dead, and to strengthen our belief in it as it is written “all the inhabitants of the world and the dwellers of the earth, when a flag is hoisted on the mountains you will se and when the shofar blows you will hear.”
On each day of Rosh Hashanah a total of 100 shofar sounds are blown. It is customary not to sleep during the day of Rosh Hashanah and rather learn Torah.
TASHLICH (the casting away of Sin)
On the first day of Rosh Hashanah the prayer of Tashlich is said near a pond or river. In the absence of a pond or river, the Tashlich prayer may be said near a spring well, or even at any gathering of rain water. The following verse is recited “who is a G-d like you who pardons iniquity and passes over the transgression of the remnant of his chosen people? He does not retain His anger forever because He desires benevolence. He will again have compassion upon us, He will subdue our iniquities and you will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea” (Mica 7)
Other verses of compassion follow as well as passages from tehillim. Some add a prayer composed by Rabbi Chaim David Azulai (known by the acrostic chida). Ones pockets are shaken empty 3 times to symbolize the hearts intention to cast away sin and to achieve total purification from its effect. It is NOT correct to take bread in ones pocket (or any food) and to throw it into the water. When the first day of Rosh Hashanah is on Shabbat tachlich takes place on the second day.
The ancient custom of recalling the souls of the departed and contributing to charity in their memory is rooted in the fundamental Jewish belief in the eternity of the soul. When physical life ends, the body dies but the soul ascends to the realm of the spirit where it regularly attains higher levels of purity and holiness.
When this life is over the soul can no longer perform good deeds. That method of attaining method is the soul province of mortal man. But there is a way for the disembodied soul to derive new sources of merit. If we the living give charity and do good deeds due to the lasting influence or in memory of a departed loved one the merit is truly that of the soul in its spiritual realm. Moreover G-d in his mercy credits our deed to the departed one because he or she too would have done the same were it possible. Even if the departed one was too poor to have made contributions to charity, the soul benefits nonetheless because it may be assumed that he or she would have been charitable had sufficient means been available. But mere intentions do not suffice. Only accomplishment can achieve this purpose. The intention to give and the fulfillment of that intention are both necessary. Consequently the pledges to charity should be redeemed as soon as possible after Yom Kippur.
The Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is known as Shabbat Shuva. The name being taken from the opening words from the Haftarah in Hosea 14:2 which begins with the obviously appropriate verse “Return o Israel to the L-rd your G-d for you have fallen by your iniquity”. There are those that call this Shabbat Teshuva, the Sabbath of repentance because it is during the 10 days of Repentance. It is customary for the Rabbi to speak about the importance of Teshuva (repentance)
Repentance has a number of stages:
a) Recognizing that one has committed a sin
b) Regretting the action
c) Refraining from committing that sin again
d) Confessing the sin
e) Obligating oneself not to commit that sin in the future
The first stage is to recognize when one has sinned. One cannot afford to whitewash or rationalize ones actions. AS the prophet Jeremiah puts it (2:35) “Yet you say because I am innocent surely His anger will turn from me. Behold I will sentence you because you say I have not sinned”. We must regret our misconduct and undertake not to commit the sin in the future for otherwise our repentance has a fatal flaw. But repentance is not enough for we must confess our sins because confession itself is a positive commandment. Our confession though is between us and G0d and not to any individual. In fact Judaism frowns upon relating ones sins to other r people.
True repentance has the power to annul our sins against G-d, while sins between humans require in addition to the steps outlined above, undoing the damage done to the other person. Thus a person who stole cannot simply repent but must also return the stolen property and request the victim’s forgiveness. The very fact that we can repent and absolve our sins is one of the greatest gifts that G-d gave us. Enabling us to turn over a new leaf in our lives.
LAWS AND CUSTOMS FOR YOM KIPPUR, APART FROM FASTING, INCLUDES:
a) The wearing of white garments as a symbol of purity.
b) A Tallit is worn at the Kol Nidre Service. According to one opinion it is used to because its purity conveys a likening to the Angels.
c) Wearing of non leather shoes.
The blessing pronounced on the four species is AL NETILAT LULAV, because the lulav is the biggest of the four species.
A Sukkah cannot be built under a tree. Foliage has to be cut and placed on the “roof” of the sukkah.
The walls of the Sukkah must be able to stand against ordinary gusts of wind, and the shade in the Sukah must exceed the rays of the Sun.
On the first night of Sukkot the candles are lit in the Sukkah, and two brachot are said, “To kindle the yom tov light” and “shehecheyanu”. (If the first night of Sukkot is Friday night then Shabbat is mentioned before Yom Tov in the first beracha.)
One must take particular care when lighting the candles in the Sukkah so as to prevent a fire.
The four species for Sukkot are:
Lulav – Branch from a palm tree
Etrog – Citron
Hadas – Branches from a Myrtle Tree
Arava – Branches from a willow tree.
During Hallel the four species are waved in six directions (four horizontal, upwards and downwards). This is an allusion to G-d having created all of existence.
In the Zohar it is written:”When the people of Israel leave their homes and enter the Sukkah for the sake of G-d’s name, they achieve the merit of welcoming the Divine Presence and all the seven faithful shepherds descend from Gan Eden, and come to the Sukkah as their guests.
The Seven guests are: Avraham, Yitzchak, Ya’akov, Yosef, Moshe, Aharon and David.
These seven dwell with all Israel in their Sukkoth all seven days of the Festival, except that each day one of them leads the others.
The first day Avraham Avinu enters first and all the others accompany him and so on…
On entering the Sukkah, but before being seated, it is therefore customary to invite the Ushpizin in, with the recitation of the formula contained in the Prayer Book.
Among the Sephardim it is customary to prepare an ornate chair in the Sukkah; to cover it with a fine cloth, to place sacred Sefarim on it, and to say: “This is the chair of the Ushpizin”.
The Sukkot festival has a unique prayer known as Hosha-na. In some communities, it is said after Shacharit, while in others it place is after Musaf.
The Ark is opened and a Torah scroll is removed. The person honored to take out the Torah stands at eh central bima. The Chazan begins with four verses (arranged alphabetically) which give this prayer its name and the congregation responds after ever verse, “Save us, For Your sake, our Creator, save us”.
The Chazan leaves his place and, carrying the four species, begins to make a single circuit of the synagogue, while slowly reciting the special liturgical hymn for that day. There are six separate hymns for the first six days of Sukkot. The Chazan is followed by all those in the congregation who have the four species. The exact order of which hymn is said on each day depends on which day of the week the festival began, and can be found in the Sidur or Sukkot Machzor.
The Hoshana hymns are all arranged alphabetically and consist of various requests we make of G-d, both for the individual and for the entire community. After the circuit has been made, the Torah scroll is returned to the Ark/.