Everything You Always Wanted to Know about the Shofar but Were Afraid to Ask

At this time of year you are probably getting used to hearing Happy New Year, Shana tova, and the words Rosh Hashanah bandied about and wondering what is this exactly. Rosh Hashana is a combination of penance and joy. It is hard to explain so I will share a short (2 1/2 min.) video I recently discovered that explains this weird holiday, and also contains the blowing of the shofar – the ram’s horn – which I will talk more about after the video.

Now you are probably wondering what is the meaning of the shofar? The shofar is a ram’s horn which is reminiscent of human vocal expression and is supposed to awaken us to do the work of self-evaluation and introspection regarding the world and our place in it during the month prior to Rosh Hashanah, and also integral to the High Holidays (Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur) services. And by the way it’s harder to get a sound out of it than it looks. (Yes I tried and failed). But here are some examples of people who succeeded.

The longest shofar blast.

And a totally new initiative, the shofar flash mob, groups who got together at different places in the world to blow shofar together.

And last but not least, here is an adorable video of my nieces and nephew wishing you all a happy Rosh Hashanah. Shana Tova!

 

 

Rosh Hashanah: Angst

Rosh Hashana is the season of Jewish angst. It is the Jewish New Year, a time when Jews are supposed to grapple with their own demons. It is a time for self assessment, for asking forgiveness from those we have harmed and making resolutions for the future. Life however is not entirely in our hands and we reflect also on the fragility of life and ask for a new year of joy, good health and continued life, all the time knowing that none of us has any guarantees in this regard.  Our prayers meditate on the question “Who will be raised up, and who will be brought down? Who will live and who will die in this new year?” And this suspense is the suspense of life itself. And this is the drama of the Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur Holiday cycle to which we have to bring our mind and soul.

A friend sent me the following parody of New Years wishes.

May your hair, your teeth, your face-lift, your abs, and your stocks
not fall .And may your blood pressure, your triglycerides, your cholesterol, your white blood count and your mortgage interest
not rise.
May you get a clean bill of health from your dentist, your cardiologist, your gastroenterologist, your urologist, your proctologist, your podiatrist, your psychiatrist, your plumber, and the Internal Revenue.
May you find a way to travel from anywhere to anywhere during rush hour in less than an hour, and when you get there may you find a parking space.
May this Yom Tov, find you seated around the dinner table, together with your beloved family and cherished friends, ushering in the Jewish New Year ahead.
May what you see in the mirror delight you, and what others see in you delight them.
May the telemarketers wait to make their sales calls until you finish dinner, may your checkbook and your budget balance, and may they include generous amounts for charity.
May you remember to say “I love you” at least once a day to your partner, your child, and your parent(s). You can say it to your secretary, your nurse, your butcher, your photographer, your hairdresser or your gym instructor,
but not with a “twinkle” in your eye.
May we live as intended, in a world at peace with the awareness of the beauty in every sunset, every flower’s unfolding petals, every baby’s smile and every wonderful, astonishing, miraculous part of ourselves.
Bless you with every happiness, great health, peace and much love during the next year and all those that follow.

And here is an Israeli musical video that says it in a different way: Wishing everyone a “Shana Tova Umetooka”: A good and sweet year to everyone.

 

L’shanah Tova to all of us.

 

 

 

Rosh Hashanah : The Birthday of the World : What Does it Mean ?

 

Rosh HashanaOne of the names for the Jewish new Year, is the “birthday of the world”. It is two days that Jews choose to celebrate, every year, by collectively attending synagogue services and having festive meals, starting with apples dipped in honey to symbolize hope for a sweet new year.

As we look around the world, this Rosh Hashana 5773/2012, the Middle East is in turmoil. Riots in Libya, Egypt, Sudan, and the burning of the American flag have replaced the deadly assaults in Syria on the front pages of our newspapers. Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon program and continuing its genocidal threats against Israel, although its real target is the World, and the end goal is Arab/Muslim Hegemony.

Africa is in turmoil. Asia has its share of dictatorships and oppressed peoples. The United States is poised for an election in the midst of an economic crisis that affects all of us.

And yet Jews all over the world are getting ready to celebrate the Jewish New Year, the Holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the 5773th year in the Jewish calender.

A birthday is the birthing anew of our world. Everything seems possible at the beginning of the year. The Torah portions that we read highlight these ideas.

On the first day of Rosh Hashana, we read about Sarah, the wife of Abraham being told she will have a child at the age of 100. Genesis 21:1–34; And the next day we read about G-d asking Abraham to sacrifice his only son. Genesis 22:1–24

In the additional readings, (the Haftorot) for the two days, we learn on the first day (Samuel 1:1-2:10) about Hanna, who was barren, praying so hard for a son that the priest, Eli thinks she is drunk, and the birth of Samuel. (Reminding us of the long and event filled life of the Prophet Samuel, recounted in the two prophetic books, Samuel I, and Samuel II.) On the second day we read the words of  (Jeremiah, 31:1) prophesying about G-d’s eternal love for His people and His promised ingathering of the exiles, bringing all Jews back to Israel – the promised land.

Life is fragile and, as adults, we all know that we are never completely in charge of our fates. On Rosh Hashanah, during synagogue services, Jews meditate on this fact, by sharing the liturgy of this day, some in grand operatic style, and some with muted prayer. We all pray, that G-d in partnership with man, will bring us safely to the best options through the coming year. We pray to be blessed with life, health, abundance and happiness, all the while recognizing the fragility of life, and the joy of having one more day to fulfill our hopes and dreams.

This is aptly recognized by Rabbi Steinmetz in his brief Rosh Hashanah talk: Life has no “Easy Button.”

Shana Tova. Here is praying for a fruitful year of wisdom, good health, and abundance for all of us.

Abigail Hirsch

Rosh Hashana: Jewish New Year: What it Means to Jews and to Non-Jews

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Rosh-Hashanah-pomagraniteRosh Hashana is an unusual holiday since it is both communal and personal. In one of his brief talks Rabbi Steinmetz explains that the only time a Jewish community is obligated to hire a Rabbi and organize public prayer is for Rosh Hashanah. And yet Jews are of all different stripes and persuasions. This was amusingly brought home to me by a humorous Rosh Hashana e-mail:

Shana Tova
Author Unknown

To modern, ultra & just plain Orthodox Jews, Charedi Jews, Misnagdim, Conservative, Conservadox, Reform & ConForm Jews, Reconstructionist,Gartel Jews, non-Gartel Jews, Jews with sheitels & without, Tichel Jews, Sheitel, tichel & hat Jews, converted Jews, adult & child Jews, Frum from birth Jews, Baalei Teshuva, Satmar, Agudah, black hat, kipa s’ruga, Mir, Munkacs, BelzBeta Yisrael, Bobov, Chaim Berlin, Y.U. Jews, payos in front of the ear Jews, payos in back of the ear Jews, kipa only in shul/ hat in shul/ no shul at all Jews, Mizrachi Jews, Jews by choice, Bathrobe on Friday night Jews, Likud Jews, Labor Jews, Meimad Jews, Ten Lost Tribes Jews, cardiac Jews, Irish Jews,Black Jews, White Jews, 3-day-a-year Jews, Rav Nachman Jews, Rav Shlomo Jews, Neturei Karta Jews, Hasidim, Telz, Lakewood & Ner Yisrael Jews, Chofetz Chaim Jews, zaftig Jews, skinny Jews, Fremeiners, Dinevers, Kook-ies, JTS, RJJ, HUC, HTC, MTJ, BMT Jews, Celebrity Jews, Generation X,Y & Z Jews, NCSY Jews, Solomon Schechter Jews, Chinuch Atzmai Jews, Fackenheim Jews, Yitz Greenberg Jews, Kahane Jews, Feminist Jews, Chauvinist Jews,egalitarian Jews, traditional Jews, Kaddish-zuger Jews, political Jews, intellectual Jews, ignorant Jews, tomato Jews & orange Jews, Shinui Jews, Shas Jews, Israeli Jews, American Jews, Persian Jews, Russian Jews, Galitzianers, Litvaks, Polacks, Birthright Jews, single Jews, married Jews, wish I was married Jews, Greener Jews,  Redder Jews, Scandinavian Jews, South of the Border Jews, Italian Jews, Bald Jews, Hairy Jews, Canadian Jews, Latino Jews, Ladino Jews, Jews in kapatas, Jews in T-shirts, Jews in sandals, Jews in gym shoes, Jews in cowboy boots, Hungarian Jews, Czech Jews, Jews on the Hungarian-Czech Border Jews, Ashkenazim, Sefardim, Yemenite Jews, Afrikaaner Jews, Romanian Jews, Zionists, non-Zionists, anti-Zionists, post-Zionists, Jews with an accent, Jews who speak perfect Midwestern English, Hebrew, Native American Jews, Anglo-Saxon Jews, French Jews, German Jews, Greek Jews, Indian Jews, Chinese Jews, Jews who like David Levy Jews , Wannabee Jews, Conspiracy Theory Jews,Japanese Jews, Shayna Panim Jews, Meesekite Jews, Closet Jews,Shnorrers, Baalei Tzedaka, Tzadikim, Baynonim, Rashaim, Chacham-Tam-Ayni Yodea Jews, Chevramen & Forbisseners, kvetching Jews, Guta Neshama Jews, Vizhnitzer, Ger, Gerer, Chabadnik, Kohenim, Levi’im, Yisraelim, Machers, Mavens, & Pashet Jews, Manchester, Melbourne, Jerusalem and Toronto Jews, EVERY KIND of Jew in this vast Universe.

Jews are argumentative and fractious and often divided, But on Rosh Hashanah we come together to pray for ourselves and for the community. The Jewish community is never an isolated community. We live and have lived in every corner of the world and we are an integral part of every conversation. This year, the world is divided indeed, from the Iran nuclear deal being debated in the US Congress as we speak, to the refugee crisis engulfing Europe and Canada, and the ongoing internecine Islamic wars in the Middle East, and Africa, it is hard to find one’s bearings as a Canadian, as a Jew, whether living in Israel or in the diaspora.

What is the glue that holds us Jews together? Rabbi Steinmetz spoke yesterday about the “Covenant or Contract – Brit in Hebrew” that Moses lays out for the Jewish people – the Sinaitic contract passed down by Moses at the mountain to the Israelites in the dessert.

The words of this brit, covenant or contract are quite beautiful: Chapter 29 v. 9 – 14 Deuteronomy reads as follows: “You are standing today all of you before the Lord your God: the heads of your tribes,d your elders, and your officers, all the men of Israel, 11your little ones, your wives, and the sojourner who is in your camp, from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water, 12so that you may enter into the sworn covenant of the Lord your God, which the Lord your God is making with you today, 13that he may establish you today as his people, and that he may be your God, as he promised you, and as he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. 14It is not with you alone that I am making this sworn covenant, 15but with whoever is standing here with us today before the Lord our God, and with whoever is not here with us today.”

Chapter 29 v. 9 – 14 Deuteronomy

Rabbi Steinmetz spoke about the startling declaration : “It is not with you alone that I am making this sworn covenant, but with whoever is standing here with us today before the Lord our God, and with whoever is not here with us today. ”

Those who are not here with us today” is generally interpreted to mean “all future generations” whose souls are also considered to have stood at Sinai.

Rabbis have asked the question, how can a contract be avowed for those who are not here with us today? And yet the Sinaitic covenant has been passed down and continues to be upheld by ongoing generations and communities. This Rabbi Steinmetz explains is the greater miracle than the question often posed “are Jews  disappearing in our time?” as posited by Pew statistics.

As many of you  know blowing of a ram’s horn or shofar is emblematic of Rosh Hashana.

I even wrote a blog about this not so long ago. Everything you wanted to know about the shofar but were afraid to ask.

Rabbi Asher Jacobsen in his communal class last Friday, spoke about a talmudic discussion about what kinds of shofars are permissible for the Rosh Hashanah services. For a horn to be kosher 1. it has to have the characteristic of self hollowing. (Apparently when a ram’s horn is soaked in water the matter inside the horn simply dissolves leaving a hollowed out instrument.) 2. Traditionally it is a Ram’s horn that is chosen and the ram is a kosher animal. The Talmud asks the question can we use the horn of an animal other than the ram? And what if the permissible horn is from an animal that is not kosher?

Apparently in the face of scarcity, all three are permissible i.e. 1, A ram’s horn, 2. A hollow horn from another kosher animal other than the ram and 3. a hollow horn from a non-kosher animal.

Rabbi Jacobsen  then quoted from a text that compares the three types of horn to three types of Jews: 1. The horn from a non-kosher animal is compared to the Jew who is a Jew only because of anti-semitism. He is defined by a negative outside world. And that world reminds him that he is Jewish. 2. The hollowed out horn from an animal other than the ram parallels the Jews who defines himself as a Jew due to history – legacy. 3. The kosher horn, the Ram’s horn reminds the Jew of the famous Abrahamic contest with G-d, the Binding of Jacob, where Abraham agrees to follow G-d’s word even to the extent of sacrificing his son and heir.  At the very last moment when Jacob is already bound to the altar, G-d calls out to Jacob, not to touch his son, but to sacrifice the ram caught in the bushes instead. As the Rabbi pointed out, this test is a very personal and private test. The binding of Jacob occurs on a lonely mountain top with no witnesses other than the two principals. And this represents the Jew who in spite of it all has accepted the covenant of Abraham and Moses at Sinai.

So why do we have so many divisions and how can we understand it?

David Nirenberg in a U. of Chicago Harper Talk, “Can History Help Us Think about religious conflicts.” brilliantly exposes the ambivalence and variability of theological interpretations of Islam, Christianity and Judaism, within their historical contexts from ancient times to the present. Listening to his talk which is an hour long offers true hope for peace among those of every religion. He points out brilliantly from various sources how in the present and in the past those who stick to their own and only their own interpretation can and have gone astray. And yet is able to assert “Holding onto faith while allowing for different versions of that faith: that’s the true art of any scholar.”

His is a powerful lesson for continuing to mine the wisdom of all of our ancient traditions with hope that one day, we may truly find a personal and a communal G-d that is one and the same that can unite us with all mankind.

May we all unite — without a fight! — and together ignite G-d’s great light.
May we see a sweet and blessed year together with a  true peace.

Shanah Tovah U’Metukah!
Hope you enjoyed this,
Love,

Just an addendum: Here is Rabbi Sacks explaining how the individual can follow his personal path via Rosh Hashanah related practise. Cultivating the Inner Self