Posts Tagged ‘Rosh haShanah’

The Moon and the Month

October 18, 2010
The Moon as seen by an observer from Earth. So...

Look upward and see the almost-full moon.   When the moon becomes completely full, you’ll know it’s the 15th of the current Jewish month.   Right now we’re in the month of Heshvan.

Or, just remember that in the Jewish calendar the new moon is always the new month.  In fact the Hebrew noun for “month” is HOdesh, and the Hebrew adjective for “new” is haDASH. Their shared linguistic root is perfectly obvious.

The new moon/month is always occasion for a Jewish holiday.  It’s called Rosh Hodesh in Hebrew, literally “head of the month.”   (Recall that Rosh haShanah means “head of the year.”)

Paradoxically, the English word “month” comes from the English word “moon,” and yet they are not (any longer) tied together.   Can you look up at the sky and be able to tell that it’s October 18?

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Last Three Days of the Jewish New Year Journey

October 5, 2010

Click to get free emails about the 60-day journey

The first time I read 60 Days: A Spiritual Guide to the High Holidays, by Rabbi Simon Jacobson, it was summer 2006.  I followed his suggestions for thinking hard about my life, my personal goals, and how to enjoy the Jewish new-year season more deeply.  I made lists, wrote in my journal every day, read the daily essays, asked myself the daily questions, and did my best to do the daily exercises.  It changed my life!  And I learned a lot about the Jewish holidays, too.

Anyone can still sign up for Rabbi Jacobson’s free emails about the 60-day journey, even if you haven’t been following along over the past 57 days.  Just click on the image of the book.

Sh’mini ‘Atzeret: Remember, remember!

September 30, 2010

As if Gd is swirling around inside the sukkah, saying “Remember, remember!”

The seasonal, agrarian rhythm of the Jewish festival holidays is based on the weather and climate of the land of Israel, not New England.  I know this.  Nevertheless, in seven years of annual dwelling in my own sukkah, it always seems so windy on Sh’mini ‘Atzeret.

As if Gd is swirling around inside the sukkah, saying “Remember, remember!”

Because this is our challenge today: to distill all our new insight and energy into the rest of the year, now that the Tishrei holiday season is almost over.  To take the spiritual shelter of the sukkah into ourselves, and remember.

Remember the soul-searching of Elul, the wake-up call of the shofar. Remember the Melting Heart of Tashlikh, remember teshuvah, the return to our Purist Selves.  Remember Forgiveness.  Remember Joy.  Remember getting back together, with Gd and with each other.

The flimsy structure of the sukkah, with its skhakh-roof  full of holes, reminded us of our vulnerability in life, that even our solid-seeming homes can’t ultimately protect us.  As we read in Kohelet (the Hebrew name for the Book of Ecclesiastes), “Ha-kol havel!” Everything is vapor, vanity, futility.  As if to underscore this point, the electric power is going on and off, my digital clocks are all blinking.  Wake up!  Pay attention!   The National Weather Service has issued a Wind Advisory for the Boston area.    There’s rain and thunder and a dramatic WIND.

The season is changing.  The energy is shifting.  Remember, remember!

More Jewish Holidays!

September 29, 2010

Three more holidays in our Jewish New Year Holiday Season:

Tishrei 21, which ended at sundown tonight, was Hoshana Rabba (“the Great Hoshana”), which was the final day for waving the lulav and etrog.

Tishrei 22 began at sundown tonight, initiating the holiday of Sh’mini ‘Atzeret (“the Stopping of the Eighth,” i.e., the eighth day, and truly the end of, Sukkot), a less-famous Jewish festival.  Among other observances, we say goodbye to the sukkah until next year.

Tishrei 23 is when we celebrate Simhat Torah, which means, literally, “the joy of the Torah.”  We read from the very end, then rewind the scroll all the way back to the beginning and read from there.

It is truly a holiday cycle.

Hebrew grammar:

Simhat is the s’mikhut (construct) form of simhah. The noun modifies the next noun.

Simhah = joy

Simhat = joy of…

Tishrei 17: Quotes from Psalm 27

September 19, 2010
The Dead Sea Scrolls - Psalms Scroll

Image by onBeing via Flickr

The Book of Psalms is called T’hilim in Hebrew.

We recite Psalm 27 every day during the the first 50 days of the 60-day spiritual journey through the months of Elul and Tishrei.  Starting one month before Rosh haShanah and continuing daily through Sukkot and Simhat Torah, Jews around the world repeat the comforting words of the psalmist:

“Gd is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” (Ps. 27:2)

When you put it this way, our worries and problems suddenly seem smaller and less consequential, don’t you think?  I guess that’s the point.

There’s a beautiful waltz tune that was composed for the Hebrew lines of the following quote, whose meaning is already beautiful.  I’ve been teaching this one throughout the 60-day journey, every chance I get:

“One thing I asked of Gd, that shall I seek: That I dwell in the house of Gd all the days of my life; to behold the sweetness of Gd and to contemplate in His sanctuary.”  (Ps. 27:4)

One line of Psalm 27 that always startles is the tenth verse:

“Though my father and mother have forsaken me, Gd will gather me in.”  (Ps. 27:10)

Yep, that’s really what it says.  Maybe they really did forsake one.  Or maybe one simply grew up and moved away.

The final words of the psalm are comforting to many:

“Hope to Gd.  Strengthen yourself and be encouraged, and hope to Gd.”

Tishrei 13: Sukkot Is Coming

September 17, 2010

image

It’s Day 43 of our 60-day spiritual journey.  If you haven’t already joined in, please come aboard; it’s not too late!

Of all our happy holidays, Sukkot is the only one on which we are actually commanded, straight from the Bible, to Be Joyful.  Now that we’ve been judged on how we behaved during the past year (Rosh haShanah), spent ten days trying to make it right (Ten Days of Return), and got in touch with our purist selves (Yom Kippur), it is time to party.  Yes, it is!

The Jewish holiday of Sukkot always starts on a full moon, on the eve of the 15th of Tishrei. This year (5771) the holiday begins at sundown on Wednesday night, September 22.

Sukkot Basics:

1. Build a sukkah and live in it as much as possible during all seven days of the holiday.  A sukkah is a hut or booth (or “tabernacle”) that we build with a deliberately flimsy structure so that it is quite subject to the weather.   This small hut is built out in the open, directly beneath the sky, not under the shade or protection of other structures or trees.  To make it even more vulnerable, we leave lots of holes in the roof, quite on purpose.  The roofing material, or skhakh (schach), is largely what defines a kosher sukkah.  The skhakh is made entirely of natural material (detached from the ground), provides shade to at least 50% of the sukkah but leaves plenty of holes through which rain can fall.

Living in a vulnerable little house reminds us that ultimately our safety and comfort and happiness all depend on Gd.

My sukkah, with pile of skhakh ready for creating the roof

2. Every morning inside the  sukkah we take up the Four Species and shake them in the six directions.  These comprise the etrog (citron, pictured above), plus three kinds of branches: hadasim (myrtles), ‘aravot (willows), and lulav (palm frond).  The branches are tied together in a bundle that is usually referred to as the lulav.

3. An important part of observing Sukkot is hosting guests in your sukkah. The more the merrier!  In addition to our family, friends, and neighbors, we also invite the “Exalted Guests” in spiritual form, in this specific order: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David.  These guests are called ushpizin, which is Aramaic for “guests.”  There’s a wonderful movie called “Ushpizin,” which I highly recommend, for learning more about Sukkot and just for pure entertainment.

4. On Sukkot we read the Biblical book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes).  Many famous quotes come from Kohelet, including “To everything there is a season,” “The sun also rises,” “There’s nothing new under the sun,” and my personal favorite: “Futility of futilities — all is futile!”

If anything in #4 above reminded you of a song, you’re well on your way to experiencing the joy of Sukkot. Singing and dancing, common expressions of joy, are a big part of celebrating this holiday.

Hebrew names for the holiday include

HeHag (The Holiday)
Hag haSukkot (Holiday of Booths, or “Feast of Tabernacles”)
Z’man Simhateinu (Season of Our Joy)

‘Tis the season.  No matter what’s been going on in your life lately, you must now be joyful.   Sing.  Dance.  Find a way.

Tishrei 9: The Melting Heart

September 17, 2010

There are many things to say about Yom Kippur, which begins tonight at sundown.   Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.  We remove ourselves from the distractions of the material world and spend one whole day in prayer, traveling inward toward our purest spiritual selves and our true home in Gd.

But I still have some Rosh haShanah liturgy on my mind as I approach the biggest Day of Awe.  The Hebrew text above comes from one of the prayers we recite at Tashlikh, the ritual of symbolically casting away our sins of the past year into a body of water, which we performed nine days ago on Rosh haShanah. Although I’ve read them many times at Tashlikh in the past, these words struck me particularly deeply this year.   As I stood on the shore of Walden Pond on the first of Tishrei and contemplated the chasm between the person I’ve been and the person I want to be, this simple cry to Gd jumped off the Hebrew page at me.  In English:

Our heart melts within us and becomes like water.
What can we answer?  What can we say?

(more…)

The Chicken and the Eggs: Rosh haShanah Down on the Farm

September 9, 2010

High-pressure afternoon yesterday: Rosh haShanah would begin in just a few hours, my round, holiday hallot — a variation I’d never tried making before — were rising in the oven.  I’d used up the last of my eggs, needed just one more, for glazing the loaves before baking.  So I zipped out to Codman Farm (c. 1740), which raises organic chickens and sells eggs at the Farm Store.

Organic Eggs

Image by Undeleterious via Flickr

Luckily there were two dozen eggs remaining in the store’s fridge; I grabbed one dozen.  As I dropped my $4 into the honor-system pay box, I heard something surprising for that context: low, breathy notes of a flute, wafting from the barn.  I cocked an ear as the notes formed a melody, beautiful and mournful and … familiar.  Wait a second — that’s Avinu Malkeinu!

I went to discover the source, and next thing I knew I was celebrating the eve of Rosh haShanah in a real barn!   The informal, moving service was delightful itself, led by warm, thoughtful people beneath the hayloft; I might have felt moved to blog about my first time davvening in a barn anyway.

Red Star (Sex Link) hen in back yard

Image via Wikipedia

But when, midway through the service, a red chicken wandered calmly through the congregation, heading toward the makeshift bimah as if she planned to cluck some Hebrew liturgy or perhaps even blow the shofar, I just knew I had to share.

L’shanah tovah u-m’tukah!

(“May you have a good and sweet New Year“)

Elul 29: Last day of 5770

September 9, 2010

Today we are halfway through our 60-day spiritual journey.  For the past 30 days we’ve been using the power of the month of Elul to consider what we accomplished in the past year, successes and mistakes, and what we’ve learned as a result.  We’ve also taken a close look at our Divine souls and how we might honor and cherish them in the coming year.

Most poignantly, perhaps, we’ve reviewed the past year through the lens of relationship — between ourselves and Gd, between ourselves and others, and between ourselves and our Selves.  What was good?  What hurt?  How shall we address the broken parts and make them whole again?  We try to emulate Gd by bringing compassion to all our relationships, with unconditional love.

Tonight, as the sun goes down before Rosh haShanah, the universe goes into a comatose state.  A slumber descends on all existence, everything comes to a standstill in cosmic silence, in apprehension of its contract being renewed.

Regardless of how you took advantage of the first 30 days of the journey, you still have 30 more days to experience spiritual transformation, thanks to the energy of the month of Tishrei, which starts with Rosh haShanah and contains all the “high holidays,” including the solemn and cleansing day of Yom Kippur and the week-long festival of joy that is Sukkot.

If you haven’t already done so, please consider subscribing to Rabbi Simon Jacobson‘s free daily emails about the spiritual journey.  Click here.

May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a year of health, happiness, and learning.

— Natasha Nataniela Shabat

Looking Back at Elul 12: Relating to Gd

August 26, 2010

Do you struggle to “relate to Gd”?  Some of us raised in secular environments find it quite challenging to “believe in Gd.”  Yet the theme of Elul 12 — three days ago along our 60-day spiritual journey — challenged all of us to do just that.  It was called “Relating to Gd.”

See if this short video from Aish helps.