Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

A Bissel of This and That

Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of the universe, the day G‑d created Adam and Eve and it is celebrated as the head of the Jewish year. It begins at sundown on the eve of Tishrei 1 (Sept. 18, 2020) and ends after nightfall on Tishrei 2 (Sept. 20, 2020). It is both a time of rejoicing and of serious introspection, a time to celebrate the completion of another year while also taking stock of one’s life. Together with Yom Kippur (which follows 10 days later), Rosh Hashanah is part of the Yamim Nora’im (Days of Awe, or High Holidays).

The central observance of Rosh Hashanah is blowing the shofar (ram’s horn) on both mornings of the holiday (except on Shabbat). The shofar blowing contains a series of three types of blasts: tekiah, a long sob-like blast; sh’varim, a series of three short wails; and teruah, at least nine piercing staccato bursts. The blowing of the shofar represents the trumpet blast that is sounded at a king’s coronation. Its plaintive cry also serves as a call to repentance. The shofar itself recalls the Binding of Isaac, an event that occurred on Rosh Hashanah in which a ram took Isaac’s place as an offering to G‑d.

The challah (traditional bread) that is eaten for the Rosh Hashanah season is round, symbolizing the eternal cycle of life, and is traditionally dipped in honey, symbolizing the hopes for a sweet New Year. The same is done with apples, which are made even sweeter with the addition of honey. 

Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) is the holiest day of the year, when we are considered to be closest to G‑d and to the essence of our souls. It is observed on the 10th day of Tishrei (from several minutes before sunset on Sunday, September 27, 2020 until after nightfall on Monday, September 28, 2020). This is the day at the conclusion of which, according to tradition, G-d seals the Books of Life and Death for the coming year. The day is devoted to communal repentance for sins committed over the course of the previous year.

Yom Kippur is the day on which we are instructed to divorce ourselves as completely as humanly possible from the mundane world in which we live, in order to devote ourselves with all our hearts and minds to our relationship with the Divine. Fasting is the most widespread manifestation of this devotion. Other examples include refraining from washing, marital relations, and the wearing of leather (a sign of luxury in earlier times). It is traditional to dress in white on this day, symbolizing personal purity.

At the end of a long day of praying and fasting, Sh’ma Yisrael is recited, and the blowing of the shofar is sounded in one long, final blast, followed by the proclamation, “Next year in Jerusalem.”

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