Category: bissel

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.”

Sources of Information:;;


Elul: The Jewish Month of Repentance

A Bissel of This and That

The current Hebrew month of Elul (observed this year from August 21st to September 18th, 2020) is traditionally a time of personal reflection and spiritual repentance in preparation for the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which are celebrated in September this year.

According to the Talmud, the word “Elul” is an acronym for Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li, a phrase from the Song of Songs which translates to “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine,” where “beloved” allegorically refers to G-d. As such, it is a time to reshape our lives and return to G-d.

Elul is a month of deep introspection, where we ask for forgiveness so we can come into Rosh Hashanah (the New Year) with a clean slate. As the month of divine mercy and forgiveness, Elul is a most opportune time for teshuvah (“return” to G‑d), prayer, and charity to others, in the quest for self-improvement and coming closer to G‑d.

Some basic customs and practices for the month of Elul include:

  • Each day of the month of Elul (except for Shabbat and the last day of Elul), the shofar (ram’s horn) is sounded. The shofar blasts are meant to inspire us to begin our soul searching and repentance in preparation for the High Holy Days.
  • Psalm 27, which begins with the words “G-d is my light and my helper, whom shall I fear?”, is recited every day from Rosh Hodesh Elul (the beginning of the month) through the middle of Sukkot (the Festival of Booths).
  • During the last week of Elul, in the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah, special penitential prayers, called Selichot, are recited. On the first night they are recited at midnight; on the following days, in the early morning.
  • When writing a letter or meeting one another, we bless one another by including the greeting, L’shanah tovah tikateiv veteichateim, which roughly translates as “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”

May this month of Elul be meaningful for us all as we prepare for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In our next A Bissel of This and That, we will focus more specifically on the preparations and observances associated with these High Holy days.

Sources of Information: