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Salt water and apple trees

My neighbor's flowering apple tree. (courtesy)

At the end of the seder every year, after we sing “L’shana Haba’a B’Yerushalayim” (Next year in Jerusalem), my husband puts his ear to the table and says, “If you listen closely, you can faintly hear the sound of the shofar.”

He first heard this quote many years ago in the name of my sister-in-law’s grandfather Isadore (Sruli) Bruckstein, a survivor of Auschwitz, whose every experience of Judaism was profound. Every Pesach, it is a powerful reminder that Rosh Hashana is only six months away. Indeed, when we sing the words “L’shana Haba’a,” it throws us to the other time of year that we conclude with the same song.  At the end of Yom Kippur, after the shofar is blown, the period of the Yamim Noraim (High Holy Days) comes to a close and our sins are forgiven, a palpable sense of joy and relief fills the air as we dance and pray that this year will be THE year of the ultimate redemption.

Usually Pesach and Rosh Hashana feel very far apart, with half a year between them. And then there is the fact that one holiday revolves around the shul while the other revolves around our homes.

On Rosh Hashana, we spend hours in the synagogue, singing tunes that penetrate our souls so deeply. They connect us to God, but they also connect us to our congregations and fellow community members whom we pray with. When we hear those melodies, they immediately create an atmosphere that elicits our fears and hopes and prayers for the new year and for our future. The mood is somber and heavy. Much rides on these days.

On Pesach, we spend hours preparing and readying our homes. The tunes we sing are ones that have been passed down from generation to generation. They connect us to Jewish history, but they also connect us to our families who are at the center of this experience. When we hear these songs, they immediately elicit memories of parents, grandparents and children gathered around the tables of many seders past. The mood is jovial and light. We have been let out of Egypt.

I can’t help but feel that this year, these experiences have suddenly become intertwined. Our homes have turned into our shuls. Our families are our main experience of community. Our prayers are literally the ones that are usually reserved for the Yamim Noraim.

We might be preparing and cleaning our homes for Pesach, but the mood is one of Rosh Hashana.

So much uncertainty, so much fear, so much anxiety; so much faith, so much hope.

Our timeless prayers feel like they were written exactly for this time.

אבינו מלכינו, בטל מעלינו כל גזרות קשות
Our Father, our King, nullify all harsh decrees upon us.

אבינו מלכינו, מנע מגיפה מנחלתך
Our Father, our King, withhold a plague from Your heritage.

אבינו מלכינו, שלח רפואה שלמה לחולי עמך
Our Father, our King, send complete recovery to the sick of Your people.

Yesterday, Rosh Chodesh Nissan, we left our home after two weeks in quarantine and went outside to our yard to say the Birkat Ha-Ilanot, the blessing that we recite this month upon seeing flowering fruit trees.

Spring is in the air in Israel; the weather is warmer; Pesach is coming.

In under two weeks time, we will dip our potato or parsley in the salt water. But looking at my neighbor’s flowering apple tree, I could almost taste that apple dipped in honey.

The High Holidays may commemorate the birth of the world, but Nissan is the month that marks the beginning of Jewish history. And we have high hopes for this new cycle.

אבינו מלכינו, קבל ברחמים וברצון את תפלתנו
Our Father, our King, accept with compassion and favor our prayers…

And turn our salty tears into sweet cries of joy.

“בניסן נגאלו, בניסן עתידין ליגאל”
“In Nissan they were redeemed, and in Nissan we will be redeemed in the future.” (Talmud Bavli Rosh Hashana 11a)

About the Author
Shayna Goldberg (née Lerner) teaches Israeli and American post-high school students and serves as mashgicha ruchanit in the Stella K. Abraham Beit Midrash for Women in Migdal Oz, an affiliate of Yeshivat Har Etzion. She is a yoetzet halacha, a contributing editor for Deracheha: Womenandmitzvot.org and the author of the book: "What Do You Really Want? Trust and Fear in Decision Making at Life's Crossroads and in Everyday Living" (Maggid, 2021). Prior to making aliya in 2011, she worked as a yoetzet halacha for several New Jersey synagogues and taught at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School in Teaneck. She lives in Alon Shevut, Israel, with her husband, Judah, and their five children.
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