Rosh Hashanah is rapidly approaching and we are all making plans to usher in the Jewish New Year. Prior to the Covid pandemic, the number of Jews who went to pray in a synagogue was incredible. There is something about the High Holidays that touches a vast majority of Jews, no matter where they sit on the religious totem pole of Jewish life.
Since the pandemic, that number of attendees has been greatly reduced due to health concerns. However, fundamentally, the High Holidays are just as extremely important as they always were.
What is it about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur that has captured the heart and soul of the people? In Judaism, we have a slew of festivals, and yet for some reason they do not get the notoriety that the High Holidays get. Even the public schools are closed on these days, but are very much open many of the other holidays.
I think there are a few reasons for this phenomenon and I will list them without regard for order of importance.
DAY OF JUDGEMENT
Rosh Hashanah is the day when the king of kings sits on His throne and passes judgement on us. We read in the liturgy on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as follows:
On Rosh Hashanah it is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed.
How many will pass and how many will be created?
Who will live and who will die?
Who in their time, and who not their time?
Who by fire and who by water?
Who by sword and who by beast?
Who by hunger and who by thirst?
Who by earthquake and who by drowning?
Who by strangling and who by stoning?
Who will rest and who will wander?
Who will be safe and who will be torn?
Who will be calm and who will be tormented?
Who will become poor and who will get rich?
Who will be made humble and who will be raised up?
If these haunting words do not get your spiritual engine running, then nothing can.
So, essentially the masses recognize that on these couple of days, decisions are being made about their physical, emotional, spiritual and monetary welfare. How can one not run and pray?
ANNIVERSARY OF EXISTENCE
We Homo sapiens try to celebrate or observe milestones in our lives. Whether it is a birthday, anniversary or even a day of a relative’s passing, we do something to assure that the day does not pass without some type of acknowledgment. Reminds me of the following joke. What is the best way for a husband to never forget his wedding anniversary? The best answer given — Forget it once and you will be assured that you will never forget it again.
We are taught in the Talmud and a slew of other places that Rosh Hashanah is the day God created man and woman, Adam & Eve. This holy day is the anniversary of mankind. It is not simply an arbitrary day chosen for the New Year, but rather a day where finally a creation could recognize Godliness in the physical world. Because up until then, creations like tofu, legumes, cottage cheese and bananas had no moral conscience. This is the day when morality, sensitivity, scholarly debate and thought came into being. What an anniversary!
STARTING OFF ON THE RIGHT FOOT
New Year’s Day in most cultures brings new resolutions being made en masse. The difference in attendance at a gym December 30 versus January 2 is incredible. For some reason people want to start their year off on the right foot. Well, the Jewish New Year is similar in this regard. However, there is a difference. A Gregorian New Year is an extremely festive event with fireworks, crystal balls dropping from tall buildings, dancing, drinking and celebrating. A Jewish New Year is more of a reflective day. We analyze our previous year, month and week and are determined to be better. We resolve to help more with the kids, wash the dishes, pray more, study Torah twice a week, be ready to assist people in need, etc. It is a very different kind of atmosphere.
Don’t get me wrong, Rosh Hashanah is not a morose holiday. On the contrary, we eat the finest foods, wear beautiful clothes and celebrate with our family and friends with laughter and companionship. There is no contradiction. Rosh Hashanah is the quintessential day to nurture both body and soul together as one.
Another great reason as to why we find such Jewish interest on Rosh Hashanah is because we are taught that God’s book is wide open and He is ready to be convinced by our prayers, charity and remorse to give us a good year. Of course, any day of the year we can appeal to God to minimize our pain, anxiety and financial stress. However, Rosh Hashanah is the premier day where God is awaiting our prayers for help.
I personally do not know if the incredible attendance and interest of Rosh Hashanah is because of conscious opportunism. I think it is most likely because we innately feel a sense of Avinu Malkeinu, our Father and King is hyper focused on our needs. It is a feeling and not a thought.
I speak to people who tell me that due to Covid, they feel a void that they did/could not come to services last year.
I think that this says it all. There is a sense of satisfaction, fulfillment and serenity that we feel when we connect together with others on this special day. It is not just a tangible sensation, there is also an ethereal feeling we get of completion praying with others.
The Talmud discusses that on Rosh Hashanah specifically, God is crowned king for the New Year. Therefore, we accept his kingship and rule, authority and we put our trust in Him. Since it is the day of the coronation, we join together as His loyal subjects with our finest clothes and repast. We blow the trumpets, or the Shofar, and we leave the shul content that we have a leader who is able to help us when needed.
PLEASE JOIN US
The Chai Center invites you to join us for the High Holidays and beyond. There is no membership required. Come and be inspired and inspire others as well. Information can be found at www.thechaicenter.com
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