Whilst this past year has been focussed on diseases and drastic societal change, perhaps an alternative, anatomical approach to the Festive Month of Tishrei can give us fresh perspective.
Looking at the Chaggim (Festivals) of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah – a curious anatomical relationship can be found. As each Festival can be seen to have a strongly associated connection with a region of the body and amazingly as the month progresses, the movement almost appears to be moving downwards from Head to Toe.
Starting with Rosh Hashanah – the Festival is literally translated as the “Head of the Year”. With its focus on crowning the Almighty, the sounding of the Shofar with our mouths and our making of resolutions – Rosh Hashanah is about using the higher faculties of our mouths, thoughts and mindset towards reaching loftier goals for the year ahead.
Immediately following Rosh Hashanah, we move into the most serious day of the year, Yom Kippur, with its restrictions and most notably a 25-hour, Biblically-manded fast. The absence of food and drink on this day, are aimed at aiding us in elevating our souls and atoning for our errors of the past year. Yom Kippur’s focus is on our torso, with our stomachs empty, our hearts repentant and our lungs exhaling words of prayer; the feelings in our “kishkes” on Yom Kippur are unlike any other.
No sooner has Yom Kippur passed, then we move onto Sukkot with its numerous connections to our limbs, muscles and body. Aside from being referred to as one of the Shalosh Regalim (3 Leg [travelling] Festivals), Sukkot requires us to hold the Lulav and Etrog during prayer and to build the Sukkah with our hands. So too, the commandment of dwelling in the sukkah is one of the few we can perform with our entire body and many of us also have fond memories of using our legs and feet for sukkah “hopping” to visit friends and family.
As we conclude the month with Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah we combine all the elements of the all the previous Chaggim with feasting, dance, song, prayer, and joy. So elating is the joy of these last 2 days, the need for restrictions through fasting and penitence are removed, as we embrace our connection to each other and our rich heritage through our celebration of Torah.
And finally at end of the Torah reading on Simchat Torah, we recite the opening verses of Chapter 1 of Bereshit (Genesis) which state that the Almighty created “Man in His image”. Human creation in this sense is both physical and spiritual, marking the start of our journey, as we have been recreated and rebuilt in a new image from head to toe, ready to approach the new year ahead.
May the New Year bring the entire world health, peace and prosperity! Shana Tova Umetuka!