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We Jews love to ask questions. For instance, as we read or listen to the news, a continuous murmuring of "Is it good for the Jews?" can be heard on our lips.
Have you heard the news? This year, the first day of Rosh Hashana occurs on Shabbat. Is it good for the Jews?
Of course it is!
To explain: One year, when the first day of Rosh Hashana occurred on Shabbat, the famed Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev stood in the center of his synagogue and cried out to the heavens:
"Master of the Universe! Today, all Your creatures go before You like a flock of sheep, and You pass judgment upon them. Two great books lie open before You, the book of life and the book of death. The righteous are inscribed in the book of life, and the transgressors are written in the book of death, G-d forbid.
"But today is Shabbat. Did You not command in Your holy Torah that it is forbidden to write on Shabbat? True, it is permitted to violate Shabbat in order to preserve a life, so You are permitted to inscribe the righteous in the book of life. But no such clause permits inscribing those who have transgressed Your will in the book of death. I therefore inform You, dear Father in Heaven, that according to the law of the Torah, You must inscribe all Your children for a year of life, health and prosperity!"
So, it IS good for the Jews that the first day of Rosh Hashana occurs on Shabbat this year, for surely we will all be inscribed for a year of life, health and prosperity.
But, on the other hand, the main, ultra-special, utterly important and crucial commandment that all Jews must fulfill on Rosh Hashana - more important than eating apple dipped in honey (that's a custom), or brisket dripping in luscious gravy (well that's just delicious) - is to hear the shofar sounded on Rosh Hashana. And when Rosh Hashana occurs on Shabbat, the shofar is NOT sounded. So we only have one opportunity to hear the shofar sounded this year, on Sunday, the second day of Rosh Hashana.
Does that mean that it's not "good for the Jews?" Do we somehow lose out on the chance to be inspired by the shofar's message to "wake up from our slumber" and to return to our intrinsic Jewishness, to stand at attention as the shofar trumpets the announcement that G-d is the King of Kings, to simply hear the shofar blown, thereby fulfilling a mitzva that connects us with our Jewish roots?
Of course it's good for the the Jews. Because Shabbat coinciding with the first day of Rosh Hashana takes our service to an even higher level where the sounding of the Shofar is not needed. This means that the messages of the day are fulfilled even more completely,
In addition, it IS good for the Jews because surely when G-d sees all of us making the effort - and going out of our way - to hear the shofar on Sunday and fulfill this mitzva that we only have one chance to fulfill this year, He will connect the sounding of the shofar in the tens of thousands of synagogues around the world to the sounding of the Great Shofar that will herald the era of international peace, pristine health and mind-altering Divine knowledge - the Era of Moshiach. And that will be good not only for the Jews, it will be good for the entire world, let it happen now!
The Torah designates the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei as the date on which we celebrate Rosh Hashana, the New Year. However, this is not the anniversary of the beginning of creation, for the Talmud teaches that the first day of creation was actually five days earlier on the 25th of Elul.
Nevertheless, we celebrate the new year on the sixth day of creation which is actually the day on which Adam, the first person, was created.
The reason for this is that it wasn't until Adam was created that the Creator Himself was recognized. In fact, it was man who instilled an awareness of G-d into all of creation.
One of the primary characteristics by which man is distinguished from all other creatures is the free will with which he has been endowed by G-d. This "gift" must be properly utilized, for it allows him to rise above all of creation and achieve the very highest of spiritual levels.
G-d revealed His holy Torah to help man achieve perfection and find the right way in life. G-d's Torah is eternal, and its directives apply in every time and in every place.
On Rosh Hashana man is not only judged by G-d but must render judgment upon himself. As soon as Adam was created, he declared, "O come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the L-rd our Maker."
Thus, each year on Rosh Hashana, we follow his example and accept G-d's sovereignty upon ourselves anew.
On Rosh Hashana we resolve to live our daily lives in accordance with the Torah's laws, and to do so in the very finest manner of which we are capable.
Of course, a lot of inner strength is necessary in order to live up to our resolution. But is it really possible to experience the same sense of G-d's Kingship as our ancestor Adam?
The answer is a resounding "yes!"
G-d grants each and every one of us immense powers -- a tremendous capacity for choosing the right path. Indeed, when we uncover these inner strengths, nothing is beyond our reach, and on Rosh Hashana we can surely attain the same perception and recognition of G-d in our daily lives as did Adam, and extend that recognition to those around us.
Thus, on Rosh Hashana we declare: "And every creature shall know that You have created it...and every soul shall say, 'The L-rd G-d of Israel is King, and His sovereignty reigns over all.' "
Adapted from Likutei Sichot vol. 9 of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Cooking the Year
by Illana Attia
You are probably wondering what the Attia family is going to eat on the two nights of Rosh Hashana. The righteous Jewish women of Tripoli (where my husband was born) in their wisdom through the centuries have removed the burden of menu planning. Every holiday has its specific menu, from which we must not deviate, neither to add nor detract.
My husband Yehuda, however, has improved upon the tradition. Before the main course there are hors d'oeuvres of seventeen types of food over which all Sephardic Jews say a blessing beginning "May it be Your will...". The blessings are both puns on the names of the foods and reflections on their meaning. Over beet leaves (selek) we implore G-d that our enemies should vanish (yistalku). Over the lung we beseech a year light as a lung. If you are interested in the benedictions and the recipes, I'd be happy to send them to you, but that's not the point I want to get to. I would like to use this forum to reply to my mother.
The improvement that my husband has made to the Rosh Hashana banquet is that he discards the main course (couscous and mafrum, naturally) and instead serves a full course of each "May it be Your Will" hors d'oeuvres. This way our twenty guests can drink their fill of the homemade kiddush wine, eat plenty of the home baked challah, and fully enjoy: the Golan apples dipped in honey; the raisins and bananas; pumpkin jam, apple jam, and quince jam; leek, dates; pomegranate seeds; candied carrots; beet leaf and sunflower seed patties; piquant fish; heart and lung cooked with black-eyed peas (rubia); and the tongue cooked in tomato and leek.
"But honestly, Eileen," my mother always remonstrates. "Why so much work?" Why indeed so much work? What could be a more appropriate way to bring in the new year than to work hard to celebrate it? On Rosh Hashana the universe was created. G-d did not stand over boiling pots to do this. His energy transcends our understanding of what energy is. He willed everything into being through Divine Utterances. Yet, the Creation is a tremendous work, a phenomenally incomprehensible enterprise designed and executed for us to live in. He gives us freedom of choice. How do we wish to live our lives? We were created in the image of G-d. But how can we live up to our image?
Between being a passive consumer or an active creator, we resemble G-d more by doing, making, giving. Our creativity is not His Creativity; and our hardest or most sophisticated labor cannot produce His handiwork. Yet still I believe that working, creating, and giving with the right intentions are analogous to G-d's ways.
Cleaning the house and cooking for guests is not the sum total of the effort needed, though. The housework and cooking only set the stage for higher action - mitzvot commanded through the Torah. Every mitzvah requires will power, energy, time. These are the hospitality gifts we give our Maker forgiving us such a wondrous world. Of course, I shall never deliver this speech to my mother, but perhaps you, dear reader, will forgive my excesses and judge my intentions for the good! May your year be as sweet and full as our table laden with the banquet of life.
Ilana Attia is the managing editor of B'or Hatorah a "Journal of Science, Art & Modern Life in the Light of the Torah"
A Place of Their Own
This book is the story of the foundation of Shamir - an organiza-tion dedicated to providing that "special space" where new immigrants from Russia to Israel could grow whole again, based on the personal records of Peter Kalms. How Shamir then came to reach out to educate Russian speaking Jews the world over.
Much, Much Better
Shlomo and Miriam are a happy couple who love to welcome guests for the Shabbat meal. One week, they can't find a single person to join them,until they open the door to a mysterious guest! Adapted from a classic tale of Elijah the Prophet by Chaim Kosofsky. Illustrated by Jessica Schiffman, published by Hachai Publishing
Letters from the Rebbe Vol. 6
Thanks to the many individuals who graciously consented to share their personal correspondence with the Rebbe, this sixth volume of Letters from the Rebbe is now readily available for the benefit of the larger public. Scores of letters, most originally written in English, many previously unpublished, offer guidance and inspiration on a wide variety of topics. Published by Otsar Sifrei Lubavitch.
From a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
In the Days of Selichoth, 5724 (1964)
The celebration of Rosh Hashana has been ordained by the Creator to take place not on the anniversary of creation in general, but specifically on the anniversary of the creation of man.
There is a great significance in this:
The creation of man did not merely bring to a conclusion the whole of creation at the end of the six days of Genesis, but it also brought the creation to completion and fulfillment.
With the creation of man, the universe attained its wholeness - not merely because the last and most superior creature made its appearance, but also because man is that creature which can, must and eventually will bring all other creatures to their ultimate fulfillment.
This is achieved when man utilizes, (in the fullest measure), all his own capacities, as well as all the resources of nature - in the inanimate, vegetable and animal "kingdoms" - for the good and holy.
Because in this way each created being, and creation as a whole, is brought into harmony with the will of the Creator.
One of the main distinguishing features in the creation of man is that one man was created, unlike other species which were created in pairs.
This indicates emphatically that one single individual has the capacity to bring the whole of creation to fulfillment, as was the case with the first man, Adam. No sooner was Adam created on the first day of Rosh Hashana than he called upon, and successfully rallied, all creatures in the world to recognize the sovereignty of the Creator, with the call:
"Come, let us prostrate ourselves, let us bow down and kneel before G-d our Maker!" For it is only through "prostration" - self-abnegation - that a created being can attach itself to, and be united with, the Creator, and thus attain fulfillment of the highest order.
Our Sages teach us that the first person, Adam, was the prototype and example for each and every individual to follow: "For this reason was man created as an individual in order to teach you - one person equals a whole world," our Sages declared in the Mishna.
This means that every Jew, regardless of time and place and personal status, has the fullest capacity, hence also duty, to rise and attain the highest degree of fulfillment, and accomplish the same for the creation as a whole.
Rosh Hashana - the anniversary of the first, and single, human - reminds every Jew of this duty.
Rosh Hashana disproves the conten-tions of those who do not fulfill their duty, with the excuse that it is impossible to change the world; or that their parents had not given them the necessary edu-cation and preparation; or that the world is so huge, and one is so puny - how can one hope to accomplish anything?
Rosh Hashana offers the powers needed to fulfill this duty, because on this day the whole of creation is rejuvenated; a new year begins, with renewed powers, as on the day of the first Rosh Hashana.
"Establish Your reign upon all the world... that every creature shall know that You did create it." The fact that each one of us prays for total Divine Sovereignty and the identity of each created thing with its Creator is proof that the attainment of this goal is within reach of every one of us.
There were times when the aforesaid idea, namely, the ability of a single indivi-dual to "transform" the world, met with skepticism, and demanded proof.
However, precisely in our generation, we unfortunately do not have to seek far to be convinced that one person could have such impact. We have seen how one individual brought the world to the brink of destruction, but for the mercies of the King of the Universe, Who ordained that "the earth shall stand firm; shall not fall."
If such is the case in the realm of evil, surely one's potential is much greater in the realm of good. For, in truth, creation is essentially good, and therefore more inclined towards the good than its opposite.
May G-d grant that everyone, man and woman, should firmly resolve on the day of Rosh Hashana to give full expression to the spirit of Rosh Hashana, as indicated above; and that these resolutions should be carried out in the actual everyday life of the coming year.
What special foods are customarily eaten on Rosh Hashana?
There are many foods eaten for symbolic reasons on Rosh Hashana. Apple dipped in honey signifies our wishes for a sweet year. Eating fish, which multiply quickly, or carrots, ("merin" in Yiddish which means to multiply) signify our hope that the Jewish people multiply. Some have a ram's head on the table to recall the ram which was offered at the binding of Isaac; others eat a fish head, to signify our wish to be "a head, not a tail." A pomegranate symbolizes a Jew's many merits, as our Sages say, "every Jew is as full of mitzvot as a pomegranate is full of seeds."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
We would like to wish the entire Jewish People our sincerest blessings for a k'siva vachasima tova, l'shana tova u'msuka - to be inscribed and sealed for a good, sweet year, with blessings from every letter of the Hebrew Alef-Beis.
May this year be:
A year of "Arise and have mercy on Zion,"... uplifted in matters of Moshiach and the Redemption... faith in G-d and Moses His servant... traveling with the Heavenly clouds... Revealed Wonders; Wonders in Everything... the building of the Holy Temple... trust; Great wonders... the true and complete Redemption; Dignified Wonders... victory... the seventh generation is the generation of Redemption...King David lives and is eternal; "Those who rest in the dust will arise and sing and he will lead them"... Moshiach is coming and he has already come... the revelation of Moshiach; "He will redeem us"... "And they believed in G-d and in Moses His servant"; "This one will comfort us"; the wonders of true freedom... a new song; an abundance of good (Rambam); the king shall live; inscribed and sealed for a good year... the harp of Moshiach; learning Moshiach's teachings; the coming of Menachem who will comfort us... the King Moshiach; wonders... revealed miracles... a double portion; treasures... the completion and end of exile... the revelation of the Infinite Divine Light; "Humble ones, the time of your Redemption has arrived"; "Jerusalem will dwell in open space"; Your servant David will go forth; the ingathering of the exiles... acceptance of his sovereignty by the people; Rebbe - Rosh B'nei Yisrael; peace... a new song... Moshiach's shofar... unity of the Torah, unity of the Jewish people, unity of the land of Israel; Resurrection of the Dead... "A new Torah will come from Me"
The Eve of Rosh Hashana
As a young boy, the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, asked his father, the Rebbe Rashab, what he was supposed to be doing on the day before Rosh Hashana. "We recite Psalms the whole day long and feel remorse for our misdeeds of the past year, so that by the time evening falls and the new year begins, we are free of all our bad habits," his father replied.
Day of Judgment
Rosh Hashana is the day of judgment for all humankind. On this day man is judged as to the events of his life during the forthcoming year.
(Talmud, Rosh Hashana 8)
Sounding the Shofar
When the Jewish people hear the shofar, they are capable of bringing about the final Redemption. When they sound their shofars in fulfillment of the mitzva of Rosh Hashana, their hearts are opened, they shudder over their sins, and in a brief moment their reflections turn to repentance. They barely conclude their shofar blast and the sound of the shofar of Moshiach is already heard. The shofar sounds blend - his and theirs - and behold, Redemption comes.
(Book of Our Heritage by Rabbi E. Kitov)
Two hundred years ago, there lived in Germany, a Jew who was not only learned and G-d-fearing, but wealthy, as well. He was blessed with 18 intelligent and G-d-fearing children.
One day, the man gathered together his eldest sons and told them: "The time has come for you follow the teaching of our Rabbis: 'You should travel even a great distance in order to reach a place of Torah learning.' Today, I am giving you my permission to go and study in a distant yeshiva. Should you find a suitable match, you also have my permission to marry and establish a proper Jewish home. I make only one request of you, and that is that after three years have passed you return home so that we may all enjoy each others company and share our Torah learning. Giving each son some money, he blessed them and sent them on their way.
One son, Yechiel Michel, went to Poland to study the new path of Divine service taught by Baal Shem Tov. He became one of the disciples of the Besht, excelling both in learning and character. So much did he please his teacher, that he was given the Baal Shem Tov's only daughter, Adel in marriage.
When the three years had expired, Yechiel Michel wished to fulfill his promise to return to his father. He asked and received his teacher's blessing to go, but when he requested a blessing to return in time to celebrate Rosh Hashana in Medzibozh, received no answer.
When he returned home, Yechiel Michel found that all of his other brothers had already arrived. Their father had invited all of the scholars of the town to join them at a great feast during which he requested each of his sons expound upon some of the Torah thoughts they had learned. Each son spoke, and their learned discourses afforded great pleasure to their father as well as to the assembled guests. Only Yechiel Michel seemed unimpressed. When it was his turn to speak, he replied only that he had nothing to say, other than that the meal was delicious.
With tears in his eyes, his embarrassed father called Yechiel Michel to account for his bizarre behavior. Not only had he appeared to be an ignoramus, but a glutton as well, reserving his comments only for the food! Yechiel Michel apologized, saying that it had not been his intention to offend, and to make amends, he offered to give a Torah discourse at the soonest possible opportunity.
The father agreed and arranged another festive meal, inviting the same guests. Again, the brothers spoke, and again, Yechiel Michel paid inordinate attention to the meal; but this time, after each of the brothers spoke, Yechiel Michel casually tossed out a few questions, the profundity of which utterly destroyed their elaborately constructed discourses. The whole assemblage was dumbstruck.
When it was Yechiel Michel's turn to speak, he told the audience about the new ideas and ways of his master and father-in-law, the Baal Shem Tov.
As he passed through a forest, he was set upon by a group of thieves. After taking all of his possessions, save his tallit, tefillin and shofar, they sold him as a slave. He was put aboard a ship which sailed for many weeks, until it was hit by a fierce storm and demolished. Grabbing onto a loose board, Yechiel Michel managed to float to the safety of a small island.
Time passed, and Rosh Hashana approached. When the holiday arrived, Yechiel Michel prayed with great intensity and fervor, and when he concluded, he blew his shofar thirty times, concentrating on the meditations he had learned from the Baal Shem Tov. He then prayed the additional services and again blew the shofar to a total of 100 sounds.
Unbeknownst to him, he was being observed by inhabitants of the island who gazed at this strange figure in wonder. Watching him swaying and gesticulating wildly, crying and blowing on a horn, they concluded that he must be a madman. The following day, the king of the island went to investigate, and when he felt it was safe he sent his messengers to fetch the stranger.
The king questioned him about his origins and the meaning of his strange behavior, and Yechiel MicHel explained his predicament, and requested help in returning to his wife and father-in-law. The king was impressed by Yechiel Michel's manner and bearing, and told him that a ship visited the island once a year to trade and do business, and would be arriving within a few weeks. The two conversed further, and the king grew to like Yechiel Michel and invited him to remain on the island. When Yechiel Michel politely declined, the king then asked Yechiel Michel send him a group of three hundred Jews to establish a colony on the island. Again, Yechiel Michel had to refuse, replying that he lacked the power to send anyone to the island, and that, in any case, if it was the will of G-d that Jews live on the island, they would arrive there anyway, even as captives in chains.
When at long last, Yechiel Michel returned to his home, his father-in-law greeted him warmly, with the comment: "You answered the king wisely. Know that you were brought to that island by Divine Providence. Since the creation of the world no Jew had ever set foot on that part of the globe, and the holy sparks of G-dliness which had fallen there were still in exile. When you prayed and blew the shofar in that spot, you redeemed those sparks, enabling them to return to their source and be reunited with G-d. If you had failed, it would have been necessary for Jews to be exiled there. We Jews have been dispersed all over the world, solely to spread G-dliness and redeem the sparks of holiness that wait for our prayers. When every Jew fulfills his own personal G-dly mission, Moshiach will come, and all the Jews will be redeemed from exile."
Now at the end of exile, when only a few moments remain until the sounding of the great Shofar (and in certain respects the blowing of the great Shofar has already commenced,) we must serve G-d with self-deprecation. We must recognize that all of our accomplishments in exile are not to our own credit, but only due to the abilities given to us from Above.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rosh Hashana 5728 - 1968)