Sunday, October 13, 2019

Rejoicing For The World

Among the unique rituals performed on the holiday of Sukkot were the additional offerings that were sacrificed in the ancient Temple. On the first day of the holiday, 13 young bulls were sacrificed, on the second day 12, on the third day 11, on the fourth day 10, on the fifth day 9, on the sixth day 8 and on the seventh day 7. In total, 70 bulls were offered. Sukkot is the only holiday on which the number of the sacrifices varies from day to day.

In the Talmud (Sukkah 55b) Rabbi Eliezer explains that these 70 offerings are brought "For the [merit of the] 70 nations of the world." Rashi, the famous 11th century commentator, explained that this was, "To bring a forgiveness [offering] for them [the 70 nations], so that rain shall fall all over the world."

One of the reasons that Sukkot is known as "Z’man Sim’chah’tay’nu," the time of our rejoicing, is that it follows immediately after the Yamim No’ra’im, the Days of Awe (Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur). The Jewish people are especially joyful knowing that the world has just been judged and, please God, their prayers for atonement have been accepted. Most people, when they are happy and feeling confident, wish to share their joy with those around them. So too, at Sukkot, the Jewish people wish to share their happiness with the rest of the world.


Why does Rashi specify "so that rain shall fall all over the world"? Rain is the ultimate sign of blessing (when it falls in a timely manner and in proper proportion). Without rain, nothing can live. Additionally, when all nations are sufficiently endowed with their needs (water, food, etc.) peace prevails, and peace is the greatest blessing of all. 

This Treat was reposted in honor of Sukkot.






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The Four Species

The waving of the four species is one of the most beautiful and symbolic mitzvot of the year.

Indeed, there is a special commandment (Leviticus 23:40) that one make a specific effort to enhance and beautify this mitzvah.

The mitzvah of taking the four species is performed by taking a frond of a palm branch (lulav), 3 myrtle stems (hadassim) and 2 willow branches (aravot) in one's right hand and the citron (etrog)--held upside down--in one's left hand [lefties should reverse hands] and reciting the blessing:

Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai, Eh’lo’hay’nu Melech Ha’o’lam, ah’sher kidishanu b'mitz’vo’tav v'tzee’va’nu al n'tee’laht lulav.

Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the world, who sanctified us through His commandments and commanded us to take the four species.

(Those performing the mitzvah for the first time this year should recite the blessing of Sheh'heh'cheh'yanu.)

The etrog is then turned upward and the four species are waved together three times in each of the 6 directions: forward, right, backward (toward oneself ), left, up, and down. (The order may differ depending on custom.)

Waving the four species is a symbolic recognition of God’s omnipresent kingship over the world and everything in it. As it says in the Talmud, in Sukkah 37b: "It is as if one is taking the species and bringing them to God who possesses the four directions. One raises them and lowers them to God who owns the heavens and the earth."

Acknowledging God’s ownership of the world is particularly appropriate during the harvest season, when people might be tempted to rejoice exclusively about their own personal success. Surely, people are entitled to celebrate their own achievements, but always with the understanding that behind it all is God.

For more about the lulav and etrog, please read Jewish Treats The Perfect Species.


This Treat was reposted in honor of Sukkot.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Wave the Species

Make an effort to either obtain a set of the four species, which can be purchased at synagogues and at Jewish bookstores, or find a place where a set will be available for waving and reciting the blessing.

Friday, October 11, 2019

More Than A Harvest Festival

Few people refer to Sukkot by the name Chag Ha'Asif, Feast of the Ingathering, but the Torah specifically states: "And you shall observe...the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year" (Exodus 34:22). Perhaps this term is avoided lest the holiday be mistaken as a simple agricultural celebration. But, Sukkot is indeed an agricultural festival celebrated at the time of the harvest, when farmers bring in the fruits of their labor, and everyone prepares for the onset of winter. There is no question that, as a result of witnessing the miracle of harvest in the field, people are moved to be thankful to the Creator of all things. 

Sukkot, however, is more than a harvest festival, because it isn’t actually about the crop. It is a festival meant to help Jews focus on the Source of those crops. This is why Jews move out of their comfortable homes and into their temporary dwellings (the sukkah) just as the weather grows chilly. It is a striking reminder that there is a more powerful Force in charge of one’s success. One can plant and sow and fertilize at all the right times, but one can only reap if God provides all of the right natural factors (good soil, proper amounts of rain at the right time, the farmer’s health, etc.).

While we today may not live in agricultural settings, that does not mean that we are not constantly dependent on a force greater than ourselves. No matter what profession one practices, one’s success is affected by thousands of different factors each day. While we may not personally gather our crops, we must always celebrate and be grateful for, and aware of, the Source of our sustenance.


This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.



Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Build Your Own Sukkah

Webster's Dictionary defines a tabernacle as a temporary dwelling, which is why the Jewish holiday of Sukkot is known as the Feast of the Tabernacles. A sukkah, however, is a lot more specific than simply a temporary dwelling--which is often taken to mean something like a tent or a recreational vehicle.

THE WALLS of the sukkah may be made out of any material--wood, plastic, even canvas--as long as they can withstand normal gusts of wind without swaying noticeably. A sukkah must have a minimum of 2 ½ walls and have a doorway. The sukkah walls may actually be walls from a pre-existing structure. The sages set the minimum length and width of a sukkah at seven handbreadths (approx 28") and the minimum height at 10 handbreadths (approx 40") tall. The maximum height is 20 amot (approx 30’).

THE ROOF of the sukkah, known as s’chach, is a critical factor in determining the sukkah’s halachic acceptability. S’chach is defined as anything of plant origin that is now detached from the ground but has not undergone any manufacturing process nor had a previous use (such as a wooden post designed to hold up a sapling) nor may it be edible. Additionally, the s’chach pieces should be less than four handbreadths wide.

For the sukkah to be "kosher," there must be enough s’chach so that there is more shadow than sunlight. It should not, however, be so dense that one is unable to see the larger stars at night or that the rain cannot penetrate. 

PLACEMENT of the sukkah is important because to meet the s’chach requirements, the area above the sukkah must be clear (no building overhangs or branches from a tree). If there is a small area within the sukkah that is covered by something overhead, one should avoid sitting beneath it.

The holiday of Sukkot begins this Sunday night at sunset. 

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.


Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

If You Don’t Have your own Sukkah

If you do not have your own sukkah, make the effort to find a sukkah in which you can eat. To help you celebrate Sukkot, NJOP encourages you to join a “Sukkot Across America” celebration that is being hosted throughout the United States, Canada and beyond. Click here to find a location near you.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Is Sukkot Part of the High Holidays?

It is clear that during the Ten Days of Penitence, we are meant to be on a higher spiritual realm. We recite Psalm 47 seven times prior to blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashana, symbolizing our piercing the seven levels of heaven to approach God in a unique way. At the end of the Ne’ilah service, with a few fleeting moments of Yom Kippur left, we cry out, “God is our Lord” seven times, which represents a return back through the seven levels of heaven back to normalcy. 

Yet there are sources which view Sukkot as a continuum of that which was achieved on Yom Kippur. Psalm 27, which is recited twice daily in the liturgy from a month prior to Rosh Hashana until Shemini Atzeret, references both Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. “A psalm of David. The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? (Psalms 27:1)” “My light” refers to Rosh Hashanah and “I fear” refers to Yom Kippur. Yet, later on the psalm, King David wrote, “For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in his Sukkah; under the cover of his tent shall He hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock” (Psalms 27:5).

Rabbi Meir Goldwicht, professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University, also notes this link in the liturgy around the Shema prayer. Prior to the Shema prayer we bless God “who selects His nation Israel with love.” This he says, refers to Rosh Hashana. After the three Biblical paragraphs of the Shema, we then bless God as the “redeemer of Israel.” This represents Yom Kippur. Afterwards we ask God to “spread over us the shelter (Sukkah) of his peace.” Rabbi Goldwicht suggests that Rosh Hashana is a festival where we declare our love for the Almighty, Yom Kippur is when He forgives us and redeems us. What does one do when they have just won a windfall, such as Divine atonement? We protect it, so we don’t lose it. Sukkot, he advanced, is that protection. Sukkot is a way of protecting the redemption of Yom Kippur. We exit the home and demonstrate our faith in His protection.


This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Building on Yom Kippur’s Momentum

With Yom Kippur in the rear view mirror, we find ourselves confronting the festival of Sukkot, beginning a mere five days after Yom Kippur. While we must transition quickly from the intensity of Yom Kippur to the unbridled joy of Sukkot, our sages understood that we cannot just merely run away from Yom Kippur, as if school ended and we run to our summer vacations. Yom Kippur is meant to spiritually enrich and inspire us for the entire year.

We reluctantly depart from Yom Kippur, absorbing its lessons. A comment by Rabbi Zev Shandalov may be apt: “While it’s important to act properly between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, it is perhaps more important to act properly between Yom Kippur and (the next) Rosh Hashana.

Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin in his book "Moadim b'Halacha" notes that if we follow along the Torah’s narrative of the High Priest’s immersions in the mikveh on Yom Kippur, it appears that at the end of the day, the High Priest immerses in the mikveh after he exits the Holy of Holies. Isn’t the mikveh used to prepare for a holy event? Why would he immerse after exiting the Holy of Holies? He answers that there is great holiness in entering the “real world.” The challenge is to build on the momentum of the spiritual high achieved on Yom Kippur so it continues far after the fast ends.

Many have the custom to begin morning prayers a little earlier than usual on the morning following Yom Kippur. This makes a strong statement that we are not running away from the closeness that we felt to God during the Ten Days of Penitence. We want to sustain all that was gained during the Days of Awe. As such, some show eagerness and love through their actions by coming early to the synagogue. Others have a custom to begin building the Sukkah a mere hours after the Yom Kippur fasts are broken and “the gates” were sealed. Aside from transitioning to Sukkot, we begin our post Yom Kippur life in the performance of a mitzvah, a Torah commandment.


This Treat is reposted in honor of Yom Kippur.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Yom Kippur Must Spill Over

Endeavor to bring your Rosh Hashana’s resolutions to fruition.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Neilah: The Final Service

While one may make requests of God or atone for transgressions at any time of the year, the first ten days of Tishrei (from Rosh Hashana through Yom Kippur) are considered particularly propitious for repentance. In fact, it is said of this time period that the heavenly Gates of Mercy are cast open to more readily receive the prayers of penitents.

Although the “gates of heaven” are a poetic metaphor, it is one that makes a metaphysical process easier to comprehend. Indeed, in many ways, this imagery reflects the process and urgency of the Yom Kippur Neilah service. The final service of the Day of Atonement, Neilah means “closing,” an allusion to the fact that, as Yom Kippur draws to a close, the Gates of Mercy are closing.  With this in mind, it is not surprising that many people find the Neilah service to be incredibly emotional and inspiring.

In the days of the Temple, a Neilah service was added to other fast days. Today, Neilah is a service unique to Yom Kippur. But, even in Talmudic times, the Yom Kippur Neilah had its own special instructions: “On Yom Kippur, as it becomes dark, one reads the seven benedictions (the holiday Amidah) and makes confession and concludes with confession” (Yoma 87b).

Following the conclusion of the Neilah Amidah, is a series of powerful call-and-response declarations that include the words of Shema, the pronouncement “Blessed is the Name of His glorious kingdom for all eternity” (three times), and the proclamation “The Lord - Only He is God” (seven times). Then the shofar is sounded, and the congregation joyfully declares “Next year in Jerusalem!”


This Treat is reposted in honor of Yom Kippur.





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The Five Prohibitions of Yom Kippur

"...on the tenth of the month, you shall afflict your souls and do no work at all...for on that day God will forgive you and cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before God" (Leviticus 16:29-30).

How does one "afflict one's soul"? The oral law enumerates the following five restrictions:

Fasting (No eating or drinking) - From sunset on the eve of Yom Kippur until nightfall the next day, it is forbidden to eat or drink. However, those who are ill should and, in some cases, must, eat on Yom Kippur. If a doctor instructs a person not to fast, that person should discuss the situation with their rabbi, who should also be consulted about specific details of eating on Yom Kippur. Additionally, girls below the age of 12 and boys below the age of 13 are not required to fast.

Washing - During the fast, one may not wash for pleasure, but one may wash to get rid of dirt or when preparing food (e.g. for children). One may also bathe a baby.

Anointing - It is forbidden to anoint oneself with oil. Thus, the use of perfumes, liquid or cream make-up, suntan lotion, and other such items is prohibited.


Wearing Leather Shoes - During the fast, it is forbidden to wear leather shoes. Some people wear only socks, but others wear shoes of canvas or other non-leather materials (i.e. Crocs).

Marital Relations - It is forbidden to have marital relations.

It may seem that refraining from the above actions would make one focus on the body, due to hunger or thirst, or the discomfort of not washing. However such discomforts are temporary and, in fact, turn one’s attention back to the importance of the day and the fact that we can transcend physical discomfort in order to connect with the spirit of the day. 

This Treat is reposted in honor of Yom Kippur.



Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Two for One

While Yom Kippur is a very serious day of introspection, it is also regarded as a joyous day, since God annually forgives the Jewish people. As fasting is not conducive to celebration, the day prior to Yom Kippur is considered a festive day, where we are commanded to eat and rejoice. Apparently, it takes two days to fully absorb the power of Yom Kippur.

Monday, October 7, 2019

The Food of Yom Kippur

Food on Yom Kippur? Isn’t Yom Kippur the most famous fast day on the Jewish calendar?

"One who eats and drinks on the ninth, is considered by the Torah to have fasted on both the ninth and the tenth" (Talmud Yoma 81b).

This principle is derived from a strange allusion to afflicting one’s self on the ninth of the month in Leviticus 23:32 ("... and you shall afflict your souls; on the ninth day of the month in the evening ..."), even though only 5 verses earlier the Torah commanded that we must afflict ourselves on the tenth (Leviticus 23:27).

As on all holidays and on Shabbat, it is a mitzvah to eat festive meals. Yom Kippur is also a holiday. Since one may not eat on Yom Kippur, the festival meals are advanced to the preceding day. The first meal should be eaten early in the afternoon so that one may later have the special seudah hamafseket, the final meal before the fast.

To be considered a festive meal, challah (or bread) must be served. Many people serve kreplach, dumplings, because the hidden bits of meat in dough are symbolic of our desire that God will hide our sins.

The seudah hamafseket is usually eaten after the afternoon service, closer to evening, but while it is still daytime. It is recommended that one eat only light foods which are not too salty (therefore it is customary not to eat fish at this meal) and to avoid intoxicating beverages.

Different families have their own customs how to best celebrate the successful conclusion of Yom Kippur with a festive meal and "break fast." Many Ashkenazi families have dairy meals, while Sephardi families will eat a meat meal.

An Interesting Recipe: Pepitada is a traditional Sephardi post-fast drink made by steeping crushed melon seeds in cold water, straining them and adding a little sugar and perhaps a few drops of orange flower essence, rosewater or honey.


This Treat is reposted in honor of Yom Kippur.


Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

For The Sin We Committed

One of the main steps in the process of teshuva (repentance) is confessing one’s sins and verbalizing one’s errors. In so doing, a person admits committing a sin, not so much to anyone who happens to hear, but, more importantly, to one’s self.

On Yom Kippur, there is a special service of confession, known as Vidui, that is an integral part of each of the five prayer services that are recited during the day. The great sages recognized how difficult it is for people to recall all of their actions over the past year, so they created a formula to help people understand the consequences of some of their actions.

The most prominent section of the Vidui is the section known as Ahl Chayt. Each verse begins with the phrase Ahl chayt sheh’chah’tah’noo l’fah’neh’chah... “For the sin we committed before You...” and then enumerates a general transgression. While reciting the Vidui service, it is customary to stand in a humbled position, with one’s head lowered. Upon reciting each Ahl Chayt, the supplicant strikes the left side of his/her chest with his/her right hand.

Due to space, Jewish Treats can provide you with only a sampling of some of the confessions from the Vidui service:

For the sin we committed before You without knowledge, and for the sin we committed before You with an utterance of the lips.

For the sin we committed before You with wicked speech, and for the sin we committed before You by scoffing.

For the sin we committed before You in business dealings, and for the sin we committed before You in eating and drinking.

When the prayer leader repeats the confessional service out loud, the Ahl Chayt section of the Vidui is divided into three sections. Between each section the prayer leader, and then the congregation, sing: “And for all of these, God of pardon, pardon us, forgive us, grant us atonement.”
 




This Treat is reposted in honor of Yom Kippur.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Recite Viduy in Your Vernacular

When confessing sins before God, it is critical to understand what is being said. If you do not understand the Hebrew liturgy, make sure to obtain a translation of the Viduy in your vernacular.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Avinu Malkeinu

No prayer so thoroughly captures the Jewish people’s dual relationship with God as Avinu Malkeinu, "Our Father, Our King."

The exact formulation of this prayer is based on a prayer that Rabbi Akiva (c. 50 - c. 135 C.E.), one of the greatest Talmudic sages, recited during a drought. After the community’s prayers had brought no relief, Rabbi Akiva went forward and called out to God, "Our Father, Our King, we have no king but You. Our Father, Our King, for Your sake have mercy on us!" Immediately, rain began to fall.

The prayer of Avinu Malkeinu, which is recited on Rosh Hashana* includes 44 lines, the most famous of which is the statement: "Our Father, Our King, be gracious with us and answer us, even though we have no worthy deeds, act with us in righteousness and goodness and save us."

By addressing God as both "our Father" and "our King," we direct our prayers through two different avenues. From a father, one expects mercy, love and forgiveness. A father looks at his child and sees only that child, that special individual, and instinctively feels mercy for the child, a product of his own flesh and blood. That is why, on the Day of Judgment we wish to address our petitions particularly to God’s fatherly aspect of mercy.

On the other hand, a king controls the fate of his subjects. He rules with judgment and justice. Hence, we must also address our prayers to that aspect of God during Rosh Hashana and throughout the days that follow (up through and including Yom Kippur). After all, this is the time that God sits with His Books of Judgment open before Him. By referring to God as our King, we remind ourselves that while He loves us as a father, we must also be in awe of God’s greatness and majesty.

*It is also recited during the days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and on fast days. When Rosh Hashana occurs on Shabbat, Avinu Malkeinu is not recited.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.


Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Make the Effort to Improve, and be Sure to Sustain that Improvement

Think seriously about your Jewish New Year’s resolutions and how you will be able to make them really happen.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Will I Forgive You for What!?

An ancient Jewish proverb declares: “Loose tongues are worse than wicked hands.”

Truth is, people do the most damage to each other with their mouths. Things done with our hands, such as injuries, thefts, etc, can be repaired. Words, however, are like feathers in the wind – they fly too fast to catch them and can never be taken back. Jewish law regards loshon harah, wicked speech such as gossip and slander, as the worst of the transgressions that one commits against fellow humans.

Here is the dilemma: During the months of Elul and Tishrei (before and during the High Holidays), repentance must be our top priority. Repentance for hurting another person requires that we personally ask that person’s forgiveness. What do I do if I spoke badly about someone, in a fit of anger? Now that we are friends once again, how do I ask properly for forgiveness for talking about them?

The answer to this dilemma depends on the extent of the “damage.” If the gossip itself created negative consequences, then the person must be asked directly for forgiveness. If no harm was done, and it is known that the person will be understanding about the incident, then forgiveness should still be asked.

However, if informing a person that you spoke about them would result in embarrassment or hurt, it is acceptable to ask for general forgiveness, without going into detail. Indeed, causing additional embarrassment to the person would actually necessitate asking for mechila (forgiveness) once again. Need to ask someone's forgiveness and not sure how?


This Treat is reposted in honor of the Aseret Y'mei Teshuva.


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Do We Attempt to Fool God this Week?

During the Aseret Y’mei Teshuva, the Ten Days of Repentance, Jews are encouraged to improve their actions, with both God and people. Every year Jews endeavor to transform themselves, by making the effort to elevate their speech, demonstrate less jealousy, act less materially, pray better and observe the commandments the way they should be observed. But many of us also know that we often cannot sustain the newfound piety much past breaking our fast on Yom Kippur night. What is the goal of our spiritual push during these ten days, when we know the likely outcome? Are we trying to pull a “fast one” on the Almighty?

Attempting to deceive someone, Geneivat Da’at, which literally means stealing someone else’s knowledge, ranks first in a Rabbinic list of the types of robbery (Tosefta Bava Kama 7:8). As a matter of fact, Rabbi Yechiel M. Epstein (1829-1908) suggested that during the Ten Days of Repentance, it is not always appropriate to attempt to act more stringently than one would normally, since it would be hard to justify returning to the less stringent behavior after Yom Kippur (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chaim 603:2).

Rabbi Jonathan Eibshutz (1690-1764) views the days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur as opportunities for atonement. “There are seven days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, corresponding to the seven days of the week. Each of those seven days atones for the sins committed on those days throughout the year. On the Sunday of the Aseret Y’mei Teshuvah, one attains penitence for all vices that took place on that past year’s Sundays, and so on” (Ye’arot D’vash, 1:10).

Others note that the prophet Isaiah taught (Isaiah 55:6), “Seek out God when He can be found, call to God, when He is near.” Maimonides asserts that “when God can be found” refers to the Ten Days of Repentance (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Repentance 2:6). As such, our behavior during this period need not comport to how we act after Yom Kippur.

Ultimately, of course, the efforts we make during this holy week, ought to be serious. Every Jew should try to make any upgrades made to their piety and spirituality during Aseret Y’mei Teshuva, permanent.


This Treat is reposted in honor of the Aseret Y'mei Teshuva.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Make the Effort to Improve and Sustain that Improvement

Any preparations you can make for Yom Kippur will enhance your experience.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

From Holy God to Holy King

On Rosh Hashana, God judges the world (and all the people therein), but their fates are not sealed until 10 days later, on Yom Kippur. It is during these ten days that we must present a compelling case of our worthiness to the heavenly court.

These ten days that start on Rosh Hashana and conclude on Yom Kippur, are known as the Aseret Y’mei Teshuva, Ten Days of Repentance. During this time, people go out of their way to make amends both with their fellow humans and with God. In addition to the acts of teshuva, the sages of the Talmud altered the words of the Amidah in order to create the mind-set necessary for this time of year:

“Raba ben Chin’neh’na the Elder also said in the name of Rav: Throughout the year one says in the prayer [Amidah], ‘The holy God’, and ‘King who loves righteousness and judgment,’ except during the ten days between the New Year and the Day of Atonement, when he says, ‘The holy King’ and ‘The King of judgment’” (Berachot 12b).

While the Talmud specifically mentions these two changes, there are several other verses of the Amidah that are altered during the Aseret Y’mei Teshuva (all of which are noted in most prayerbooks).
These changes are discussed at length in the codes of halacha. The general consensus is that if the change from “King who loves righteousness and judgment” to “the King of judgment,” or any of the other alterations not singled out in this Treat, is not made, the Amidah need not be repeated. However, the acknowledgment of God as King is so important that those who forget to change “the holy God” to “the holy King,” are instructed to repeat the entire prayer.

This Treat is reposted in honor of the Aseret Y'mei Teshuva.


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The Fast of Gedaliah (Tzom Gedaliah)

The Fast of Gedaliah is observed to commemorate the murder of Gedaliah, the son of Achikam, which is described in the last chapter of the Second Book of Kings. This murder resulted in the exile of the Jews who remained in Judea after the Babylonian conquest.

After the first Holy Temple was destroyed (586 BCE) and the Babylonians had exiled the majority of the Jewish people, a small minority were permitted to remain in the Land of Israel. Also, Jews who had fled during the war returned and began to work the land.

Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian King, appointed Gedaliah to be the Jewish governor over the remaining population. The King of the neighboring country Ammon, who was vying with the Babylonians for control of the Land of Israel, commissioned Yishmael the son of Netanyah to remove Gedaliah.

Yishmael, who was a descendant of King David, came to the town of Mitzpeh and murdered Gedaliah and all those who were with him. Fearing retribution for the murder of the appointed governor, the remaining Jews fled the Land of Israel, thus completing the exile.

The Fast of Gedaliah is observed on the third day of Tishrei, the day after Rosh Hashana. If the third of Tishrei is Shabbat, the fast is observed on Sunday. The fast begins at dawn and ends at nightfall.*

*Some people rise before dawn to have an early morning breakfast (but this is only permitted if a decision to do so was verbally expressed the night before).


This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.


Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Biblical History Parallels Current History

The tragedy of the murder of Gedaliah, for which Jews fast today, was a result of Jew-versus-Jew hatred. We must always learn from the tragic lessons of our past, as they are often particularly relevant to our lives today.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Symbolic Foods

Since Rosh Hashana is the Day of Judgment, it is customary to eat simanim,* foods with symbolic meanings that invoke God's blessing. We also recite a short prayer before eating them. While apple with honey is a universal custom, other symbolic foods eaten depend on family custom. Here are some examples:

Apple and Honey: A slice of apple is dipped in honey. After reciting the blessing for apples (Boray p'ree ha’etz) and taking a bite of the apple and honey, the following brief prayer is recited:
May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that You renew for us a good and sweet year.


Beets: The Hebrew word for beets is selek, related to the Hebrew word l’salek, "to remove."
May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that our enemies be removed.



Pomegranate: It is said that each pomegranate has 613 seeds, representing the 613 commandments of the Torah.
May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that our merits be as plentiful as the seeds of a pomegranate.


Head of a Sheep or a Fish: The head of the sheep or fish can be eaten or can be left on the table as a visual symbol. The customary prayer is as follows:
May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that we be like a head (to lead) and not like a tail (to follow).



There is a custom to avoid nuts on Rosh Hashana since the numeric value of the Hebrew word for nut, egoz, is connected to the numeric value for the Hebrew word for sin, chayt.

This is just a sampling of the simanim. For more foods and their associated prayers, click here.

*The simanim are eaten at the beginning of the evening meal.




This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.


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Annulment of Vows

"I swear that this time I will lose weight"

"I am going to pray every day..."

We make promises all the time. We swear that we are going to do something, and then hope that we will be in a position to fulfill the vow.

But did you know that according to the Torah, words often have binding force and may not be taken lightly? The Jewish legal view on oaths and vows is based on the verse, "He shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that he has uttered" (Numbers 30:3).

When you swear to do something, you’ve made a serious commitment. Words, from a Torah perspective, can be binding. (It is for this reason that many people, after promising to do something, will append the caveat "bli neder" - without intending to vow, to prevent themselves from vowing falsely.)

According to the Torah, vows and oaths, however, can be retroactively nullified, by a "court" of knowledgeable people.

It was considered particularly important by the sages that, as the High Holidays approach, people ensure that they have not violated their previous year’s vows. They therefore created a formal nullification of vows that all are urged to perform before Rosh Hashanah. Known as "Hatarat Nedarim," the traditional "annulment of vows" takes place in front of a Jewish court of at least 3 knowledgeable men. In addition to nullifying past vows made "in error," the Hatarat Nedarim also declares that any such statements made in the coming year should be considered null and void.

(Of course, the nullification only covers those vows that are allowed to be nullified - not vows such as those regarding owing someone money - and vows that are made by one individual to another.)

This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.  




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Be Careful What You Promise to Do

The annual annulment of vows reminds us how careful we need to be when we speak. This is especially true before promising to do something.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Holiday Greetings

The standard pre-Rosh Hashana greeting of “K’tiva v’chatima tova” ("May you be written and sealed for good”) is deduced from a Talmudic discussion concerning the three heavenly books that are opened during the High Holidays.

Rabbi Jochanan (as quoted by Rabbi Kruspedai) clarified that on the New Year, three books - a book for the completely wicked, a book for the completely righteous and a book for those in the middle - are opened. According to Rabbi Avin, the existence of these books is alluded to in Psalms 69:29: “Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous.” According to Rabbi Nahman ben Isaac, Moses actually refers to one of these books in Exodus 32:32: “...blot me, I pray You, out of Your book which You have written” (Rosh Hashana 16b).

Both of the proof-texts brought in the Talmud appear to refer only to a Book of the Righteous. Since tradition has it that the world is balancedbetween extremes (prophecy was balanced by idolatry, Moses was balanced by Balaam), a Book of the Wicked must also exist. This, of course, leaves a gap for those who are neither completely righteous nor completely wicked...in other words, the majority of humanity. Thus it could only be assumed that there was a third book.

Rabbi Kruspedai further explains that, on Rosh Hashana, the completely righteous and the completely wicked are immediately written into their respective books, but “the judgement of the intermediate group is written but not finalized from the New Year till the Day of Atonement” [when it is sealed].

Because of the “suspended” status of most people between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, after Rosh Hashana the greeting is altered to “G’mar chatima tova” ("May it finish with you being sealed for good").

Jewish Treats wishes all of its readers l’shana tova tikatayhvu v’taychataymu (that’s the plural form).





This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.


Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Wish Friends Well

Make sure to wish friends and family a “Happy and Healthy New Year,” a year in which they may be inscribed in the Book of Life.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Tashlich

The Rosh Hashana tashlich ceremony is a tradition that is dear throughout the many diverse Jewish communities. Tashlich literally translates as "You will throw." But what, exactly, is it?

Tashlich is meant to be a symbolic physical representation of casting away one’s sins. Along with a selection of Psalms and supplications, Micah 7:18-20 is repeatedly recited: "Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and forgiving transgression to the remainder of His heritage. He retains not His anger forever, because He delights in kindness. He will again have mercy on us. He will suppress our iniquities; yes, You will cast our sins into the depth of the sea."

The reference in Micah to the depth of the sea appears to be the source for the custom of reciting tashlich next to a body of water, such as a lake or a river (or an ocean, of course) in which fish live. As long as one can see the water, even from a distance (even by climbing to the rooftop of a building), one may recite tashlich.

Tashlich is usually performed in the late afternoon on the first day of Rosh Hashana. However, if one is unable to do tashlich at that time, the ceremony may be performed until Hoshana Rabbah. If the first day of Rosh Hashana is on Shabbat, Ashkenazim wait until the second day.

Although descriptions of tashlich often include the casting of bread crumbs, feeding wild animals is, 
according to many opinions, prohibited on Shabbat and the holidays. The casting of bread is a poetic physical expression of tashlich, but is not necessary to the ceremony. This custom may have evolved from the chassidic custom of intentionally shaking off crumbs to represent casting away sins.

This Treat was reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.




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Shofar Shorts

The shofar is one of the most recognizable symbols of Rosh Hashana. Although it is preferable that a shofar be fashioned from a ram’s horn, the horn need only come from a kosher animal.* However, not all the horns of a kosher animal are usable. For instance cows’ horns and deer antlers are solid bone and cannot be fashioned into a shofar, whereas the horns of animals such as rams are made of keratin and can be hollowed out to become a shofar.

Shofars are prepared by applying heat. They are cleaned in boiling water, and heat is applied in order to either straighten or bend the horns. A shofar may be engraved or decorated with metal as long as the weight does not alter the shofar’s sound. However, extra material may not be placed near either end of the shofar.

On Rosh Hashana three distinct sounds are blown on the shofar:

Tekiah - The tekiah is a long, solid blast like the blowing of a trumpet at a king’s coronation. This sound reminds us that God is the King of Kings.

Shevarim - The shevarim are three medium-length blasts, reminiscent of deep sighs or soft crying, (where one is gasping for breath). The shevarim represents the first step in recognizing all that God does for us, and all that we could be doing, thus the sighing sound.

Teruah - The teruah are nine quick staccato blasts which evoke the feeling of short piercing cries of wailing. It represents the recognition that the new year is upon us, and the time for repentance will soon pass.

A combination of Shevarim-Teruah is also sounded during the shofar service.

Tekiah Gedolah - The tekiah gedolah, the final blast, is a long solid note. It is a triumphant shout that reaches out to the hearts of all to assure them that their prayers have been heard.

(*If one has absolutely no other option, one may use the horn of a non-kosher animal, but cannot recite the blessings over hearing the sounds.)




This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Arrange to Hear the Shofar on Rosh Hashana

Make arrangements to hear the blowing of the Shofar on Rosh Hashana. While ideally one hears the shofar at synagogue, one may fulfill this obligation anywhere.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Remembering the Akeidah

In neither of the two Torah references to the holiday of Rosh Hashana (Leviticus 23:23-25, Numbers 29:1), is there a specific mention of the shofar, the ram's horn. Only the Teruah, the sound made by the shofar, is noted. So why do we only use the shofar on Rosh Hashana when the same sound can be made on another instrument?

In the Talmudic discussion, Rabbi Abahu (c. 279-320 C.E., Caeseria, Israel) responded to this question by referring to the oral tradition that God wanted the Jewish people to use a ram's horn to remind Him of the binding of Isaac (known as the Akeidah), which culminated in a ram being offered as a sacrifice in Isaac's stead. The shofar represents that ram.

Why is it important to God that the Jewish people remind Him of the Akeidah on Rosh Hashana? On a simple level, the oral tradition states that the Akeidah took place on the first of Tishrei, which is Rosh Hashana. More importantly, however, is the fact that the Akeidah reminds God of the Jewish people's commitment to the ways of its ancestors.

On Rosh Hashana, humanity is judged...and far too often it is the negative side of the scale that is weighed down. However, when God sees the Jewish people recalling the patriarchs' and matriarchs' devotion and commitment, and demonstrating that we, ourselves, strive toward that devotion, His attribute of mercy can override His attribute of judgment and enable Him to judge us favorably for a good year to come.


This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.


Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Year is Set

Rosh Hashana, the head of the year, is the day on which God determines the fate and fortune of both individuals and communities for the year to come. It is assumed that on this day God determines exactly how much money one will earn in the coming year. As it says, "All of a person's earnings are fixed in the time from Rosh Hashana until (and including ) Yom Kippur, except for his expenses for Shabbat, holidays and expenses incurred in teaching his children Torah" (Beitza 16a).

But if God decides on Rosh Hashana that a person is to earn $80,000 for the year, what need is there for that person to remain "good"? Since judgment has been already rendered, can’t we just relax until next Rosh Hashana?

The Talmud addresses this question on a communal level (Rosh Hashana 17b):

Let's say that on Rosh Hashana the Jewish people were judged to be in the category of the completely righteous, and Heaven decreed abundant rainfall for that year. But, later, they went off the straight and narrow. Reducing the total amount of rainfall is impossible, because the decree has already been issued. Therefore, the Holy One, blessed be He, may make it rain during the wrong season or on land that does not require rain.

On Rosh Hashana a judgment is rendered. How that judgment is executed (whether in a single check, a monthly increase, or random $1 bills that are spent without thought) is up to each of us.


This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.


Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Destiny and Fate

While Jews recognize that God decrees what kind of year we will have, we still have much to contribute, as we can still determine our destiny.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Come My Beloved

The Talmud (Shabbat 116a) describes how the sages would greet Shabbat: “Rabbi Chaninah would wrap himself in his cloak and say: ‘Come, let us go and greet the Shabbat Queen.’ Rabbi Yannai would don his garments and say: ‘Enter, O bride! Enter, O bride!’”
This passage is the basis for Rabbi Shlomo Halevy Alkabetz’s (Israel, c.1500 - 1580) Lecha Dodi, Come My Beloved. This popular liturgical hymn captured the spirit of the Kabbalists in Safed, who would go out into the fields on Friday afternoon to greet Shabbat.

Interestingly, only the first two stanzas and the last stanza of the poem refer directly to Shabbat. (Verse 1: Guarding and Remembering Shabbat. Verse 2: Shabbat as the ancient source of blessing. Verse 9: Greeting Shabbat). The other six verses speak of the Jewish people’s longing for redemption. The connection of Shabbat and redemption is based on the Talmudic dictum (Shabbat 118b) that states: “If all Jews were to observe just two Shabbatot properly, the final redemption would occur.”

It is the refrain, however, that is best-known. Lecha dodi likrat kallah, p’nei Shabbat n’kabbelah - Come my beloved, to greet the bride, let us welcome the arrival of Shabbat. The depiction of Shabbat as a bride is based on a well-known Midrash: “Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai taught: Shabbat pleaded to the Holy One, blessed be He: ‘All [the other days] have a partner, while I have no partner!’ God responded: ‘The Jewish People will be your partner.’”

Depicting Shabbat as bride to the Jewish people is a beautiful way of describing the people’s relationship to the Seventh Day. Just as a groom goes to great lengths to make his bride feel special, so too, Jews constantly seek to enhance and beautify the celebration of Shabbat.


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I Am To My Beloved

The Torah verse that epitomizes the emotion of love is: “Anee l’dodi v’dodi lee” - I am to my beloved, and my beloved is to me (Song of Songs 6:3). The ideal love relationship according to the Torah is one in which both parties are willing to give themselves to their chosen partner. The Hebrew acronym for the verse Anee l’dodi v’dodi lee is “Elul,” the name of the Hebrew month that precedes Rosh Hashana. 

When speaking of Rosh Hashana, the sages discuss the great sense of awe that one must feel. They do not, however, mean awe as in fear. Rather, they mean awe as in a sense of reverence, of being overwhelmed by the greatness of God. The purpose of Rosh Hashana is not simply to make people feel guilty for their mistakes or promise to do better (although that too is important), but, as with much of Jewish life, it is to help develop each individual’s relationship with God.
 

To have a relationship with God, a person must recognize all of God’s roles--including King and Judge, as is the focus of Rosh Hashana. During Elul, however, we focus on God as the Beloved of the Jewish people.
 

In many rabbinic allegories, the Jewish people are likened to a bride while God is portrayed as the waiting groom. The Jewish people (both as individuals and as a nation) can gain the most by recognizing that God loves His people and wishes to bring blessing upon their homes.
 
 

"I am to my beloved, and my beloved is to me." When “I” (meaning the Jewish people) can truly give to “my beloved” (meaning God), then God will become ours in a beautiful and Divine partnership. 

This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.


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Reach Out

God makes Himself close to us during the month of Elul. Make sure to reach back!

Monday, September 23, 2019

A Dictionary for the Days of Awe

In Maimonides’ Laws of Repentance, he invokes five important and pertinent terms in his first paragraph, that are worth defining.

Teshuva – means return, but connotes repentance or personal transformation and change. 

Cheyt – usually defined as “sin,” really means to miss the mark (see Judges 20:17). According to Jewish thought, Cheyt is not a permanent stain; it connotes missing a target, which can be rectified by trying again (i.e. teshuva). 

Aveirah - this term means the opposite of a mitzvah, a commandment. It literally means to pass, or to avoid doing something. It is basically synonymous with chet. It too implies something that was passed over, which ultimately can be repaired. 

Viduy – means confession. Maimonides writes that a verbal confession is required in order to achieve proper teshuva. 

Kapparah
 – atonement or forgiveness, (i.e. Yom Kippur means Day of Atonement). It is important to note that the first four terms are human actions directed toward God, while kapparah, the goal of Yom Kippur, is the one action that emanates from God toward humankind. With these terms, we now have the tools to understand the first halacha (law) of Hilchot Teshuva (the Laws of Teshuva), which follows.

If one transgressed (aveirah) any commandment of the Torah, whether a positive or a negative one, whether deliberately or accidentally, then when one repents (does teshuva) one has to confess verbally (viduy) to God... This means verbal confession, which is commanded positively to do, and is performed by saying, `O Lord, I have sinned, transgressed and rebelled before You, and have done such-and-such, and I am ashamed by my actions and will never do it again.' This is the main part of verbal confession, and expanding on it is praiseworthy… Capital and corporal punishment do not atone (kapparah) unless the recipient repents and confesses verbally. Likewise, if one does financial damage to someone, one is not forgiven unless one repents and resolves never to do it again, even if one paid back the money, for it is written, "...any sin that people commit".

English translation of Immanuel O'Levy, courtesy of Jonathan Baker:http://www.panix.com/~jjbaker/MadaT.html



This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Forgiveness: An Elul Treat

Many feel that the three hardest words to say are: “I am sorry.” Yet, we all know how very important those words are. Indeed, saying one is sorry, or at least admitting one’s guilt, is a critical part of the process of teshuvah, repentance.

Equally important, however, is the ability to hear someone else’s apology and to accept it. Even greater is the ability to forgo an apology altogether and simply forgive the person for hurting you.

Jewish tradition teaches that one is only obligated to ask for forgiveness three times. After three refusals, the person is no longer held accountable for their misconduct, as he/she has demonstrated true regret. The one who will not accept a sincere apology after three requests for forgiveness is now guilty of bearing a grudge.

What is wrong with bearing a grudge against a person who really hurt you? Beyond the fact that it is a violation of a Torah prohibition (Leviticus 19:18), bearing a grudge affects the person psychologically. A person bearing a grudge is, in general, less happy with the world and with other people because he/she cannot get past the feeling that he/she was wronged.

Forgiveness, on the other hand, is rather easy to bestow. And when it is done with sincerity, it is as much a gift to ourselves as it is to the person we forgive.


This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.



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