Sunday, September 30, 2018

Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah

Tonight starts the holiday of Shemini Atzeret, literally the Gathering of the Eighth, a connected, yet independent holiday, that immediately follows Sukkot.

During the seven days of Sukkot, when the Temple stood in Jerusalem, 70 oxen were sacrificed representing the original 70 nations of the world. The priests offered sin offerings for the nations, invoking a desire for universal atonement, peace and harmony.

Because of Sukkot’s focus on all nations, God ordained Shemini Atzeret to demonstrate God’s special love for the Jewish people--comparable to a host asking his/her best friend to stay after everyone else has left, in order to share a private moment and relish the time spent together.

Shemini Atzeret also doubles as the holiday of Simchat Torah (Rejoicing in the Torah), which marks the conclusion of the yearly cycle of the reading of the Torah. On the same day that the Torah is completed, it is begun again, to show that Torah is always new and fresh and that our mitzvah to study Torah is never-ending.

On the night of Simchat Torah, all the Torah scrolls are removed from the ark. The bimah (platform or table on which Torah is read) is circled seven times by those holding the Torah scrolls with the congregation dancing joyously with them. Each encirclement, called hakafa, begins with a responsive prayer.

During the morning service, all the Torahs are again taken from the ark and the hakafot, the joyous circling of the night before, are repeated. The final parasha (weekly portion) of the Torah, V’zot Ha’bracha (And this is the blessing...) is read. The final parasha is read over and over until everyone has been called to the Torah. In some congregations, several Torah readings take place simultaneously.

For more information on Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, click here.

*This Treat was originally published on Monday, October 20, 2008. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the holiday of Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah.


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Beating the Willows

During Sukkot, there is a mitzvah to wave the four species (lulav, hadassim, aravot and etrog - palm, myrtle, willow and citron) every day except on Shabbat. In addition to this mitzvah, the four species are grasped together while special prayers are recited as congregants march around the Bimah (central platform) of the synagogue during the daily Sukkot Hoshanot service and during Hallel (with the exception of Shabbat). On the seventh and final day of Sukkot, the day known as Hoshana Rabbah, there is an additional ceremony performed known as the Beating of the Willows.

The history of this mitzvah is less clear than the other mitzvot of Sukkot, but its performance is described in the Talmud (Tractate Sukkot 44a). Actually, it is written therein that "the [beating of] the willow branch and the water libation [ceremony] were given to Moses at Mount Sinai.” The fact that the ceremony continued after the destruction of the Temple and outside the land of Israel is considered to be of Prophetic origin.

The performance of the seven hakafot (circles around the bimah) and the beating of the willows is universal, whether one is Ashkenazi or Sephardi - although there are different customs as to when in the service they are performed.  Following the hakafot of the hoshanot, a bundle (although a single branch may be used) of willow branches* is taken and beaten five times on the floor.

Because the origins of this ceremony are so cryptic, the meaning of beating the willow branches is the source of great conjecture, ranging from a connection to the Sukkot prayers for rain to an association with humility. The bunch of willow branches is also referred to as hoshanot.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot and Hoshana Rabbah.




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The Torah is Proud!

Some have pointed out that Simchat Torah, can translate in Hebrew as “the Torah’s joy.” After celebrating Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Hoshana Rabba with fealty, awe and joy, the Torah rejoices in the faith of the Jewish people.

Friday, September 28, 2018

The Great Hoshana (Hoshana Rabbah)

Rosh Hashana is known as the Day of Judgment (Yom Hadin), the day on which God judges the world. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the day on which God finalizes His verdict on the judgments of Rosh Hashana.

But actually the days of judgment are not quite over.

According to tradition, as stated in the Zohar (3:31b): "This [Hoshana Rabbah] is the final day of judgment for water, source of all blessings. On the seventh day of Sukkot the judgment of the world is finalized and the edicts are sent forth from the King."

The days of judgment are not, it seems, truly over until the seventh day of Sukkot, which is why  the tashlich ceremony may be performed until Hoshana Rabbah. What is the connection?

On Rosh Hashana, God determines the fate and fortune of both individuals and communities for the year to come, including exactly how much one will earn in the coming year. Material endowments are one form of sustenance. On the holiday of Sukkot, however, God determines the world’s water allotment for the year to come.

Since God is still sitting in His heavenly courtroom deciding the fate of the world, there is time to slip in a final appeal or to do an extra act of kindness in the hope of altering the scales of justice in one’s favor.


On Hoshana Rabba, extra hakafot (circles around the bimah) are added to the service, as well as the beating of the willows). In some communities, it is customary to stay up all night studying Torah. Additionally, many people eat a light, festive meal in the afternoon.

Hoshana Rabba 5779 begins Saturday night.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.



Some people have a custom to eat kreplach, 
meat dumplings, on Hoshana Rabba.



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Everyone Does the Wave

One of the main mitzvot of the holiday of Sukkot is the waving of the four species: citron (etrog), palm, myrtle and willow. Trying to understand this mitzvah metaphorically, our sages compared the four species to four different types of Jews:

The fruit of a "beautiful tree" (etrog) has both taste and scent, and is symbolic of those Jews who are well-versed in Torah and who have performed many good deeds.

The branch of the palm tree (lulav) has taste but no scent, and is symbolic of those Jews who are well-versed in Torah but have not performed good deeds.

The boughs of myrtle (hadassim) have scent but no taste, and are symbolic of those Jews who have performed many good deeds, but have not studied Torah.

The willows of the stream (aravot) have no taste and no scent, and are symbolic of those Jews who have neither studied Torah nor performed good deeds.

When the four species are brought together, they represent the complete spectrum of the Jewish people. Acknowledging our different strengths and weaknesses is critical not only in creating harmony among people, but in creating a unified nation.

Creating a unified nation represents the ideal state of the Jewish people. It was in a state of true unity that the Jewish people camped at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, and it can only be as a unified whole that we can reach our full potential once again.


For more information on the four species (lulav and etrog) of Sukkot.  Please click here.



This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.





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You Are So Beautiful

On Sukkot, beautifying the mitzvot (commandments) of the Sukkah and the Four Species are a virtue.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Water, Water Everywhere

Sukkot is considered the holiday on which God determines the world’s water allotment for the year to come. During the time of the Temple, the week of Sukkot was highlighted by the Water Libation ceremony, during which the priests ceremoniously drew water from the spring of Shiloach and poured it into the designated bowl attached to the altar. The ceremony actually lasted all night and was known as the Simchat Beit Hasho'evah, the Celebration of the Water Drawing.

The Simchat Beit Hasho'evah was such a joyous and wonderful event that the sages wrote of it in the Talmud (Sukkah 51a), "Whoever did not see this celebration [the Simchat Beit Hasho'evah] never saw a real celebration in his days."

Here is a description of how it was celebrated in the Temple: The Temple was set up for the Simchat Beit Hasho'evah. Three balconies were erected in the women’s section and the men would stand in a courtyard below, allowing more people to attend. Golden lamps were placed in the courtyard that gave off enough light to illuminate the entire city. In the courtyard, men would dance as the Levites played instruments and sang praises to God. The kohanim, the priests, would then go to the spring of Shiloach and draw the water to be used.

It is customary today, during the week of Sukkot, to attend or host a Simchat Beit Hasho'evah party, which generally takes place in the sukkah. 


This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.



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Singing Praises

“...The prophets of the Jewish people ordained that the Hallel be recited on special occasions and celebrations [like Yom Tov], and at times of national deliverance from peril, in gratitude for their redemption” (Talmud Pesachim 117a).

The prayer of Hallel, which is recited before the Torah reading on the holidays of Sukkot, Chanukah, Passover and Shavuot,* is actually the recitation of Psalms 113-118. According to tradition, the Book of Psalms, which contains 150 poetic expressions of devotion to God, were mostly authored by King David. The six Psalms of Hallel were selected for holidays and days of redemption because, as it says in Pesachim 118a, they contain fundamental Jewish beliefs: the Exodus, the splitting of the Red Sea, the giving of the Torah, the resurrection of the dead and the coming of the Messiah.

While the Book of Psalms is attributed to King David, who was a known scholar, pietist and musician, it is understood that a handful of the psalms are actually much older. These psalms had been passed down through the generations until David included them, along with his own writings, in The Book of Psalms. An excellent example of these psalms that pre-dated King David are those psalms that open with a dedication (authorial note) of the sons of Korach.

Similarly, it was argued by the sages that Psalms 113-118 were actually written by Moses. Rabbi Jose said, “My son Elazar is of the opinion that Moses and Israel said it [Hallel] when they came out of the Red Sea, but his colleagues disagree with him. They contend that David composed Hallel. But I prefer my son's opinion to that of his colleagues: Is it possible that the Jewish people slaughtered their Passover sacrifices and took their lulav bundles without singing a hymn to God?” (Pesachim 117a).

*During Chol Hamoed Passover and on the last days of Passover (as well as on Rosh Chodesh - the new month) an abridged form of Hallel, known as Half-Hallel, is recited.

This Treat was last posted on April 8, 2015.


Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Holiday Music

One of the ways to celebrate the Jewish holidays, especially Sukkot, the Festival of Joy, is through music. The Jewish music industry has exploded in recent decades and many upbeat and lively songs can be purchased, downloaded or listened to online.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Ushpeezin (Oo'shpee'zin)

During the festival of Sukkot, the sukkah is intended to be our home. For example, since one would normally dine in the house, on Sukkot one dines in the sukkah. Because the sukkah is temporary, however, moving into the sukkah requires leaving behind some of our material comforts, settling for rather basic necessities, thus creating a more spiritual environment.

In our spiritually enhanced “mini-homes,” the Jewish tradition of hospitality and inviting guests takes on an entirely new dimension! Not only do we invite friends and neighbors to join us, but there is also the custom of inviting the great historic Jewish personages who shaped our people.

This custom is known as Ushpeezin (the Aramaic word for guests).

According to the kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition, the Shechina (Divine Presence) accompanies every Jew into the sukkah. The Shechina is accompanied by the seven shepherds of Israel: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David.


Each evening, the host welcomes the seven ushpeezin (guests) into the sukkah by saying: “I invite to my meal the exalted guests: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David. May it please you, Abraham, my exalted guest, that all the other exalted guests dwell here with me and with you - Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David.*”

Each night, another one of the ushpeezin is welcomed, in a specific order. Thus on the second night, one says: "May it please you, Isaac, my exalted..." On the third night: "May it please you, Jacob, my exalted..." and so on throughout the week.

*The order of the Ushpeezin may vary depending on community.
 


This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.





Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Value of Hosting

Even in a temporary dwelling, Jews endeavor to welcome guests.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

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 last posted on September 28, 2012.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

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 Hashanah until Shemini Atzeret, references both Rosh Hashanah 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.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

An Act of Faith

The mystics called the sukkah “shades of faith” because sitting in the Sukkah represents an act of faith in God.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Perceiving Change

Parashat Ha’azinu, also called Shirat Ha’azinu, the poem or song of Ha’azinu in Hebrew, is literally laid-out in the Torah scroll as a poem, not as the typical prose one finds. Moses’ final words become more rhythmical, and reflective of the Jewish journey from days of old as he approaches his final moments on earth. This penultimate Torah portion presents many famous verses, one of which is the following:

Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations; ask your father, and he will show you; your elders, and they will tell you” (Deuteronomy 32:7). Moses reminds the generation about to enter the Land of Canaan that one of the best ways to move forward is to look backward. Interestingly, although not appearing in this context, the Hebrew root k.d.m is found in words such as kedem, which means “in the past” in Hebrew, yet kadimah, sharing the identical three letter root, connotes moving forward. The Jew progresses by gauging past history.

But the Hebrew word for years, “shnote” as it appears in the verse above, can also mean “changes” in Hebrew. Using this connotation, the verse reads, “Remember the days of old, consider the changes of the generations…Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, using the alternative understanding, suggested that Moses may have been saying something in addition to the power of precedent. If a leader wants to succeed, they must understand changes in attitude and thought of those they want to lead. This does not imply that societal changes trump Torah principles. Moses would be the last person to make such a claim. But it behooves the leader to know how to communicate in the lingo of the generation.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Communication Tip

If you capture and employ the vernacular of your audience, you will have a better chance to engage them.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

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.


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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.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Yom Kippur Must Spill Over

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

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

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.



Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

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 © 2018 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, September 17, 2018

Post Labor Day Whites

When is it fashionably acceptable to wear white after Labor Day? On Yom Kippur!

Many people have the custom of wearing white on Yom Kippur. In the synagogue you will often see women dressed in white suits or dresses and men bedecked in a white garment known as a kittel (Yiddish for robe).


There are several reasons for this custom:

1) Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the day on which we ask God to overlook all of our mistakes. Consequently, it is customary to wear white as a way of emulating the angels, who stand before God in purity. In Hebrew, angels are known as "malachim" (singular-mal’ach) which means messenger(s). The malachim were created as God’s spiritual messengers and are pure, totally spiritual creatures. Human beings, on the other hand, were created of both matter and spirit. It is this combination that gives us "Free Will," enabling us to make choices that, unfortunately, are not always the best. These unwise choices are what require us to engage in teshuva (repentance). On Yom Kippur, one wishes to emulate the malachim, the pure spirits who exist only to serve the Creator.

2) White garments, especially the kittel, are also reminiscent of the burial shroud. On Yom Kippur, one’s life is held in balance by the greatest Judge of all. When one is reminded of one’s mortality, a person is more likely to engage in honest introspection...Did I really act properly? Was there anything I could have done better? etc.

3) And of course, on Yom Kippur you don’t have to worry about food stains!


This Treat is reposted in honor of Yom Kippur.




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The Book Of Jonah

The Book of Jonah is one of the best known stories in the Bible and is read during Mincha (the afternoon service) on Yom Kippur because of its powerful message of repentance:

God instructs Jonah to go to the Assyrian city of Nineveh and warn them that Nineveh will be destroyed unless the people mend their ways. 

Hoping to flee and avoid this mission, Jonah boards a ship. 

God sends a great storm. The people on the ship, fearing for their lives, discern that Jonah is the cause of the storm and, at Jonah's suggestion, throw him overboard. Jonah is swallowed by a large fish. (The Hebrew word is fish, but it is commonly translated as a whale.) Jonah lives inside the fish for three days, praying to God and accepting God’s command to go to Nineveh.

When Jonah is spit out on dry land, he goes to Nineveh to bring them God’s message. The people repent and are saved. Jonah, however, leaves the city depressed and angry that this city of idol-worshipers heeded God’s warning and will be saved, while his fellow Jews often do not. He sits outside the city waiting to see what will happen.

Jonah falls asleep, and while he sleeps, God makes a gourd grow over him to shade him from the intense heat. Jonah awakens and rejoices over the gourd. On that very night, God sends a worm to destroy the gourd that provided him with protection from the harsh sun, causing Jonah to weep.

God then rebukes Jonah for having pity on a plant that appeared and disappeared in one night, but having no compassion for the one hundred and twenty thousand people in Nineveh.


This Treat is reposted in honor of Yom Kippur.



Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 
 

God Is Everywhere

The Book of Jonah teaches us that while one cannot hide from God, God is ultimately compassionate. Remember that, as we approach Yom Kippur.

Friday, September 14, 2018

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.

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Whosoever Is Wise

"Return, O Israel, for you have stumbled in your sin" (Hosea 14:2).

Um, who has the remote control? Can someone please change the channel?!

Let’s face it, none of us really want to hear a fire-and-brimstone reproof of all of the things we’ve done wrong and how we must mend our ways. This is basic human psychology and is obviously the great challenge facing all rabbis in the preparation of their Shabbat Shuva sermons.

Shabbat Shuva, which is so called because of the first word "Shuva," return, in the week’s haftarah reading (Hosea 14:2 -10), is the Shabbat between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Traditionally, it is this Shabbat sermon that is regarded as the highlight of the year, the premier opportunity for rabbis to inspire their congregants to work harder on becoming better Jews. The goal, as with all things in the 10 days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, is teshuva, repentance. (It is interesting to note that in many communities in pre-war Europe, the Shabbat Shuva sermon was one of only two sermons that the rabbi delivered during the year - the other being just before Passover.)

But what is the source of inspiration, and what motivates change? There are those who want to be humored into self-improvement, while others wish to hear inspiring stories of triumph over challenge.

Perhaps the prophet Hosea said it best: "Whosoever is wise, let him understand these things, whosoever is prudent, let him know them. For the ways of God are right, and the just walk in them; but transgressors do stumble therein" (14:10).


This Treat is reposted in honor of Shabbat Shuva.

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Preparation!

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

Thursday, September 13, 2018

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 vice 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.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Make the Effort to Improve and Sustain that Improvement

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

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

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 was last posted on September 28, 2014.





Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Biblical History Parallels Current History

The tragedy 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 very relevant to our lives today.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

The Five Names of Rosh Hashana

In Jewish tradition, Rosh Hashana has several names that can help us understand the importance and power of this holiday.

Rosh Hashana literally means "Head of the Year" because Rosh Hashana marks the point when we begin the new calendar year (e.g. from 5775 to 5776).

Yom Harat Olam is translated as "The Birthday of the World."

Yom Hazikaron is translated as "The Day of Remembering."

Yom Hadin is translated as "The Day of Judgment."

Yom Teruah is translated as "The Day of Sounding (the Shofar)." This is the actual name that the holiday is called in the Torah.

Ok, so there are five different names for the holiday. What is the significance of that? How do these different themes relate to each other?

The Teruah is the staccato sound blown on the shofar. Yom Teruah serves as a call to attention because this day is Yom Hadin, the Day of Judgment, and it is imperative that one be cognizant of the importance of the day.

It is the Day of Judgment because it is Yom Hazikaron, the day on which God looks back and "remembers" our deeds, individually, collectively and historically (a record of over 4,000 years of Jewish history).

Why is this the Day of Remembrance? Because it is the anniversary of the creation of the world (Yom Harat Olam). Since the annual cycle is closing, it is the perfect time for reflection and judgment. This new beginning allows us to enter the new year with a clean slate.

And since the old year and the new year are seamless, this day is also Rosh Hashana, the head of the year.


This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana. 

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

Two Days As One Day

How many days is Rosh Hashana? It seems the simplest of questions, since all around the world, no matter where you may be, Rosh Hashana is celebrated for two days (as opposed to the first and last days of Passover, Shavuot, the first days of Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret - all of which are observed as one day in Israel and two days elsewhere).

The Torah commandment to observe Yom Teruah (the Day of the Sounding [of the shofar]) states that the holiday is to be observed on the first day of the seventh month.* It is the only holiday that occurs on the first day of a month. The Jewish calendar is lunar based and, until approximately 350 C.E., the declaration of the new month was dependent on two witnesses reporting the appearance of the new moon to the Sanhedrin. If the new month was declared late in the day, word still needed to reach those who did not live close to Jerusalem. 

Wanting to prevent any possible desecration of the holiness of the day, the rabbi declared that the New Year be celebrated as a Yoma Arichta (Aramaic for one long day), meaning that the one day was spread over two days. In other words, while Rosh Hashana is observed on the first and second of Tishrei, the two days are thought of as a single day.

One of the more interesting effects of this transformation of two days into one is the question of whether or not a person recites the Sheh’heh’cheh’yanu blessing during candle-lighting (for women) or kiddush (for men) on the second night on Rosh Hashana. On all the other holidays, the second day is treated the same as the first. Since sheh’heh’cheh’yanu is also recited over a new possession or a food that one has not tasted in over a year, it has therefore become the custom to include a new fruit at the beginning of the second night meal of Rosh Hashana and have the new items in mind when reciting the sheh’heh’cheh’yanu blessing. 


*Rosh Hashana is the new year of the counting of years, but Nissan is considered the first month in the counting of months.


This Treat was last posted on September 4, 2013.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Wish both Jews and Non-Jews a Happy and Successful Jewish New Year

On Rosh Hashana we celebrate the creation of the first human being. While only Jews celebrate Rosh Hashana, it is an important anniversary for all humankind.

Friday, September 7, 2018

God's Secret Things

On Sunday night, Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, will be celebrated. While New Year’s celebrations are nice (the Jewish calendar actually has four of them!), Rosh Hashana’s significance is far greater than a mere New Year. It is, in fact known as Yom Hadin, the Day of Judgment, and is a time when Jews focus on recognizing God as the King of Kings.

The weeks leading up to Rosh Hashana are meant to be spent reflecting on one’s actions and evaluating whether one has sincerely become a better person. Unfortunately, our 24-hour media-fueled world not only teaches us to focus on that which is going on around us, but also presents a world of tragedies.

As we move into Rosh Hashana (and, in truth, throughout the year), the way in which we perceive the often tragic events in the world colors our ability to connect with and relate to God as the King of the world.

Why do tornadoes devastate whole towns? Why is there a drought? Why did any tragedy strike? The answer is...we don’t know. As painful, difficult and unhappy as these situations are, Jewish tradition teaches that God runs the world and therefore there is a reason for everything.

Not knowing is a great challenge for many people, especially in today’s “information age.” In the Western World we are accustomed to being in control, which makes it harder to accept the Bible’s declaration that “the secret things belong to the Lord our God” (Deuteronomy 29:28).

Moses makes this statement after describing the violent repercussions that will happen to the Israelites if they cast off the yoke of Torah. However, like every verse in the Torah, it has a deeper meaning as well. The Torah is a guidebook for living, and it contains much wisdom to help us to better understand the world. We must always remember, as the conclusion of the previously cited verse states, that “the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”



This Treat was reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.





Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 

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 "blineder" - 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.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved. 



Be Careful with Your Words

Annulling vows, highlights the fact that sometimes we are not careful enough with what we say. Be cautious with what comes out of your mouth.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

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 was last posted on August 27, 2015.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.  

Reach Out

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

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Seeking God in Elul

Psalm 27 is read twice daily from the beginning of the month of Elul through the holiday of Sukkot in order to help each Jew develop a beautiful relationship with the Divine.

“One thing have I asked of God, one thing do I desire: that I may dwell in the house of God all the days of my life, to behold the graciousness of God, and to visit in His Temple” (27:4). This poignant phrase is an expression of the true longing that is reflected in this psalm. While one may look to God as a protector and a savior (which, indeed, is how God is referred to through much of this psalm), it is critical to also seek out God and to try to be close to Him.

Psalm 27 was written by King David, who certainly did not have an easy life (King Saul wanted him dead, his sons rebelled...), and yet King David remained steadfast in his faith in God. With all his troubles, David had the incredible gift of being able to look at the world and recognize the ways in which God protected him. “Had I not believed that I would look upon the goodness of God in the land of the living!--Hope in the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yea, hope in the Lord" (27:13-14).

The month of Elul, which leads into Rosh Hashana, is a time for reflecting on the wonderful gift of having a relationship with the Divine--and how one can work to achieve that relationship.

This Treat is reposted annually.


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