Friday, September 14, 2012

Understanding Rosh haShana

You are a scientist. Your mission is to find the cure to a terrible disease. A powerful and wealthy INVESTOR is ready to spend yearly 1,000,000 dollars in your wisdom. He trusts you. He gives you the money one year at a time. In twelve months He will meet with you again to examine His investment together with you. He will not expect you to find the cure in one year. And He is willing to keep investing in you. To reinvest, however, He wants to make sure that you stick to the plan both, you and Him have agreed upon. He wants to make sure that you did the best you could. And if you made mistakes (you probably did!) He wants to know that you are capable to learn from them and avoid them in the future. At the time of the annual meeting you should be capable of identifying your own mistakes and articulate them in front of Him. Then, He knows that you will not repeat them next year. He also knows that precisely those mistakes, when recognized, have the potential to get you closer to find the cure. On the contrary, if you deny your mistakes and you neglect to look back and detect where you failed, you will probably make those mistakes again. And if so, you become a questionable investment...

God is the INVESTOR. He invested in us. He gave us our lives. Expecting that we will make good use of the resources that He generously granted us. He expects great things from us. Every one of us has the potential to make a change and affect our lives and the lives of others. Each year, in Rosh haShana, we meet with our INVESTOR to submit our annual report and examine it together with Him, knowing that the money for the next term (=life), is not automatically granted. First, we have to show that we have followed (or tried!) the INVESTOR'S plan. Second, that we have not wasted His investment doing nothing. And third that we are capable of identifying our mistakes and learn from them.

In Rosh haShana, we have to persuade God that it is worth it for HIM to reinvest again in us, in our lives and efforts.

Shabbat Shalom Shana Toba!

√ For candle lighting time, schedule of Selichot, Hatarat Nedarim and Rosh haShana prayers in different Minyanim and other activities, please see: 

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Read HERE the difference between men and women regarding the Mitzva of Shofar 

Read HERE important information about Mikve and relations on Rosh haShana

Thursday, September 13, 2012

ROSH HASHANA: The call of the Shofar

Every day we have many opportunities to ask God Almightywhat we need and what we want from Him. On weekdays, three times a day, we recite the Amida. From its nineteen blessings thirteen focus on our needs: we ask God for good health, good livelihood, protection, etc. (see here). During Shabbat and Chaguim, when opening the Hekhal, we ask haShem to grant us good health, good livelihood, protection, and much more. During the High Holidays we request HaShem several times for our Parnasa (livelihood) , long life, etc.

What are we supposed to do when we listen to the Shofar in Rosh haShana? Should we keep asking God for more things? Is the Shofar an extension of our own voice requesting God loudly and with a broken heart for all the important things we want for the coming year?  Public opinion (and general practice) notwithstanding, when listening to the Shofar we should not focus on asking God for anything (See Maimonides' words here).


Because when the Shofar is blown it is actually the only time of the whole year that God is asking something from us!

The voice of the Shofar should be understood as a 'divine wake up call'. God is our father (abinu). The one that gave us our life. When the Shofar  is blown we should reflects on what good have we done with the year of life He graciously gave us.

When the Shofar is blown we must remember that haShem is also our King (malkenu). We owe Him obedience. At that solemn moment we are asked to admit our mistakes, repent and learn from them for the future.  

When the Shofar is blown we must become answerable to God. Take charge and being accountable from what we have done wrong and for what we have not done right.

That is what we need to do when listening to the voice of the Shofar!

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

ROSH HASHANA: Basics of Shofar

The shofar is an animal horn, which was modified removing its inside material (keratin) and opening a 'mouthpiece' in its upper narrower ending. (See here how the Shofar is made). The most common horn used to make a Shofar is a ram's horn. When blown the Shofar emits a deep loud sound. The sound is produced by releasing air through its mouthpiece.

If you try to blow a shofar do not place it inside your mouth in between your lips the way you would blow-up a balloon. Place iton your lips on the side or in the middle.  You should blow air with your lips tightly closed emitting the sound of the letter 'P' and vibrating your lips as you release the air. Don't inflate your cheeks and don't force your lungs. Breath as normally as possible. The most difficult part of the whole process will be to adjust the position of the Shofar on your lips avoiding air to escape from any other point of your mouth.

The Shofar produces one sound. In Rosh haShana we play three different voices using the same sound. The three voices have theoretically the same length. The first one, Teqi'a, is a plain uninterrupted sound. For the sake of illustration let us imagine that the teqi'a lasts for nine seconds (in reality it lasts less than that). Then we have Shebarim: a sound divided into three smaller units. Following our example, each unit of the Shebarim will last for 3 seconds. And finally Teru'a : a sound, consisting of nine smaller units, each unit would last for one second.
The typical formula of Shofar voices consists of the following combination:

teqi'a/ shabrim-terua/ teqi'a.
teqi'a/ shebarim/ teqi'a
teqi'a / teru'a/ teqi'a.

In Rosh haShana this formula repeats itself several times until we reach more that 100 sounds.


Monday, September 10, 2012

HILKHOT TESHUBA 3:4: Rosh haShana and the Shofar

The most important Mitzva of Rosh haShana is listening to the Shofar.

The Tora does not comment explicitly the reasons for the Shofar, but our Rabbis did.

1. The Shofar was used in ancient Israel for the King's coronation. In Rosh haShana we state that God is our King ('ol malkhut shamayim), we are His subjects and as such we follow His rules. The King had the power to sentence or spare someone's life. In Rosh haShana we realize that our lives are in the hands of God, the supreme King and Judge. The key added word which is emphasized in the prayers of Rosh HaShana and Yamim Noraim is melekh. God is the King and Supreme Judge.

2. The Shofar also reminds us of aqedat Yitzchaq. Abraham Abinu was ready to sacrifice his own son to follow God's commandment. At the end, God told him to hold back because the test was over. Abraham saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket and he offered it as a sacrifice to Him.

3. The Shofar was also used as a siren, alerting people the enemy is about to attack and their lives were in danger. In Rosh haShana the Shofar serves as a spiritual alarm clock inviting us to introspect on the fragility of our existence and repent. The Shofar is a wake up call urging us to plead with haShem and request His mercy when judging us.

In Hilkhot Teshuba 3:4, Maimonides explains that the sounding of the Shofar  conveys the  following message: "Wake up sleepy ones and those who slumber, arise. Inspect your deeds, remember your Creator. Those who forget the truth because of the temporary distractions and throughout the entire year devote their energies to the [pursue] of vanity and material emptiness which will not benefit , not save. Examine your ways and your deeds and abandon the paths of evil and the destructive [habits and] thoughts."