The Season of Festivals
This year, Rosh Hashanah takes place on Monday, September 26 and Tuesday September 27; Yom Kippur takes place on Wednesday, October 5; Sukkot takes place on Monday, October 10 and Tuesday, October 11 and Simchat Torah takes places on Monday October 17 and Tuesday October 18. The holidays begin with candle-lighting ceremonies the evening before — check your local synagogue or search chabad.org for the correct lighting times in your area.
The festival of Rosh Hashanah — the name means “Head of the Year”— is observed for two days beginning on 1 Tishrei, the first day of the Jewish year. It is the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, and their first actions toward the realization of mankind’s role in G‑d’s world.
Rosh Hashanah thus emphasizes the special relationship between G‑d and humanity: our dependence upon G‑d as our creator and sustainer, and G‑d’s dependence upon us as the ones who make His presence known and felt in His world. Each year on Rosh Hashanah, “all inhabitants of the world pass before G‑d like a flock of sheep,” and it is decreed in the heavenly court “who shall live, and who shall die … who shall be impoverished, and who shall be enriched; who shall fall and who shall rise.”
But this is also the day that we proclaim G‑d King of the Universe. The Kabbalists teach that the continued existence of the universe is dependent upon the renewal of the divine desire for a world when we accept G‑d’s kingship each year on Rosh Hashanah.
The central observance of Rosh Hashanah is the sounding of the shofar, the ram’s horn, which represents the trumpet blast of a people’s coronation of their king as well as a call to repentance. Another significance of the shofar is to recall the Binding of Isaac which also occurred on Rosh Hashanah, in which a ram took Isaac’s place as an offering to G‑d; we evoke Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice his son, and plead that the merit of his deed should stand by us as we pray for a year of life, health and prosperity. Altogether, we listen to one hundred shofar blasts over the course of the Rosh Hashanah services.
Additional Rosh Hashanah observances include eating a piece of apple dipped in honey, to symbolize our desire for a sweet year, and other special foods symbolic of the new year’s blessings; blessing one another with the words by saying, “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year” and saying the Tashlich, a special prayer uttered near a body of water in evocation of the verse, “And You shall cast their sins into the depths of the sea.” As with every major Jewish holiday, after candle lighting and prayers we recite kiddush and make a blessing on the challah.
Yom Kippur, a day of fasting and prayer, is the one day each year when G-d reveals most clearly that our essence and His essence are one. On the soul level, the Jewish people are all truly equal and indivisible. On this day, the entire Jewish nation unites, raising their hearts and thoughts to their creator.
When G-d set aside a special day for forgiveness, it was a manifestation of His love for us. What is required of us is to return to G-d and to do His will, which He transmitted to us in the Torah. The more we demonstrate our essential unity by acting with love and friendship toward others, the more G-d’s love will be revealed to us.
Sukkot commemorates the clouds of glory with which G-d surrounded the Jewish people to protect them and to provide them with all their needs during their 40 years of wandering through the desert on the way to the Promised Land.
The Mitzvah of dwelling, eating and spending time in the Sukkah is unique in that one’s entire person is involved in a Mitzvah (commandment). The Mitzvah of Sukkah encompasses every part of the body — every limb and cell of the person is completely submerged, surrounded and encompassed by the Sukkah. When Jews rejoice, they think of others as well. Thus, when the holy Temple in Jerusalem still existed, special Sukkot offerings were brought for all mankind, accompanied by prayerful wishes of peace and harmony for the entire world.
Another special Mitzvah of Sukkot is the shaking together of the “four species:” these are the etrog (citron), lulav (palm branch), haddasim (myrtle branches) and aravot (willow branches). One explanation among many is that each of these four species represents a different type of Jew. The fact that the Mitzvah requires all four kinds symbolizes our oneness as a people. All the four species are waved in all four directions and up and down signifying that G-d is everywhere.
Translated as the eighth day of the holiday, the Yizkor prayer is recited on this day, honoring deceased relatives with a special prayer.
Simchat Torah, the holiday of rejoicing with the Torah, is the culmination of a month filled with uplifting experiences. We have stood in awe before the G-d on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and been forgiven and inscribed for a good year. We have experienced true joy by uniting with G-d through following His commandments. Now, we rejoice with the Torah.
On Simchat Torah, the final portion of the Torah is read. This completes the cycle of Bible readings throughout the year. We immediately begin reading the Torah from the beginning as well, to symbolize the continuity of the Torah and Jewish Tradition.
To celebrate, we dance with the holy Torah scrolls — scholar, novice and child alike — and rejoice in our gift from G-d.
For more information on the Holidays, to find your closest synagogue or candle lighting times or anything Jewish including the 7 Noahide laws, please visit chabad.org.
Wishing you a happy, healthy and prosperous year!
Rabbi David Laine
Director of Friends of Chabad Vocational Schools