Rosh Hashana 5779

Holiday #1 (244) Rosh HaShanah 5779 Sept 9-11
From Ascent QuarterlyFrom KabbalaFrom the Chassidic Masters Some Laws and Customs
Come to ASCENT for Rosh Hashana (Sept. 9-11, 2018)

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THE NAME  Rosh HaShana

"Rosh HaShannah" means literally "head of the year."  Every limb and organ of the body "takes orders" from (the brain in) the head.  Similarly, every day of the year "takes orders" from Rosh HaShannah and is influenced by what occurs on it -- "As Rosh HaShannah goes, so goes the whole year." Thus, Rosh HaShannah is the ideal time to make good resolutions for the entire year and to fulfill them.

The  practical applications of this theme (and that of The Light And The Land, below) are many, and important.  The first night - the first moments! - of Rosh Hashannah are decisive.  The year's destiny is being shaped. In contrast to "Happy New Year"  season, we should try not to waste time or words.  The prayers for this night are crucial (see Some Laws And Customs, below). 


"There is no advocate to intercede for us... (so) You speak for Yaakov (of our observance of) the statutes and laws, vindicate us in judgment..." [Rosh HaShannah Musaf Repetition - right after Kedushah]

Just as your nation Israel fulfills those non-rational decrees in the Torah called "statutes," even though we can't make sense of them, so you should act with us and "vindicate us in judgment," even if it seems not sensible because we don't deserve it.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev


One of the fascinating statements the Torah makes about the land of Israel is "The eyes of G-d your L-rd are constantly upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year" [Deut. 11:12].  Could it not simply have said "forever," since when one year ends, the next immediately starts!

In the teachings of Kabbalah, "eyes of G-d" are a metaphor for the radiation of divine light into this world.  Given that a continual influx of divine power is necessary to sustain all of existence, the hidden teaching of this verse is that although G-d emanates to us constantly, the emanation itself is not constant.  Rather, it varies on a yearly basis, and the point of change is Rosh HaShannah.

More specifically, it is taught that the previous light is withdrawn at the very last moment of the old year and the new light is ushered in by our Rosh HaShannah prayers and the blowing of the shofar. Moreover, the light for each new year is unique, and of a sort that has never shone in the world since Creation.  Therefore, the extent to which the "eyes of G-d" are upon the land improves each year, in quality and in quantity.

How can it be?  If the divine light that shines into the world each year is bigger, better, and brighter than ever before, why are we not aware of it?  The answer is that although the light is indeed here, it is hidden -- "in the bank," so to speak.  To reveal it requires meritorious deeds and also a strong effort on Rosh HaShannah and during the ten days until Yom Kippur to improve our relationship with G-d.

[based on Tanya IV, ch. 14.]

Some Laws and Customs


The First Prayer
A sincere prayer is the best possible "head" for a good year. Say the Evening Prayer of the First Night of Rosh HaShannah with extra care.  Pay attention to every word and mean it.  Identify personally with what you are saying and remember to Whom you are speaking.  Try reading each line (or translation of each line) with your eyes before you pronounce it with your lips in order to understand the full depth and ramifications of what you are about to say.  If you put in personal requests, concentrate.  Be careful not to break the flow of this specially-crafted prayer.

Don't be embarrased or feel pressured if you are taking much longer to pray than everyone else.  This is serious!  Many great Jewish personages, who throughout the year were known to start and finish their prayers together with the quorum, would take hours to complete the Amidah prayer on the first night of Rosh HaShannah.

It is customary this evening to exchange blessings for a good year with other Jews.  Be sincere.  And don't forget to respond "Amen!" strongly when others bless you. Chassidim like to bless each other not only for a good year "Shana tova" but also a sweet one "Shana tova umetuka." The idea is that the good should not only be in G-d's eyes, but good from our perspective too - e.g. it tastes good.

Despite the solemnity of the occasion, let us not lose track that Rosh HaShannah is a festival, so it is also an occasion for nice clothes, special meals and good spirits [see Nehemiah 8:9-12].

  "Out with the old year and its curses!

In with the new year and its blessings!"

L'shana Tova tikateiv v'tihateim

IN 57-79

The ASCENT staff

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