How are we supposed to feel when approaching Rosh Hashanah? Should we tremble with fear at the Day of Awe? Should we rejoice in crowning God as our King? In this course Rabbi Fohrman examines the essential purpose of Rosh Hashanah in order to better understand how we can approach a day of judgment with excitement.Watch Now
How can I attain closeness with a God who is so beyond my comprehension? Why would the Creator of the Universe care about my prayers? Is God even listening? If you’ve ever asked yourself these questions, watch this course. You’ll soon discover that God’s loftiness is just the thing that makes a relationship with Him all the more attainable, and you’ll never doubt the power of prayer again.Watch Now
We read the strange Book of Jonah on Yom Kippur; a book that has nothing to do with repentance. Don’t you think that’s a bit odd? The Book of Jonah is about a prophet who rebels against God. Where is the connection to Yom Kippur? Why do we read this book on the holiest day of the year? Watch this course and you’ll learn that both the Book of Jonah and Yom Kippur are about something much greater than repentance alone.Watch Now
Teshuvah, or repentance, is a personal and emotional process. Laws are impersonal; they are objective and unbiased. The law doesn’t care about personal feeling, but, nevertheless, Judaism has many laws for repentance. How can there be laws for something so intrinsically personal? Can there really be a “right” and “wrong” way to repent?Watch Now
At the center of the Rosh Hashanah prayer service is the passage Unetaneh Tokef, literally, “let us speak of the awesomeness.” The powerful and dramatic prayer borrows imagery from the story of Elijah. A closer look at this biblical story sheds light on God's relationship with His people, a relationship of justice and mercy, and helps us understand this prayer in a deeper way.Watch Now
What is Yom Kippur truly all about? We call it the Day of Awe, but if you look at its origin in the Torah, you won’t find that sort of language. Watch this video to get to the root of Yom Kippur, and the Day of Awe will take on an entirely new meaning.Watch Now
The Hebrew month of Elul is a month of repentance in preparation for the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. According to the Talmud, the word “Elul” is an acronym for Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li- a phrase from Song of Songs which translates to “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine,” where beloved allegorically refers to God. Elul is a time for deep introspection. It is a time to reshape our lives and return to God. It is a month of preparation for the Day of Judgement, Rosh Hashanah (Tishrei 1-2), and the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur (Tishrei 10).
Shofar blowing every morning (except for Sabbath) from Rosh Chodesh Elul until the day before Rosh Hashanah. The shofar blasts are meant to inspire us to begin our soul searching and repentance in preparation for the High Holy Days.
Elul is the time to ask forgiveness so we can come into the new year with a clean slate.
Many recite Psalm 27 every day from Rosh Chodesh Elul through Sukkot.
Special penitential prayers called Selichot are added to prayer services before Rosh HaShanah, on either the first Saturday night beforehand or the Saturday night prior to that, depending on what day of week Rosh Hashanah falls out.
Rosh Hashanah, which translates literally to “head of the year,” is the Jewish New Year. It is the new year for people, animals, and for legal contracts. According to commentators of the Talmud, Rosh Hashanah commemorates the creation of man (Tractate Rosh Hashanah).
Rosh Hashanah is celebrated as a two-day holiday, beginning on the first day of the month of Tishrei. According to the Torah, however, Rosh Hashanah is a one-day celebration. Since Hebrew days begin at sundown, the beginning of Rosh Hashanah is at sundown at the end of 29 Elul, going into 1 Tishrei. Since the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE, it became more difficult to determine the date of Rosh Hashanah in the same way it had been determined prior, so a second day was added to Rosh Hashanah to account for the unclarity. The two days of Rosh Hashanah are referred to as a Yoma Arichtah, one long day.
The Bible refers to this holiday as Zichron Teruah and Yom Teruah, “day of blowing the horn” (Leviticus 23:24, Numbers 29:1). In Jewish prayerbooks, Rosh Hashanah is also called Yom HaZikaron, “a day of remembrance.” The Mishnah refers to Rosh Hashanah as the day of judgement. The Talmud teaches that three books are opened on Rosh Hashanah, where the fate of the righteous, the wicked, and the intermediate individuals are recorded.
The prayers for Rosh Hashanah are broken up into three parts: Malchuyot, Zichronot, and Shofrot. The overarching theme of the prayers and of the holiday is the coronation of God as King of the universe.
Before Rosh Hashanah we should ask forgiveness from anyone we may have wronged. Similarly, we should forgive anyone who might have wronged us. Many have the custom to go to a Mikveh to cleanse themselves in preparation. Some have the custom of visiting cemeteries to appeal to God to hear our prayers in the merit of those more righteous. We also perform Hatarat Nedarim, annulment of vows, so we can go into the new year with a clean slate.
There is a commandment for all to hear the shofar blasts from a horn, customarily a ram’s horn, on Rosh Hashanah. Rabbi Saadiah Gaon offers ten reasons for this commandment:
God completed Creation on Rosh Hashanah, establishing His sovereignty over the Universe. We blow the shofar as a renewal God’s coronation as King.
Since Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the Ten Days of Repentance, we blow the shofar so that its cries will awaken us to repent.
The shofar was blown at Mt. Sinai when the Torah was received.
The blasts of the Shofar are compared to the exhortations of the Prophets; on Rosh Hashanah we are reminded of the importance of their words.
The broken blasts, shevarim, remind us of the destroyed Temple.
Abraham displayed incredible zeal to do the will of God, even when it meant sacrificing his son, Isaac. In the end, a ram was sacrificed in his stead. The ram’s horn reminds us of Abraham’s readiness to perform God’s will.
The powerful sounds of the shofar stir our hearts will feelings of awe towards God.
The intense blasts help us recognize the solemnity of the day.
The ingathering of Jews into the Land of Israel during Messianic times will be heralded by the blasts of the shofar.
The resurrection of the dead in Messianic times will also be heralded by the shofar sounds.
Round Challah: During all of the High Holidays we eat round challah, symbolizing fullness and completion. The challah is dipped into honey.
Honey: Challah is dipped into honey and we also dip apples into honey, symbolically praying for a “sweet” new year.
Pomegranates: Pomegranates are one of the Seven Species of Israel. It is traditionally used as the new fruit for the Shehechiyanu blessing. The pomegranate is said to have 613 seeds, corresponding to the 613 mitzvoth.
Carrots: The hebrew word for carrot, gezer, sounds like the hebrew word for decree, g’zar. We eat carrots on Rosh Hashanah to express our desire that God strike any negative decrees against us.
Beets: The hebrew word for beets is similar to the word for “remove.” Eating beets expresses our hope that God will remove our enemies.
Fish Head or Sheep’s Head: We eat the head of an animal so that “we will be as the head and not as the tail.”
It is customary to greet one another with the blessing: Leshanah tovah tikateiv veteichateim, “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”
A special prayer said near a body of water, symbolically casting our sins into the sea.
Rosh Hashanah is the day we crown God as King of the universe. On that day, our fate for the upcoming year is “written” in a Divine book of judgments. That fate is then held in balance for ten days wherein everyone has the chance to repent and alter their verdict until it is “sealed” on Yom Kippur. These ten days are known as the Ten Days of Repentance and they occur in the first ten days of Tishrei. These ten days are days of intense repentance, prayer, and charity- the three things said to remove the evil decree.
Yom Kippur, or “Day of Atonement,” is the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. It is a fast day filled with intense prayer. Yom Kippur is the tenth day of Tishrei and it marks the end of the Ten Days of Repentance which began with Rosh Hashanah on the first of Tishrei. According to tradition, a person’s fate for the upcoming year is “sealed” on Yom Kippur.
On the afternoon before Yom Kippur, it is customary to eat a large meal before the fast begins at sundown.
It is customary to wear white clothing as a symbol of purity.
Before sundown, the prayer of Kol Nidre is recited, releasing those present of al vows.
The additional prayer of Neilah is added to the Yom Kippur prayer services. Neilah is the last opportunity to pray before the “gates of prayer” are closed.
The recitation of Shema Yisrael and the blowing of the shofar mark the end of the fast.