Sunday, September 6, 2015

Shana Tova U'Metuka

אָבִינוּ מַלְכֵּנוּ חָנֵּנוּ וַעֲנֵנוּ כִּי אֵין בָּנוּ מַעֲשִׂים עֲשֵׂה עִמָּנוּ צְדָקָה וָחֶסֶד וְהוֹשִׁיעֵנוּ
Our Father, our King, be gracious unto us and answer us; for we are unworthy; deal with us in charity and loving-kindness and save us.
From the Rosh HaShana Liturgy

On the evening of Rosh Hashana, there is a custom to dip an apple in honey and say the blessing:
יהי רצון מלפניך, א-לוקינו וא‑לוקי אבותינו, שתחדש עלינו שנה טובה ומתוקה
May it be Your will, Lord our G-d and G-d of our ancestors, that you renew for us a good and sweet year .

On the days between the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashana) and the last day of the holiday of Sukkot, it is customary to put a bit of honey on one’s bread, rather than dip it in salt, as we do the rest of the year. This is to symbolize our prayers that we be merited to have a sweet year.

I have several honey pots, collected over the years, which are used specifically for this period.
I take out the pots on the eve of Rosh HaShana, and fill one or two with honey. The day after Sukkot, I scrape out whatever honey remains, and put away our honey pots for the year.

A sweet year

As we approach the New Year, the smell of autumn is in the air. This, despite the fact that there is no autumn in southern Israel. Leaves don't change color, there is no feeling of dampness in the air, and there is no respite from the temperatures, which are just as high as they have been for the past five months. The only small difference is that it gets cooler a bit earlier in the evening, and the maximum temperatures are reached only later in the morning. In other words, instead of being 36 degrees by 7:30 AM, it doesn't get there until about 9:00. But every little bit helps.

This past summer was very hot in Israel; breaking records hot. Walking outside, one's feet melted into the sidewalk. So hot, that I could make tea by just turning on the tap. And it was the cold water tap. So hot, that by the time I got the bread that I bought home, it had turned to toast. So hot, Israeli chickens were laying boiled eggs.

The best part of the summer was that there was no war. It was hot, but not THAT hot. 

While the Holy Days do not usher in the cooler weather (not in Israel anyway), they do usher in a time of holiness.

Let us proclaim the holiness of this day for it is awe-inspiring and fearsome” says the Unetanneh Tokef prayer.

In most neighborhoods, one can hear the sound of the shofar in the early mornings for the entire month before the holiday, as a reminder to stop and face G-d, to renew our commitment to Him, to our Nation and to the Torah. It is far more pleasant to wake up to the unique resonance of the Shofar than, say, the noise of garbage trucks, or the blast of a siren warning of an incoming missile. 

According to custom, prayers said during the month of Elul are twelve times more powerful than the other months. At prayer times, in the morning and afternoon, one can see men scurrying to ad hoc minyanim, interrupting the regular schedule of their days, because it is Elul. Women can be seen on buses, in waiting rooms, and on park benches saying Psalms or listening to divrei Torah. People who are involved in talking to G-d, are often nicer, less aggressive, calmer. 

I've received dozens of calls from various organizations in the last few weeks asking for donations.
They call now, just before the holiday, because before Rosh HaShana is a propitious time to give to those in need. It is also a reminder how much we do have, how much we don't need; how much we should be thankful for. 

תשובה, תפילה, צדקה מעבירים את רוע הגזירה
Repentance, Prayer, and Charity change the evil of the decree.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks - past chief Rabbi of the UK - says it like this:

By returning to one's innermost self (teshuvah), by attaching oneself to G-d (tefillah) and by distributing one's possessions with righteousness (tzedakah), one turns the promise of Rosh Hashanah into the abundant fulfillment of Yom Kippur: A year of sweetness and plenty.

On Rosh HaShana, Jews wish each other a ‘good and sweet’ year (שנה טובה ומתוקה). Why both good and sweet? Isn’t good – well – good enough?

We believe that everything G-d does is good. Often, we can’t immediately see the good. There are times when we NEVER see the good. We, as mere mortals, are not able to see the tapestry that is life and history. We can’t know how some events affect world affairs, except perhaps in the here and now. And sometimes, the here and now seems to really suck. So we wish each other a sweet year. We know it will be good, because everything G-d does is for the good. But we want it to be sweet; that we should recognize it immediately as good.

May we merit the courage to accept 'no' as an answer and the wisdom to recognize the good,
May we merit a year of joy and happiness, of comfort and of pride, a year of calm and rest.
And may all of Israel merit a year of sweetness and good.

!!שנה טובה ומתוקה

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