The Jewish New Year: Shofars, Apples & Reflection
As the end of the summer rolls around, and the fall season approaches, one community will celebrate an annual rite of spiritual reflection, renewal and rededication. The holidays of Rosh Hashanah, also know as the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, known as the Day of Atonement, encompass a ten day period each year that Jews take time to pause amidst hectic lives of taking kids to school or soccer practice, staying late at the office or traveling for the next big meeting. It is a time to begin the important process of recharging spiritual batteries and involves lots of rituals, prayers, and reflection, particularly of the past year.One of the main themes of Rosh Hashanah is the acknowledgment of God as the sovereign of the universe. Humans are fortunate to live in a world that supports mankind with air to breathe, natural beauty to admire, food to sustain and much more. By recognizing God’s role in that creation Jews celebrate the birthday of the world and reflect joyfully on the good fortune to be alive in a truly remarkable universe. One popular Jewish tradition is to celebrate by eating apples dipped in honey, symbolizing hopes and dreams for a happy and particularly sweet new year.
Another ritual that helps to announce and celebrate all of this is the blowing of the shofar, or ram’s horn. This special sacred instrument, an ancient type of trumpet, is traditionally blown over 100 blasts during prayer services to proclaim God as sovereign. Three separate types of musical notes are blown several times in varying order followed by one long large blast and this is repeated several times during the Rosh Hashanah service.
The blowing of the shofar has a second meaning as well. It reminds everyone that hears it to stir their souls and to use the beginning of this New Year to ask forgiveness for any wrongs that they have committed against other human beings and God. In Hebrew, this process is called Teshuvah, or repentance. Beginning on Rosh Hashanah and ending at the end of Yom Kippur, is the time to do the necessary work of apologizing and repairing broken relationships. Teshuvah does not happen magically and not without a lot of soul searching and courage. For it is everyone’s responsibility to first reflect on their lives and what they have done wrong and then reach out to make the necessary amends. The Jewish holidays provide the framework, but it is upon each individual to do the work. In fact, while this period starts with the joy and celebratory spirit of Rosh Hashanah, it ends with the more reverent and holy day of Yom Kippur, a day when many Jews refrain from worldly pleasures in order to focus on our spirits by behavior such as fasting, not bathing, and not participating in entertainment activities.
Life is busy and often chaotic with many obligations — careers, family, and community. By taking opportunities to pause and reflect, show gratitude for the world, and improve relationships, mankind has the ability to recharge its spiritual batteries. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is an authentically Jewish way to do just that, but these are lessons that apply to us all! Happy New Year and spiritual renewal!