Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov once told a parable about a king who had an only son. In order for his son to acquire a great deal of knowledge and experience diverse cultures, the king sent him to a faraway land. Provided with a substantial amount of gold and silver, the son foolishly wasted his wealth, eventually becoming impoverished. Alone and desperate, the son returned to his father; however, when he arrived, he found that he had forgotten his native language. He struggled to identify himself to the guards and began to cry out. Recognizing his son’s voice, the king brought him into the house, kissing and embracing him.
Often times, rabbis will include ethical narratives such as the one above during Rosh Hashanah services. In this story between a king and his son, the king represents God and the prince represents the Jewish people. Rabbi Eli Friedman of Chabad of Calabasas explains how the king (God) “sends a soul down to fulfill the Torah and mitzvot.” When that soul (the prince) becomes distant, letting out a cry of remorse, this symbolizes the blowing of the shofar (a ram’s horn, similar to a trumpet). However, the cry is not only one of remorse, but also perseverance to improve his future. Ultimately, God forgives the soul.
Parables are used to emphasize the meaning and values of Rosh Hashanah, also called the Jewish New Year, a holiday commemorating the creation of the world. It is a time for celebration, but also for introspection and prayer. The ideas is to take time to reflect on the mistakes of the previous year and ask God for forgiveness. Rosh Hashanah provides an opportunity for improvement; it is a period to start anew for the year ahead.
There are two High Holy Days in the Jewish religion: Rosh Hashanah, observed for two days, and Yom Kippur, which comes ten days after.
“Rosh Hashanah is the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei and Yom Kippur is the tenth day of the month of Tishrei,” said Rabbi Amy Bigman of Congregation Shaarey Zedek. “The theme of making amends or repenting for our misdeeds begins with the month prior to these holy days and culminates on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.”
Rabbi Bigman then went on to explain how the holy days are biblically-based.
“The Jewish Bible sets the date and the basic customs for each holy day,” she said. “All of the ritual and liturgical practices that we have today are based on the Biblical references, which were then further developed in the Talmud.”
Speaking of customs and practices, Rosh Hashanah has many. One of the more significant traditions includes attending synagogue services for prayer, where the sounding of the shofar (ram’s horn) takes place. Another common observance is to eat a variety of symbolic foods.
“It is a tradition in the Jewish religion to dip apples in honey to bring in a ‘sweet’ new year,” said Carly Rosen, a former MSU student.
Rosen also shared how important Rosh Hashanah is for her. She sees it as a time to look back on her life during the past year.
“It reminds me of all the things that I take for granted: family, friends, health, happiness. And it makes me thankful that I am fortunate enough to have all of those things,” she said. “It is also a big time for family. No matter what is going on in everyone’s life, we all come together and celebrate the new year. It truly warms my heart.”
Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown on Wednesday, Sept. 20 and ends the evening of Friday, Sept. 22. L’shanah tovah: to a good year!