A Sephardic Rosh Hashanah Seder

A ritual for Rosh Hashanah that goes far beyond dipping apples in honey.

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While the blessings promulgating harm to enemies might be troubling today, they were originally created in times of external threat to many Jewish communities, and they embodied faith in a protective God.

For families who do not wish to recite these blessings, they can be adapted to reflect positive wishes like friendship and harmony. For instance, the wish for karti (scallions, chives, or leeks) might be, "she-yikaret me-aleinu kol ra ve-nitbarekh b'shalom"--that all evil should be cut off from us and we should be blessed with peace. Participants can suggest concrete steps towards achieving these goals: thanking a teacher or co-worker, honoring parents, paying a shiva call, respecting the environment, etc.

The seder ends as the yehi ratzon blessings segue right into the motzi, probably the most common blessing over food--yet extraordinary in its acknowledgment of God as the source of all food.

The wish for God's goodwill and favor, ratzon, extends into at least one Sephardic High Holiday piyyut, a religious poem by Judah Samuel Abbas (13th-century Spain) called Et Sha'arei Ratzon (Gates of Favor).

This long and heart-wrenching poem about the binding of Isaac visualizes the inner and outward journeys of father and son, complete with dialogue and piteous imaginings of Sarah's reaction. Chanted before the blowing of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah mornings, it ends with a hope for salvation for all. The word ratzon, shared by both the seder wishes and this piyyut, reflects our tender and vulnerable state during the High Holiday season, when we open our hearts to the expression of our deepest fears and desires.

Tahel shanah u'virkhoteha! Let the new year begin with all its blessings.

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Rahel Musleah

Rahel Musleah is an award-winning journalist, speaker, and singer who presents programs on the Jews of India, where she was born. She is the author of Apples and Pomegranates: A Family Seder for Rosh Hashanah (Lerner/Kar-Ben). Please visit her website, www.rahelsjewishindia.com.