Rosh Hashanah In The Community

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The Torah readings for the two days of Rosh Hashanah highlight themes of birth, creation, and mercy through the story of the birth of Isaac, and raise issues of fear, judgment, and testing of faith in the telling of Isaac's would-be sacrifice (the Akedah.) The rabbis connect the ram, which thankfully substitutes for Isaac's sacrifice, to the Shofar (made of a ram's horn) that is usually blown shortly after the Torah service and again during the repetition of the Amidah in the Musaf.

It is these blasts of the shofar that often make the biggest impression on this holiday. The three different sounds are the tekiah (a single, long blast), the shevarim (three shorter blasts which together should be about the same length as one tekiah), and the teruah (nine staccato blasts, also about the same length of time as the tekiah and shevarim). There are different opinions about what can be evoked in this series of blasts. Some view it simply as an alarm that awakens us to our need to do teshuvah (repentance) and others see the broken teruah, for example, as the sound of wailing, perhaps in fear of judgment. Whatever the interpretation, the poignant cries of the Shofar can be quite a moving juxtaposition to the otherwise wordy High Holiday liturgy.

There is another liturgical addition to Rosh Hashanah that is quite unlike any other service in Judaism--tashlikh (literally, throwing away). On the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah (unless it is also Shabbat, in which case it is done the second day of the festival), many people walk to a flowing body of water to symbolically cast away their sins in the form of bread crumbs thrown upon the waters. A verse from the prophet Micah 7:19 is cited as the origin for this custom. It states, "You will cast away your sins into the depths of the sea." While this was once controversial among those who believed it would trivialize the process of repentance, it has remained a very popular custom to this day.

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