ROSH HASHANA – MITSVOT OF THE DAY
For those enjoying the night sky, you’ll recognise this week the moon is in its final descending phase. The unseasonably cold temperatures are more reminiscent of late Autumn than of Rosh Hashana but nonetheless .. this coming Sunday night will bring in the New Year 5776.
Here are some essential mitsvot and customs for the period from Rosh Hashana toYom Kippur. For those interested in a much longer anthology, please see the compilation of Daily Halakhot circulated by Rabbi Eli Mansour.
1. On the morning before Rosh Hashana (Sunday 13 Sept 7:00am) it is customary to recite Hatarat Nedarim (Annulment of Vows) after Shaharit. Men have the custom of also going to the Mikveh.
2. On the Eve of Rosh Hashana we begin the Arbit prayers with Ahot Ketana, a wish that problems of the past year will end, and the new year will begin with blessings.
3. Women lighting candles recite 2 berakhot the first night, leaving out Shehiyanu on the second night. One is encouraged to sit calmly for a few moments, to appreciate the work of all those who helped prepare, before beginning Kiddush.
4. Households have the custom of eating auspicious foods after Kiddush but before making Motsi. These include; Dates, Beans, Leeks, Spinach or Beetroot Stems, Pumpkin or Gourd, Pomegranate, Apple dipped in Honey and part of a Sheep or Fish Head. (Search Sephardi Simanim for more details.)
5. It is a Biblical command to hear the Shofar on Rosh Hashana. Tradition going back thousands of years was to hear a minimum of 9 blasts. But as the rabbis were unsure what was the sound of Teruah, they included three variations – Teruah,Shebarim and Shebarim-Teruah – requiring us to blow 30 blasts. Over time that’s been embellished and now the daily total is 101. (There are few opportunities today to fulfil one of the 613 mitsvot. We welcome you to come hear the Shofar.)
6. Most important for fulfilling the mitzvah of Shofar is for both the blower and the listener to keep in mind the intention to perform the mitzvah. One shouldn’t speak until all the blasts are finished. The first set of 30 and the last 41 are blown while the congregation is seated, the 40 during Musaf standing.
7. During the intermediary days leading to Kippur, four additions are made to the daily Amidah, the most sensitive being to change the 3rd blessing from Ha-El HaKadosh to HaMelekh HaKadosh. One who forgot this change is obliged to repeat the Amidah.
8. The customary greeting during this period is Tizku LeShanim Rabot Ne’imot veTobot (May you be worthy of many pleasant & good years) for which the reply isTizkeh veTikhye veTa’arikh Yamim (May you merit life and long years). The shorter version in Ladino is Muchos Annyos.
For a brilliantly stirring 6-minute animation ‘Why I Am a Jew’ from Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks click here.