Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the year. On that day Adam, the first man, and Eve were created. Although creation began six days before Adam and Eve were created, the 10th day is nonetheless considered the beginning of the world and Rosh Hashanah was set on that day. For mankind is the center of the universe for whom everything was created. Upon his creation, the entire world was completed and G-d’s desire in the world came to its fulfillment.
It is called Rosh Hashanah, literally meaning, “Head” of the year, and not merely the beginning of the year. As mentioned, the holidays are a reoccurrence of the original event that took place on that day. Just as in the beginning of creation, G-d considered the creation of the world, so too on every Rosh Hashanah, G-d relates to the world with renewed vigor, in a way which He never did before and which forms His relationship to the world for the entire year to come.
As a head contains the life, and is the nerve center of the entire body, which is controlled by the brain, so does Rosh Hashanah contain the life and sustenance for the entire year. This is the significance of the judgment on Rosh Hashanah, and that is why the Rosh Hashanah spirit, in Jewish tradition, is that of solemnity. For, pending on our “turning” toward G-d is how G-d decides, on Rosh Hashanah, to relate to us, and consequently sustain and bless us in fulfillment of all our needs.
Acceptance of kingship
On the first Rosh Hashanah of history, 5764 years ago, immediately after his creation, Adam recognized and proclaimed G-d’s Kingship of the Universe, and called on all creatures: “Come let us worship, bow down and kneel before G-d, our Maker”.
Every Rosh Hashanah, we renew our acceptance and proclamation of G-d’s Kingship of the Universe at large, and over each of us in particular. Thereby, turning toward Him, to lead our lives in accordance with His will. G-d accepts our prayers and is willing to master the Universe and grant us all a good and sweet year.
It is customary to sound the Shofar at the coronation of a King. Similarly, on Rosh Hashanah, we “coronate” G-d, by sounding the Shofar.
The sound of the Shofar is to “awaken” people to repent and return to G-d. As it is written, “Shall the shofar be blown in a city, and the people not tremble?” (Amos 3:6) Its message, in the words of Maimonides, is: “Awaken, ye sleepers, from your slumber, and ponder over your deeds; remember your Creator and go back to Him in penitence. Be not of those who miss realities in their pursuit of shadows, and waste their years in seeking after vain things, which cannot profit or deliver. Look well to your souls and consider your acts; forsake each his evil way and thoughts, and return to G-d so that He may have mercy upon you!”
It represents a simple, unaltered outcry of a person who recognizes his spiritual “poverty,” and whose feelings cannot be contained in words. The Tekiah, a simple straight sound – represents a screaming from the bottom of the heart. The Shevarim-Teruah, – the broken sounds are the outcry, sobs, and groans that are even beyond screaming. In that context, it is also compared to a forlorn child in a distant country who has forgotten the language of his people and his father, the King. Upon his return, and face-to-face encounter with his father, his only means of communication is his simple cry, which the father recognizes and turns to lift up the child to be close to him. Similarly, when Rosh Hashanah comes, we realize we have lost our common language with Him. So, from the bottom of our souls we cry out, “Father, Father,” to which G-d responds and in turn grants us a good and sweet year.
At the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, there were “the sounds of the Shofar”. We blow the Shofar as a reminder of the spirit of “Na’ase V’nishma – we shall do and we shall listen” – an acceptance beyond question or reason in which we accept the Torah. It is also a “reminder” to G-d that we were the only ones who were willing to accept Him, His Torah and Mitzvot.
The Shofar is (best when it is) made from a ram’s horn, to bring forth before G-d the “memory” of our forefather Isaac, who was ready to sacrifice his life for G-d, but was exchanged with a ram. The Shofar then, represents the horn of the “ram of Isaac.”
The Shofar is (best when it is) bent to teach us humility and to “bend” our hearts before G-d.
The last blast is “Tekiah Gedolah – a great long blast,” symbolizing the Shofar which G-d will sound at the gathering of all the Jewish people from the Diaspora and exiles. And like a shepherd gathering his sheep, He will bring us together to our Holy Land with the coming of Moshiach speedily in our days.
The service begins with the taking out of Torah Scrolls by venerable members of the community, who then stand on each side of the cantor.
The cantor then slowly recites the Kol Nidrei prayer three times and all the worshippers repeat each word after him.
The evening service follows the Kol Nidrei prayer, with special additional prayers, which are said only on the night of Yom Kippur.
Yom Kippur Day
The Morning Service is begun fairly early. The prayers are recited slowly and carefully from the Yom Kippur prayer book, the machzor.
For the reading of the Torah two scrolls are taken out of the Ark. In the first we read a portion from Leviticus, which describes the death of Aaron’s two sons. It is said, that one who sincerely sheds tears on the great loss of Aaron’s two sons will not suffer any such bereavement in his lifetime!
We then open the second Torah scroll and read from Numbers, where the portion describes the Yom Kippur sacrifice and service by the High Priest in the Holy Temple.
Yizkor memorial services are recited after the reading of the Torah, when the dear departed are remembered in a special prayer. Those fortunate worshippers, whose parents are still living, leave the synagogue before the beginning of this prayer.
The musaf prayer is then recited. The musaf prayer of Yom Kippur includes a detailed description of the way the High Priest used to officiate at the Holy Temple on Yom Kippur and the special confession and atonement he offered on behalf of the people of Israel. It was an unforgettable sight to see him in his white robes coming out of the Holy of Holies.
There is usually a small interval between musaf and the Afternoon services. The outstanding feature of the Afternoon service is the reading of the Torah, and especially of the final reading, orhaftarah, when the celebrated book of Jonah is recited, which tells of the saving of the city of Nineveh through timely repentance.
After Afternoon services we begin the very solemn Closing Ne’ilah service, which is the climax of all the Yom Kippur prayers. The Ark is kept open throughout this prayer.
The Neilah service is concluded with the exclamation of Shema Yisrael in which we proclaim our loyalty and determination to die for our faith if necessary, as our sacred martyrs did in the past.
This is followed by the declaration of G-d’s unity:
“G-d – He is the Only G-d”
First recited at Mt. Carmel by the prophet Elijah. This last verse is repeated seven times in the most ardent way. The shofar is then sounded one long sound and Neilah service ends with the prayer,
“Next Year may we be in Jerusalem!”
Congregation B’nai Abraham
527 Lombard Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147