Rosh Hashanah

5777!  Wow!  That means this is the start of the 18th year of Torah Portion Humor!  WOOHOO!!!  Since the numerical values of the letters that spell “life,” het and yud, add up to 18, I’ll take that as a good omen.

There is little about Rosh Hashanah in the Torah.  It’s the first day of the seventh month, you blow the shofar (I can actually get a decent sound now!), and you make the prescribed offerings.  Customs and laws grew over the millennia until we have enough for 4-5 hour services and a two-day holiday, even in Israel, which usually doesn’t double holidays the way we do (Yes, I know Reform Jews celebrate one day.).  Of course, there are traditional foods; it’s a Jewish holiday.  We even ask forgiveness for our sins with food, tossing bread crumbs into a stream (tashlich).  Traditional foods are round (thus, never-ending, while, complete) and sweet, like apples dipped in honey, round challah bread (I like it with raisins).  I make rice kugel with raisins.  [You know what would be good?  Loukoumades, those honey balls served at our local Greek festival each spring.]  There are lots of local food customs, like including a fish head or chicken head, since it’s the head of the year.  I’ll skip that one.  Others include dates, black-eyed peas, leek, spinach and gourd (Babylonian Talmud) and pomegranates.

The seventh month became the first month because of Babylonian influence, whence the “New Year” designation, and Rosh Hashanah became the anniversary of Creation.  Still known as Yom Teruah (a day of shofar-blowing), it also is called Yom HaDin, the Day of Judgement, since it begins the 10 Days of Penitence leading to Yom Kippur.  The Musaf service following the Torah reading is the longest of the year, expanding on the themes of Zichronot (remembrance by God), Malchuyot (divine kingship), and Shofarot (guess…). 

Part of the Day of Judgement theme derives from a sense that our fate is symbolically inscribed in the Book of Life – who shall live, who shall die.  Some commentators interpret this literally; others that it concerns only the world to come, or only a symbolic increase or decrease in good fortune (see A Daily Dose of Torah, Rabbi Y. A. Weiss gen. ed., vol. 14, pp. 116-7).  It certainly brings to mind the fragility of life, a theme amplified in the Torah and haftarah readings (bet you thought I’d never get to them).  Here’s the program:

First day Rosh Hashanah (Monday) Torah readings: Genesis 21:1-34 and Numbers 29:1-6 (the obligatory verses about the obligatory sacrifices).  Haftarah: I Samuel 1:1-2:10.

Second day Rosh Hashanah (Tuesday) Torah readings: Genesis 22:1-24 and Numbers 29:1-6 (same sacrifices).  Haftarah: Jeremiah 31:2-20.

The readings from Genesis are actually one continuous reading, from God’s taking note of Sarah with the conception of Isaac, through his near-sacrifice (the akedah, “binding”).  There’s a spotlight on the women and their (usually delayed) childbearing; in fact, a traditional view is that they conceived on Rosh Hashanah.  Sarah gives birth to Isaac and nearly loses him as a sacrifice.  Hagar is banished and sees her son Ishmael nearly die of thirst.  Hannah prays for years for a son, until Samuel is born, and she dedicates him to service at Shiloh as a child.  And the most memorable image in the second day’s haftarah is that of Rachel, weeping for her exiled children.  Not the grandeur of the creation of the universe, but the intensely personal, painful fragility of life.

L’shanah tovah umetukah,
May you all have a good and sweet year,


(one of) Nine things you didn’t know about Rosh Hashana

Bury the Shofar

The shofar (ram’s horn) is an important part of Rosh Hashana as a call to repentance during the High Holy Days. For it to be considered kosher for use, it must not contain any cartilage. The Avi Chai Foundation in Jerusalem says most horns are cleaned with special machinery but that some believe the best method is to bury it and let the earth’s creepy crawlies eat away the unwanted tissue.

To keep your shofar clean and free of pungent odors, modern cleaning tips call for vinegar and hydrogen peroxide. One of the easiest ways to clean a shofar is with gravel (usually fish tank gravel) and a soft, round and pliable Nerf ball. The Nerf ball is used to cork the shofar’s wider opening after the gravel has been poured into the hollow horn.  It is important that the Nerf ball is pliable and soft so that it is easy to remove.






A duck walks into a bar and asks the bartender:  “You got any bread crumbs?”

Bartender says, “No.”

Duck asks again, “You got any bread crumbs?”

Bartender says, “No.”

Duck asks again, “You got any bread crumbs?”

Bartender, getting flustered, says, “No.”

Duck asks again, “You got any bread crumbs?”

Bartender, mad, says: “Listen here, duck, you ask me one more time if I have any bread crumbs, and I’ll nail your bill to the bar!”

Duck asks, “You got any nails?”

Bartender says, “No.”

Duck asks, “You got any bread crumbs?”


Rosh Hashanah Haiku

Round raisin challah
Rests under embroidered cloth,
Calm and expectant.

Apple and honey,
Round, sweet foods entice and soothe.
The new year awaits.

Ancient prayers and new,
Seedlings of inspiration
Take root in our souls.

Hope personified
Stands on the bimah.  White robes,
A new beginning.

 [I wrote those in 1998 and post them here every couple of years.  IGP]


Quotes on the fragility of life

“When night comes on in a room lit by kerosene, any flicker of the flame can give the sense that darkness is about to triumph.”
― Larry WatsonLet Him Go

“We stand on the edge of the abyss, across whose unknowable face we paint meaning so as not to see into it. It is always there. But we’re here too, and we are no less real than the abyss. We are no less meaningful for being transient creatures caught up in something too big for us. There is still value to our lives. I’ve learned that those things that are most fragile are also the most precious.” 
― Ovadya ben MalkaA Damaged Mirror

“..and it occurs to me how fragile our lives are, how at any moment the sky can open and drown us, the earth can open and swallow us. I think of all the intricate ways our bodies can betray us, the accidents and the atrocities, the missteps and the misunderstandings.” 
― A. Manette AnsaySister

 “Some people are like fragile petals, and they don’t recover from hardship. Do we blame the petal? Or do we excuse its fragility and mourn its loss?” 
― Aleksandra LaylandOf Wisdom and Valor: The Art of War. The Path of Peace.



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