Rosh Hashana at Home
Rosh Hashana – The Jewish New Year
On the Shabbat before any new month, a special prayer is recited called Birkat Ha-Chodesh. This prayer announces the new month and the day of the week on which it will fall. However, this is not done on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashana. The reason seems to be that since everyone knew when Rosh Hashana was beginning, it was deemed unnecessary to announce it.
Along with this, however, popular folklore has suggested an alternative explanation. There is a traditional concept that we are all judged on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and, indeed, the intermediate days between the two. In this drama, God plays the role of judge and we are the defendants. Satan plays the role of prosecuting attorney gathering every tidbit of information so that he can present all of the damning evidence he can gather against each defendant. Accordingly, we do not announce the coming of Rosh Hashana in public in the hope that omitting the prayer will somehow confuse Satan thus causing him to miss the trial and leaving God to judge us mercifully.
It is worthy of note to add that both Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are also known by the name, Yom Ha-Din, the Day of Judgment. On these days, we ask God, particularly in the prayer Avinu Malkanu (Our Father, Our King), to judge us mercifully like a father would judge his child.
The Mitzvot of Rosh Hashana
There are two mitzvot regarding Rosh Hashana that are mentioned in the Torah. The first relates to the animal sacrifices that took place in the Temple in Jerusalem which, of course, we cannot perform now. The 2nd is the sounding of the Shofar.
Imagine! Put yourself back in ancient times, before there was radio and television or any ability to amplify sound, when all the people would gather, in silence, to hear the sounds of the Shofar! The sounding of the shofar was the medium used for sending a message to our ancestors. Today, our challenge is to turn off all other forms of social media and listen to the three sounds of the shofar – Tekiah, Shvarim and Teruah!
On Rosh Hashana, we hope that the experience of sounding the shofar will be for us, a rich and dramatic moment, like it was for our ancestors for whom the psalmist (Psalm 95) wrote, “If the people (literally, His flock) would only learn to listen to His voice”.
Rosh Hashana in the Home
The Lighting of the Candles
The lighting of the candles initiates the coming of the holiday (just like on Shabbat). The lighting creates a margin of time between the cessation of labor and the actual setting of the sun and guarantees that the holiday will be “holy” and not profaned. Candles, prominently placed, are lit before the actual setting of the sun. In pre-modern times, candles also provided illumination for the house during evening hours.
On Rosh Hashana, we recite two blessings when lighting the candles. The first is the usual “l’hadlik nare shel yom tov (that is, instead of saying Shabbat, we welcome the holiday). The 2nd blessing is the she’he’cheyanu blessing which thanks God for enabling us to reach this festive occasion.
At the Dinner Table.
Reciting Kiddush/The Blessing over the Wine
Kiddush is a blessing recited over a full cup of wine or grape juice to sanctify the Shabbat and Jewish holidays before sitting down for the festive Shabbat or holiday dinner and before saying Hamotzi, the blessing over the challah. The full text of the Kiddush is actually two blessings. The first blessing is the traditional blessing over the “fruit of the vine” (which is why Kiddush is recited over wine or grape juice) followed by a sanctification of the holy Sabbath or the holiday
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה׳ אֱֹלהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָּפֶן
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה׳ מְקַדֵּשׁ הַשַּׁבָּת ישראל ויום הזכרון
Hamotzi, the blessing over bread, blesses God for bringing forth bread from the earth. It is recited with special ceremony at Shabbat and holiday dinners before eating the challah.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה׳ אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם הַמּוֹצִיא לֶחֶם מִן הָאָרֶץ
Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu melech ha’olam hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz.
Dipping the Apples in Honey
After returning from the synagogue and as the family gathers around the festive dinner table, we greet each other with the familiar words “shana tova tikkateivu” (May you be inscribed for a good year). This refers to our wish to be written in the Book of Life which God carries with Him. Often, the saying is shortened to “shana tova” or “shana tova oo-metuka” (May you have a sweet year)
There are a wide variety of customs that apply to dinner on Rosh Hashana. One popular custom is to spread honey on the challah after reciting hamotzi instead of salt. Of course, there is also the familiar custom to eat apples dipped in honey. An additional custom is to eat a pomegranate as a way of expressing the hope that its numerous seeds will come to represent the many mitzvot to be performed in the year to come.
Blessing the Children and Grandchildren
The lovely custom of blessing the children and grandchildren contributes to the special feeling of closeness and warmth on Shabbat and on Rosh Hashana at the dinner table. The words of the blessing are taken from the priestly blessing (Numbers 6:24-26).
For boys, the introductory line is:
May you be like Ephraim and Menashe.
יְשִׂימְךָ אֱלֹהיִם כְּאֶפְרַיְם וְכִמְנַשֶּׁה Yesimcha Elohim k’Ephraim v’chi-Menashe.
For girls, the introductory line is:
May you be like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.
יְשִׂימֵךְ אֱלֹהיִם כְּשָׂרָה רִבְקָה רָחֵל וְלֵאָה Yesimech Elohim k’Sarah Rivka Rachel v’Leah
For both boys and girls, the rest of the blessing is:
May God bless you and protect you.
יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ Yivarechecha Adonai v’yishmerecha
May God show you favor and be gracious to you.
יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ Ya’er Adonai panav eilecha vichuneka
May God show you kindness and grant you peace.
יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלום
Yisa Adonai panav eilecha v’yasem lecha shalom.