From Selichot to Simchat Torah

More than just a series of days on a calendar, or merely an occasion for the obligatory visit to synagogue, the High Holy Days offer a month-long opportunity for self-reflection, communal prayer and ritual that together allow us each to create our own spiritual journey. This page is designed to guide you along that journey in Los Angeles and includes information on when to pray and how to celebrate rituals. You will find local listings of free religious services on Page 35 and even more information online at jewishjournal.com. L’shanah tovah!

Days of Awe: The 10 days starting with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur are a time for serious introspection, repentance and making amends. One of the themes is the concept of God’s “books,” in which it is decreed who shall live and who shall die. These books are said to be written on Rosh Hashanah, but it is believed that through teshuvah (repentance), tefilah (prayer) and tzedakah (charity), we can change our decree. The books are sealed on Yom Kippur. 

Customs: This is a time of year when we seek reconciliation with people we may have wronged during the year, or at any time. According to the Talmud, on Yom Kippur we can atone for sins between ourselves and God, but for our sins against people, we must seek forgiveness from those people and attempt to right any wrongs we may have committed.

Greetings: During this month, and the month before it, we greet each other with “Shanah tovah u’metukah” (Have a happy and sweet New Year), or “L’shanah tovah tikatevu” (May you be inscribed for a good New Year). After Rosh Hashanah and before Yom Kippur, the notion of being sealed in the Book of Life is added: “L’shanah tovah tikatevu v’techatemu” (May you be inscribed and sealed for a good New Year), which is often abbreviated to “G’mar chatima tovah” (May you conclude with a good inscription) or further shortened to “G’mar tov” (May you conclude well).

Sept. 25 (26 Elul)

The Selichot (forgiveness) are special penitential prayers recited throughout the High Holy Days designed to alert us to the significance of the upcoming holy days. Beginning at a midnight service on the Saturday before Rosh Hashanah for Ashkenazim and for the entire month preceding Rosh Hashanah for Sephardim, Selichot are recited each morning until Yom Kippur. The prayers are formed around the “13 Attributes of Mercy,” which describe how God relates to the world:

Merciful God, merciful God, powerful God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in kindness and truth. Preserver of kindness for thousands of generations, forgiver of iniquity, willful sin and error, and who cleanses (Exodus 34:6-7).

Many synagogues offer Selichot services. Visit jewishjournal.com for links to local listings.

Sept. 28 (29 Elul)
Candle Lighting: Sept. 28 at 6:23 p.m.

Hatarat nedarim/nullification of vows: The hatarat nedarim ceremony is performed to repeal any vows that one has taken upon oneself so that the New Year and Day of Judgment begin free from any sins of unfulfilled vows. The shofar isn’t sounded today, unlike all of the other days of Elul. Orthodox men often visit the mikveh, and many visit cemeteries to pray at the graves of the righteous and to visit their ancestors. 

Blessings for the evenings of Sept. 28 and 29:

1) Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha’olam, asher kideshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel Yom Hazikaron.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us to light the candle of the Day of Remembrance.

2) Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha’olam, shehecheyanu, v’kimanu, v’higianu, lazman hazeh.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.

Rosh Hashanah eve meal (and meal on the night of Rosh Hashanah day 1):

These meals are filled with symbolism, with foods representing our wishes for the upcoming year. Special round challah baked with raisins is dipped in honey to represent a sweet New Year. (Need a New Year’s Pumpkin Challah Recipe? Visit jewishjournal.com/foodaism.)

Apples and honey = good and sweet year.

Local farmers markets sell the freshest apples in the city.

Head of a fish, ram or other animal = “be at the head of the class” this year.

Pomegranate = filled with mitzvot, symbolized by the numerous seeds.

Sephardic Jews use these items and add more foods, which have Hebrew names that suggest wishes for the coming year:

Dates: “to end” = an ending of hatred and conflict with enemies.

Small light-colored beans: “many” and “heart” = that our merits may increase.

Leeks: “to cut” = to cut down the evil around us.

Beets: “to depart” = that our enemies shall depart from us.

Gourd: “to announce” = that our merits be announced before God.

A prayer for each food is recited while holding the item in the right hand immediately before eating. For the specific prayers, visit chabad.org/holidays.

Sept. 29 (1 Tishrei)
Candle Lighting: Sept. 29 at 7:26 p.m.

Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of a new year in the Hebrew calendar, and literally means “head of the year.”

Machzor: Because there are so many unique prayers on Rosh Hashanah, we use a special prayer book called a machzor.

Want to understand the machzor better? The book “Entering the High Holy Days: A Guide to the Origins, Themes, and Prayers” by Reuven Hammer is a good guide.

Torah reading: Genesis 21:1-34; Numbers 29:1-6.

Haftarah: I Samuel 1:1-2:10.

The shofar, a horn from a kosher animal ­(often a ram), is blown after the Torah reading. This fulfills a commandment and serves as a wake-up call to shake us out of our spiritual slumber, reconnect to our source and recommit to our divine mission in this world. Rosh Hashanah is also known as “The Day of the Shofar Blast,” and the mitzvah simply is to hear the 30 blasts of the shofar, made up of three distinct sounds:

Tekiah — one long, straight blast.

Shevarim — three medium, wailing sounds.

Teruah — nine short blasts in quick succession.

There are many Israeli-made kosher shofars for sale locally at Judaica stores or online.

Tashlich: Following afternoon services, we go to a body of water, preferably one that has fish. There we recite the tashlich prayers to symbolically cast our sins into the water and leave them behind in order to begin the New Year with a blank slate.

Sept. 30 (2 Tishrei)

What’s the difference between the first and second days of Rosh Hashanah?

The Torah reading changes:

Genesis 22:1-24; Numbers 29:1-6.

Haftarah: Jeremiah 31:1-20.

What’s the same:

The prayers and festive meals.

The shofar is blown again to fulfill the­ mitzvah of hearing it.

The 10 Days of Repentance: The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are a time for cheshbon hanefesh, an accounting of the soul, when amends are made with others and internal work becomes intensely focused. Small changes in the daily prayer pay homage to God’s kingship and remind atoners of the work to be done.

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