L’Shanah Tovah Tikatevu!
If you aren’t exactly sure what I just said, you probably aren’t Jewish, but I won’t hold that against you. Just joking! It means, “May you be inscribed (in the Book of Life) for a good year” and it is the traditional greeting when you meet someone during Rosh Hashanah, or the Jewish New Year. Today is the first full day of Rosh Hashanah, which encapsulates a 10-day period of the Jewish calendar’s highest holy days, ending with Yom Kippur. It is a period of judgement, forgiveness and the rebirth of a new year. During these Days of Awe, Jews perform Teshuvah, or repentance, in the hope that their names will be written in the “Book of Life” and they will have a good year to come. That first means recognizing that you have sinned, then performing acts to atone for them, which might include tfiloh (prayer) and tzedakah (charity).
While Rosh Hashanah is not about giving presents or akin to the wild celebrations that one sees on January 1st (that other New Year’s celebration), it is an important part of the Jewish calendar and is recognized by certain rituals and foods. There is the dipping of apples into honey, to signify the wishes for a sweet new year. Challah is also eaten, which is a round loaf symbolizing the cycle of time. You dip the challah in honey as well, as sweet is always the hope for things to come. Another important dish that is often eaten is the head of a fish, in recognition that Rosh Hashanah is the “Head of the Year”. Not quite so sweet, but full of significance and that is hard to knock.
Aside from food customs, there are also other rituals that are observed. The most essential Mitzvah (commandment) of Rosh Hashanah is of course the sounding of the Shofar. A shofar is a symbolic horn, often made out of a ram’s horn, that is meant to remind people of the importance of reflection. We remember the story of Abraham and God’s order for him to sacrifice his son Isaac, as a symbol of his faith. Just as Abraham is about to do God’s bidding, an angel appears to stop him and points out a ram to sacrifice instead. The shofar is sounded many times during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, again reminding those that hear it of God’s presence and kingship over them.
So today, we wish Jews everywhere success in their tashlich (sins that are symbolically thrown into the water). May you be written and sealed for a good year, Ketiva ve-chatima tovah!