(Jewish) Sept. 9.
Rosh Hashanah (ראש השנה) is the Jewish New Year. It falls once a year during the month of
Tishrei and occurs ten days before Yom Kippur. Together, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are known as the Yamim Nora’im, which means the Days of Awe in Hebrew. In English they
are often referred to as the High Holy Days.
Rosh Hashanah literally means “Head of the Year” in Hebrew. It falls in the month of Tishrei, which is the seventh month on the Hebrew calendar. The reason for this is because the
Hebrew calendar begins with the month of Nissan (when it's believed the Jews were freed from slavery in Egypt) but the month of Tishrei is believed to be the month in which God created the world. Hence, another way to think about Rosh Hashanah is as the birthday of the world.
Rosh Hashanah is observed on the first two days of Tishrei. Jewish tradition teaches that during the High Holy Days God decides who will live and who will die during the coming year.
As a result, during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (and in the days leading up to them) Jews embark upon the serious task of examining their lives and repenting for any wrongs they have committed during the previous year. This process of repentance is called teshuvah. Jews are encouraged to make amends with anyone they have wronged and to make plans for improving during the coming year. In this way, Rosh Hashanah is all about making peace in the community and striving to be a better person.
Even though the theme of Rosh Hashanah is life and death, it is a holiday filled with hope for the New Year. Jews believe that God is compassionate and just, and that God will accept their prayers for forgiveness.
10 Things you should know about Rosh Hashanah:
1. Jewish New Year
Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, the symbolic anniversary of the creation of the world. The words Rosh Hashanah literally mean "Head of the Year." In addition to being the anniversary of the past creation of the world, Jewish tradition sees everyone as being created anew at this time every year. Rosh Hashanah occurs on the first and second days of the Hebrew month of Tishrei (which usually falls sometime in September or October).
2. Day of Judgment
Rosh Hashanah is the Day of Judgment. On Rosh Hashanah, God opens the Books of Life and Death. Jews ask to be forgiven for their sins in the hope that God will give them a good signing in the Book of Life for the coming year.
3. Pre-Rosh Hashanah: Slichot and Hatarat Nedarim
In order to enter the New Year with a clean slate, Jews ask for forgiveness and annul all vows before Rosh Hashanah. Slichot, which means forgiveness, is a series of prayers recited daily in preparation for the "Days of Awe," Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. More observant Jews practice Hatarat Nedarim, the absolution of vows.
4. Rosh Hashanah Prayers: God is King
On Rosh Hashanah, most of the day is spent praying in synagogue. There are many unique prayers on Rosh Hashanah, so a special prayer book called a machzor is used. The main theme of the Rosh Hashanah liturgy is that God is King, and He rewards good.
5. Mitzvah of the Shofar
The essential mitzvah of Rosh Hashanah is to hear the sounding of the shofar. The shofar is a ram's horn which is blown like a trumpet. When Rosh Hashanah falls on the Sabbath, the shofar is not blown.
6. Meaning of the Shofar
The blasts of the shofar are reminiscent of:
- The sound of a King's coronation
- The wailing of a Jewish heart
- A spiritual wake-up call for Jews to repent
- Abraham's great faith in God. (Abraham bound his on Isaac, but was allowed at the last minute to sacrifice a ram in Isaac's stead.)
7. Festive Meal
A festive meal is central to the Rosh Hashanah holiday. A round challah, which symbolizes completion, is used. The challah, as well as apple, is dipped into honey to symbolize hope for a sweet new year. Other foods have also become Rosh Hashanah traditions, as they symbolize hopes for the coming year.
8. "Shana Tova"
There are two traditional Rosh Hashanah greetings. "Shana Tova" means Good Year. "Chatima Tova" means Good Signing in the Book of Life.
On Rosh Hashanah, observant Jews may follow a custom called tashlich (casting off) in which they walk to flowing water, say a prayer, and symbolically throw their sins into the water. Tashlich is done on the first afternoon of Rosh Hashanah. If Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat, then tashlich is done on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. If tashlich was not done on Rosh Hashanah, it may be said anytime during the Ten Days of Repentance. The practice of tashlich is not discussed in the Bible, but it is a long-standing custom.
10. Ten Days of Repentance
On Rosh Hashanah, God signs one in the Book of Life, but only on Yom Kippur does he "seal" one in the book. Therefore, during the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur one's verdict is not certain. This period is referred to as the "Ten Days of Repentance," and it is a time in which Jews engage in intense introspection.
Hanukkah or Chanukah is a Jewish holiday celebrated in December on the western calendar, but on the Jewish calendar it always starts on the 25th day of Kislev. The central focal point of the holiday is the menorah. The menorah holds 9 candles. Eight candles represent the eight days of Hanukkah and the ninth the Shamus is used to light the other candles. The meaning behind Hanukkah is to celebrate the miracle of the light burning in the Temple. There was only enough oil to last for one day and instead it burned for eight days. This miracle is the basis for the holiday the Festival Of Lights.
Decorating for Hanukkah is not quite the same as decorating for Xmas. Stores are not filled with aisles of lighted decorations that sparkle and shine. Being creative can be fun for your family. Large banners saying Happy Hanukkah are a fun addition. Dreidels cut from brightly colored or metallic paper and hung from the ceiling give a festive look. Twinkle lights in white or blue can be hung around the room or even on the outside of your house. But the key decoration in any Jewish home is the menorah. It can be electric or candle burning. The selection of menorahs in stores each year gets bigger and bigger. Perhaps this year you can have one family menorah and then let each of the kids have their own menorah. Be creative let the kids choose their own or maybe even make one.
Secondly, what to eat for Hanukkah, no Hanukkah celebration would be complete without potato Latkes. Flat patties made of grated potatoes with added ingredients and then fried in oil. Latkes are always served with applesauce or sour cream. Blintzes a form of crepes that are usually filled with cheese are also very popular. They are accompanied with jams and powdered sugar. All types of meat are quite popular especially those meats that are breaded and fried in oil. A hearty Brisket is also a familiar site on the Hanukkah Table. No Jewish family would deny the importance of food during the Hanukkah celebration.
Lastly, if you asked a child what Hanukkah was about, they would tell you the gifts. Each of the eight nights of Hanukkah a gift is given to each child. It can be money or a gift. Because there are so many gifts to be given keep in mind each gift does not have to be expensive. It is the tradition that matters. Some families give each child one big gift then small token gifts for the other nights. It is important for all of our children to understand the true meaning of Hanukkah.
But on the tenth day of this seventh month it is the day of atonement; it shall be a holy convocation unto you, and you shall afflict your souls, and you shall bring a fire-offering to the Lord. And you shall do no work on this very day for it is a day of atonement to atone for you before the Lord your God. (Leviticus 23:27-28)
Honest self-examination, communication with one's Maker, commitment to become a better person — all these are encouraged throughout the year in various religious systems, but there is one day on the Jewish calendar that is tailor-made for such activities: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
Yom Kippur is celebrated on the tenth day of Tishri, i.e., ten days after Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
It is the culmination of ten days marked by increased levels of prayer, charity and other good deeds, and the seeking of forgiveness from anyone one has harmed, purposely or inadvertently, during the previous year.
This day, the holiest and most solemn in Judaism, is also among the most joyous, as it affords one the opportunity to rectify past wrongs and face the future with a slate wiped clean. Some people have the custom of wearing white as a symbol of purity. Some stay awake all night; others refrain from all unnecessary speech.
On Yom Kippur, so exclusive is the emphasis on one's inner life that there are five prohibitions designed to help reduce the focus on physical needs and thereby shift the spotlight to spiritual pursuits:
Eating and drinking
Those for whom following these requirements would present a health risk are exempt. The traditional restrictions on labor that apply to the Sabbath apply to Yom Kippur as well.
The bulk of the day is spent in prayer, of which there are five separate services — one on the eve of Yom Kippur and four the following day (in contrast, normal weekdays have three prescribed prayers and Sabbaths and holidays, four). The liturgy focuses on the enumeration of personal and communal shortcomings, pleas for Divine forgiveness, and reminders of the special relationship between God and His chosen people.
Yom Kippur services begin in the evening with the Kol Nidre prayer, which casts the congregation as petitioners in a court seeking to have their vows of the preceding year — unheedingly made and imperfectly fulfilled — annulled. Such is the consciousness of the human inability to live up to stated goals that in most versions of this prayer, a preemptive annulment of vows that will be undertaken during the coming year is requested as well.
Another noteworthy element of the liturgy, recited in the afternoon, is the verbal recreation of the Yom Kippur avoda — the ceremonial service performed in ancient times by the High Priest in the Holy Temple. This ritual included the sacrifice of two goats, one that was sacrificed to God in the Temple and another that became a scapegoat symbolically carrying all of the Israelites' sins out to the desert till he tumbled to his death off a rocky cliff.
The biblical book of Jonah, which recounts the prophet Jonah's encounter with a whale and the repentance of the entire city of Nineveh, is read in the afternoon as well.
At the end of services at nightfall, the shofar (ram's horn) is blown. As the sound of the blast fills the synagogue, so does the feeling of having been cleansed both by the physical deprivations of the day and by the certainty that a merciful God has granted the longed-for atonement. The age-old wish of Jews around the world, "Next year in the rebuilt Jerusalem," is proclaimed.
Gmar chatima tova! May you be sealed in the Book of Life.
Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh Faith, was born in Nankana Sahib near Lahore now in Pakistan in 1469 and breathed his last in 1539 at the age of 70. He was endowed with extra-ordinary spiritual powers from a very young age. The biographies on his life are replete with strange episodes of these miraculous occurrences.
As with many other universally known Prophets, he did not undergo any set formal education. On the very first day of his admission into the village school, he expounded a beautifully worded revelation in verse and set to a classical musical measure (raga) describing the various stages of life, interposed with a plethora of poignant Divine directions, every stanza starting with each letter of the Hindi language alphabet. The teacher then went over to his father and told him that instead of teaching Nanak, he had received through his noble young son, a profound lesson from God; on how best he the teacher could function better. This was remarkable indeed.
Through Guru Nanak's own genius and the spiritual illumination that came from his long spells of Meditation, there shaped the character of the creed that he was to proclaim to the world and which became the basis and foundation of the Sikh religion.
There were 9 other gurus (Prophets) that consecutively followed his lineage, all receiving Divine revelations but only under his name NANAK without attributing any such revelatory passages to their own names. This culminated in the 11th the last and eternal Guruship bestowed on the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS), which has been called the Mona, meaning the silent Guru, being in book form, as recorded in the ancient Hindu and other such contemporary resources, the VEDAS. This thus has a millennial dimension that will come to light in the pages that follow.
Guru NANAK was one of the few, if not the only prophet who travelled widely outside the country of his birth, throughout the then known world. It is recorded in some detail of the four marathon trips mostly on foot, which he embarked upon in the four cardinal directions, the North, South, East and the West. To the North he scaled the Himalayan Ranges to enter deep into the Tibetan regions. To the East he went all the way into Burma now known as Myanmar, and to the South right down to the tip of the Indian sub-continent and on into Sri Lanka (Ceylon) and lastly to the West through Afghanistan and Iraq into Saudi Arabia entering Mecca and beyond into parts of Turkestan and the southern reaches of Russia. He left behind rare relics and other such signs, which have now been uncovered to prove the authenticity of his far-flung travels.
Before he died he is credited to have made millions of followers within the ranks of the Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists and those with no previous religious leanings. On his demise there was a tussle between his Muslim and Hindu devotees, as to who should claim his body for the usual burial and other such rites. It is recorded that the two parties agreed on a simple formula, to place a row of fresh flowers on either side of his body, one to belong to the Muslims and the other to the Hindus, and that whichever side the flowers would remain the fresher the next day, that side party would be eligible to claim his remains. When the following day arrived, the flowers on both sides were as fresh as ever, but the body had disappeared to merge into and become one with the elements!
Janmashtami celebrates the birth of one of the most famous Gods of Hindu religion, Bhagwan Krishna, on the eighth day (Ashtami) in the month of Sravana or Savana. Lord Sri Krishna was born on the 'Rohini' nakshatram (star.)
The months of August-September (according to the Christian Calendar) are the focus of celebrations. Legend has it that Sri Krishna was born on a dark, stormy and windy night to end the rule and atrocities of his maternal uncle, Kansa.
It was only on the eighth day of the second fortnight, in the month of Sravana when, the moon entered the house of Vrishabha in Rohini Nakshatra (star) that Lord appeared. According to Barhapatyamana, the month of Sravana corresponds to the month of Bhadrapada Krishnapaksha. Lord was born in the year of Visvavasu, approximately 5,227 years ago.
Celebrations for Janmashtami happen for over two days as “Rohini” nakshatra and Ashtami may not fall on the same day. The first day known as Krishnashtami, as the birth of Bhagwan Krishna falls on the eighth day after Raksha Bandhan, which generally falls in the month of August. The second day is Kalashtami.
It is only at midnight between the first and the second day that the birth of Sri Krishna occurred. The actual festivities begin during midnight in this 48-hour period. The celebration reaches its peak at midnight, with the birth of Lord Krishna, with lot of hymns, arti taking place and blowing of the Conch (shankh)and rocking the cradle of Lord.
Hindus bathe the idol of Lord with Panchamrit (a mixture of milk, ghee, oil, honey and Gangajal.) Then, they distribute the Panchamrit as Prasad to the devotees along with other sweets. While some Fast on the first day and break it at midnight for others the fasting continues for both days. The period coincides with rainy season.