Contemplation, Atonement Focus of Jewish New Year


published September 13, 2007 12:15 am
credit: Steve Dixon, [email protected]
Rabbi Shaya Susskind dresses the Torah in white as he prepares for the opening service of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. It begins 10 days of introspection leading to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
ASHEVILLE — Rabbi Shaya Susskind describes today as the 5,768th birthday of Adam and Eve.

“It’s more than a new year,” he said. “We celebrate the creation of humankind.”

The celebration of Rosh Hashana, which began at sundown Wednesday night, begins 10 days of introspection that culminates in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, a day of fasting and prayer.
“It’s not like the secular New Year (holiday), where people party and dance,” said Dick Braun, a member of Congregation Beth HaTephila. “It’s meant for contemplation. You look at what you’ve done during the last year that you shouldn’t have, or what you didn’t do that you should have.”

One of the common rituals on this first day of the new year is Tashlich. People place bits of bread in their pockets and then empty their pockets into flowing water.

“There really is no word in Hebrew for sin,” said Cantor Debbie Winston of Congregation Beth HaTephila. “The closest thing is ‘miss the mark.’ So you take the bits of bread and throw the parts of yourself you regret or your missed marks. It’s a way of starting the year with a clean slate.”   

Susskind said the water into which the bread is thrown should have fish in it.

A fish’s eyes never shut, he said, which symbolizes the way God watched over creation.

Six months from now, Susskind said, Jews will draw water to use for matzoh at Passover.

“It is the same water we cast our bad natures into,” he said. “In that time, we are able to transform those traits, and we can take them and make something positive out of them.”

Another Rosh Hashana ritual is dipping apple slices into honey and eating them to signify the wish for a sweet new year.

“An apple is something that’s naturally sweet,” Susskind said. “Honey is sweet too, but the bee can sting, so that represents the fact that some sweetness comes after pain.”

At Rosh Hashana, Jews are called to reflect on their faith and works, their relationships and giving, Winston said.

“Did I participate in helping the world? Did I do what I could to help other people?” she said. “What relationships do I need to fix and are there ones I need to leave behind?”

Braun said Jews are called to ask for forgiveness for their misdeeds and failings this time of year, first from people who have been harmed by your actions or inactions, then from God.

“You can’t ask God to forgive until you’ve asked for forgiveness from people,” he said.