The High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot are considered some of the holiest days of the Jewish year. Observed during the Hebrew month of Tishrei, the High Holidays take place from Sept. 16 to Oct. 8 in 2012.
As this sacred time approaches, HuffPost Religion will update this page daily with prayers, reflections, verses, poetry, songs and blogs to help you grow spiritually during this time. We also hope to highlight the diversity of the Jewish community and holiday observance.
HuffPost Religion invites you to share your reflections and experience during the Jewish High Holidays with us. How did you prepare for Rosh Hashanah? Are you fasting for the first time on Yom Kippur? Is this first time you will build a sukkah?
This is your blog. If you are interested in contributing, send your submission to email@example.com. We're accepting photos and personal stories (150-300 words) about observing the High Holidays.
We look forward to hearing from you, and Shanah Tovah to all!
Jews dance with Torah scrolls during the Simhat Torah celebration in the Mediterranean coastal city of Netanya, north of Tel Aviv, on Oct. 8, 2012. Simhat Torah is a joyous Jewish celebration that marks the end of the annual cycle of the reading of the entire Torah and the beginning of the new cycle. (JACK GUEZ/AFP/GettyImages)
Tzvi Freeman on Chabad.org:
For seven days of Sukkot, Jews walk around in circles, carrying an assortment of green and yellow flora. Then, on Simchat Torah, they dance in circles carrying Hebrew scrolls, working up to a frenzy.
Did I say dance? Well, it’s more like marching, your hands over the next guy’s shoulders, singing and stomping as you march to . . . the same place you started from. Repeat until you plotz.
Are Jews normal?
The short answer: Yes.
No, you don’t see this at your typical social club event. But then, as any anthropologist will tell you, it’s modernity that’s weird, not the other way around. People have been dancing in circles in celebration, in ritual, and just to have fun, in every part of the world ever since there were circles and people. It’s just that it takes Jewish genius to continue doing something so tribal in such an extremely post-tribal world.
Now for my confession: I am one of those weird modern people.
When I was first invited, cajoled and nudniked to join the circular festivities, I was more than hesitant. I attempted to explain that I didn’t see the point of walking in such a way that you don’t get any further than where you started. Needless to say, the argument was ignored, and I was swept into the circle whether I liked it or not.
And I felt stupid. For about the first 40,000 circuits. After that, I forgot about myself and how I felt and what I was doing and why I was doing it and whether I was stupid and that I was there at all. And that’s when the circle became good. Very good.
It was good exactly due to that which I had subliminally feared. Because as I stand here, I am I. In the circle, that I dissolves into we. And in that very act of transcendence, that loss of self, there is unbounded joy.
Read the rest of Tzvi Freeman's column "Why Jews Dance In Circles" on Chabad.org...
From Reb Sholom Brodt of Yeshivat Simchat Shlomo, Jerusalem:
The Toldos Yaakov Yosef, a very close disciple of the Baal Shem Tov, brings the following teaching (interwoven with teachings fro Reb Shlomo zt"l and from the Netivot Shalom):
It says in the Talmud that on Rosh Hashanah three books are opened before Him: the book of Tzadikkim, the book of Resha'im and the book of Beinonim (intermediates). Says Reb Yaakov Yosef zy"a, these books are open lefanav -- "in front" of each person, and each person is told to go and sign their name in any one of these books. Anyone who wishes to, can write their name into the book of Tzadikkim -- meaning to say that we are allowed to chose which way are we going to live our lives, and so we write our names into, lets say the book of Tzadikkim.
Now, choosing to write my name into this book is one thing, and this we do on Rosh Hashanah; but now we also need to sign -- and so Hashem has us sign on Yom Kippur. But writing and signing alone are not enough; we need to "seal" ourselves into the book of Tzadikkim. And this is the service of Hoshanah Rabbah.
Writing my name down implies my choice, signing means commitment. Sealing means complete dedication of all my talents and being to fulfill the commitments I have made.
So what are we doing right after Sukkot? We are celebrating Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. We are celebrating our special relationship with Hashem and with His Torah. We take Hashem's gift to us, the Torah, and we dance with it -- all of us together.
Hashem, how could we thank You enough for this precious gift? Hashem, please let me always dance with Your Torah. Hashem, please allow me to always see that every word of Your Torah is a dance of "life"; please Bless me to always remember that my deepest connection to the Torah comes from dancing joyously and lovingly together with every one of my brothers and sisters.
Hashem, please Bless us to live our lives as real Jews, to really be present in the world, in our homes, in our bodies in our souls. Hashem teach me the secret of dancing with the Torah...
Joshua Bell is one of the world's most accomplished violinists. He has played with the world's most renowned orchestras and now is a conductor as well. He performs in the world's finest concert halls and often commands hundreds of dollars per ticket. About five years ago, he participated in an experiment organized by the Washington Post.
On Friday, Jan. 12, at about 8 a.m., the middle of the morning rush hour, Bell was in the entrance of the L'Enfant Plaza Metro station, one of the capital's busiest. He was wearing blue jeans and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. He opened up his violin case, took out his $3.5 million Stradivarius, placed the open case on the ground at his feet. He strategically threw in a few dollars and pocket change as seed money. He then started playing. The experiment sought to determine if people would stop and notice. Would the beauty of Bell's music transcend the time and space of a busy subway station at rush hour? Over the next 43 minutes, as the violinist performed six classical pieces, 1,097 people passed by. Only a handful stopped to listen for any serious length of time, though those who did knew it was something special. Bell took home $32.17, plus another $20 from the one pedestrian who actually did recognize him. In other words, the experiment found that most people did not stop to notice something truly grand.
On Shemini Atzeret (Monday, Oct. 8), Jewish tradition bids us to pause. As long as the fall holiday season has been, let's let it linger a little bit longer, our tradition tells us. Let's not hurry back into the "rush hour" of our daily lives just yet.
The rabbis in the Midrash understood the Torah's word atzeret to convey stopping or delaying. "'I have stopped (atzarti) you, from leaving,' [says God]. [It can be likened to] a king invited his children to a banquet lasting many days. At the banquet's conclusion when it came time for the children to leave he said, 'My children! I beg of you, delay your departure by one more day. It is difficult for me to take leave of you.'"
For me this Midrash suggests that the relative calm and simplicity of Shemini Atzeret is a necessary complement -- perhaps, even, a corrective -- to the solemnity and celebration of the surrounding holidays. Just as great beauty can be found in a subway station, so too God can be found at humble moments as well. On the High Holidays, the synagogue is like a grand concert hall in which the sound of the shofar pierces our hearts. On Sukkot we have the pageantry of the lulav and etrog and the multi-sensory ritual of dwelling in a Sukkah. Shemini Atzeret lacks the grandeur and ritual of the preceding holidays. The message is that God is not to be found only in the peak moments of petition and celebration. These can serve only as catalysts for intimacy with the divine in daily life, not as substitutes for that closeness. Shemini Atzeret reminds me that God seeks my presence as I seek God's and that the opportunity for that encounter exists every day of the year, with or without a shofar, sukkah, or lulav and etrog.
The interpretation of Shemini Atzeret as an expression of God reaching out to us reminds us that just as God reaches out to us, we must reach out to one another. We must notice one another's humanity, experience one another's songs, even in a subway station. The question is: how does one cultivate such sensitivity? Dr. Ron Wolfson of American Jewish University in Los Angeles provides some guidance rooted in Jewish tradition in his book "God's To-Do List: 101 to Be an Angel and Do God's Work on Earth."
Wolfson notes that the Protestant minister Rick Warren has touched many lives in our country with his book "The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?" Warren provides a Christian answer to that question. Ron Wolfson takes the question and offers a Jewish answer: We are on God's earth, he writes, to be God's partner, to do the tasks that God has for us to do. All the things -- big and small -- that God expects us to do will further the work of creation and repair the brokenness in the world. And when we do these "To-Dos," we discover the source of meaning and purpose in our lives.
Wolfson lists the following 10 categories of To-Dos through which we can perform God's work on earth. They are to create, to bless, to rest, to care, to call, to comfort, to repair, to wrestle, to give and to forgive. Wolfson discusses each category and suggests ten ways to fulfill each action. Our cultivation of these To-Dos as part of our daily regimen will enable us to appreciate the symphonies that occur all around us in our daily lives, whether or not we bump into a maestro on the way to work.
On Shemini Atzeret, I believe three of these To-Dos stand out: to create, to bless and to rest.
The act of creation begins with intention -- often expressed in words, creating something, looking at it, judging it, naming it, and -- ultimately -- documenting and remembering it.
On Simchat Torah, when we begin reading the Torah anew, we will read the creation story. The operative verb of Genesis 1 is bara -- God creates. With Wolfson's understanding, just as God creates, so too human beings should create -- that is, work as partners with God to create a better world. When the Ten Commandments describe the Sabbath, the text says sheshet yamim taavod, "six days a week you shall create," and only on the seventh day we shall rest. Creating is a mitzvah insofar as it allows us to apply our spark of divinity toward creating a better world.
Building relationships is not just about calling. It is also an act of creation. When we share Sabbath or festival meals with other individuals or families within our community, we create bonds that last a lifetime. Creating community is one form of creation that is permitted on Shabbat. Shabbat is not meant to be spent in isolation. It is meant for us to be at one with our family, friends and God. We must carve out time for ourselves to hear one another's symphonies and not rush past them like in the D.C. Metro station.
In the Genesis story that we will read on Simchat Torah, God not only creates. God also blesses. God blesses all creatures with fertility. God blesses humanity with fertility and mastery of all living creatures. God blesses the Sabbath. Later in the Bible, God blesses Abraham as he begins his journey God blesses Sarah with a child. God blesses Isaac after his father dies. Just as God is mevarekh (blesses), so too we must be mevarekh. Wolfson suggests many ways in which we can be mevarekh aside from saying God bless you after someone sneezes. There is a tradition of saying 100 blessings a day, thanking God for the many blessings in our lives. We ask God's blessings for the food we eat, for safe journeys and for healing. We can think about how many blessings we say per day. In the process, we can also bless our children, spouse or other loved ones. If we experience great service in a store, business or perhaps even our synagogue, we can make a phone call or write a thank-you note to express our gratitude and extend blessing in the process. And, yes, do take notice of those classical musicians in the street. Blessing others also requires us to think of ourselves as blessings. If we lack this level of self-esteem, it is more difficult for us to bless others.
Finally, I would like to mention rest as a key element of God's To-Do List. In the Creation narrative, Shabbat is understood as to cease or to stop. God stopped creating on the seventh day. Rest is a by-product of stopping the work of creating.
Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote in his essay "The Sabbath" (p. 28),
"To set apart one day a week for freedom, a day on which we would not use the instruments which have been so easily turned into weapons of destruction, a day for being with ourselves, a day of detachment from the vulgar, a day on which we stop worshiping the idols of technical civilization, a day of armistice in the economic struggle with our fellow men -- is there any institution that holds out a greater hope for human progress than the Sabbath?"
Again, God's To-Do List is about enhancing the quality of time we spend with other human beings to create a better world and to refresh our world so that it may become even better. We cannot constantly be on the run like those who rushed past Joshua Bell.
To create, to bless and to rest are three of the ways in which we fulfill God's work on earth. This work calls upon us to imitate God in order to bring God's presence into our lives and the lives of others. On Shemini Atzeret, we think about God seeking to linger in our presence because God needs us as much as we need God. We are like a pair of loved ones who seek to be as close to each other now and for as long and as often as is possible. Perhaps it is the image of this intimacy that spurred our tradition to add Yizkor to this holiday. We miss our departed loved ones. We miss the meaningful relationships that they created with us. We miss the times that they blessed us and gave us renewed confidence and hope. We miss the quality time that we spent with them on Shabbat and Festivals and other times when we just enjoyed each other's company. Let us pledge to bring God's To-Do list into our lives and not miss the symphony of life around us every day.
-- Rabbi Edward Bernstein (@RabbiECB)
|@ yaelrobarts : "Sukot comes to destabilize...Conviction is surely a great religious value, but certainty is a grave religious danger." http://t.co/ZCw8Ly64|
|@ RabbiShaul : Hoshana Rabba customs: Remove rings from lulav itself, thereby allowing leaves to spread out.|
|@ RabbiShaul : Spiritual Significance of Willow-Hitting: Even when we are spread out in exile, battered at the hands of enemies, our people still endure!|
On Hoshana Rabbah there takes place the final "sealing of judgement" which begins on Rosh Hashanah. At the beginning of the period of judgment - on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur - all the world's inhabitants pass in individual review before G-d. During the Festival of Sukkot, the entire world is judged concerning water, fruit, and produce.
The seventh day of the Festival, Hoshana Rabbah, is the day on which this judgment is sealed. Because human life depends on water and all depends upon the final decision, Hoshana Rabbah is invested with a certain similarity to Yom Kippur and is therefore marked by profuse prayer and repentance.
Learn more about Hoshanah Rabba...
|@ reuvenleigh : Lesson from the lulav could be that if you don't have taste or fragrance you are going to spoil the quickest #witheringwilows|
There was a creak and a shutter -- what walls there were leaned and flapped. My son cried out in his sleep next to me and I pulled him closer against the cold. Somewhere in the distance people were shouting and laughing. A car sped by. And then sirens. Later there was just a huge silence. No wind. Only occasional noises in the street. Stars shone clearly through the branches overhead, and I realized I had never heard the city settle into silence. On this night it was beautiful. It was temporary. We could always go in the house.
On Sukkot we are told to leave the comfort of our sturdy homes with their strong walls, insulated windows and security systems and we are directed to live in an impermanent shelter -- where the walls may shake in the slightest breeze and roof is made of leaves and twigs and not shingles and tar paper. Where sleeping in the sukkah we can hear the voices or silences on the street late at night. Where we invite friends, strangers and even our ancient ancestors to share a meal at our table in this unstable, ephemeral dwelling place. What Yom Kippur is to our spiritual lives, Sukkot is to our physical being. We are made to feel the fragility of being human -- the chill, the warmth, the exposure. And to celebrate it. If we are fortunate it is only temporary.
We are invited to remember once we were homeless refugees. For some that may feel like thousands of years ago, for others we may remember the story of our own family or our own struggles. But once a year as Jews we are asked to remember the immense vulnerability that is still felt by so many in this world and in our own communities. And we are asked to hear the voices and the silences that surround us. And we are asked to do something about it.
Sukkot is also called chag ha'asif -- the festival of ingathering -- and zman simchatenu -- the time of our joy. According to the mystical tradition, when we dwell in the sukkah, the poor are not distinguished from the rich and we are to invite all guests into our temporary homes. We are asked to seek out organizations that support the needy to insure that no matter where they are that they too can celebrate and feel the joy of Sukkot at their own tables and in this way they are like guests in our sukkah.
God willing, one day soon there will be a shelter of peace spread over all of us -- there will be an end to homelessness, poverty and exile. But until that day let us hear the voices and the silences of those in need and do something about it. And always, always remember once we too were strangers, widows and orphans. Once we too needed someone to support us. Maybe we still do.
-- Rabbi Will Berkovitz (@CitizenRabbi)
|@ TheRAC : For #Sukkot some choose to sleep outside, but 3.5 mill #Americans don't have a choice. We can make the choice to help http://t.co/w49p3XAW|
Think about an activity you love to do that gives you a good challenge. Maybe it's playing tennis. Maybe it's sailing. Maybe you're like me, and it's working on the Saturday New York Times crossword.
When you're deeply involved in that activity, you're in a state that's known as "flow" -- a state of pure enjoyment. Time seems to run at a different speed, you're totally focused on your task, and afterwards, you feel a real sense of accomplishment.
"Flow" was first described by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and he argues that flow arises when we find challenges that are just ahead of our skills. But beyond the fact that being in flow just feels really good -- it's a state of pure enjoyment -- there's another very important aspect to it, and that's the way flow pushes our skills to a new level.
If you are a tennis player, for example, you had to work your way up from getting the ball over the net (or not hitting it so hard so that it went over the fence) to improving your serve to nailing your backhand. Each new challenge was also an opportunity to improve your ability.
As Csikszentmihalyi phrased it:
Pleasure is an important component of the quality of life, but by itself it does not bring happiness. Sleep, rest, food, and sex provide restorative homeostatic experiences that return consciousness to order after the needs of body intrude and cause psychic entropy to occur. But they do not produce psychological growth. They do not add complexity to the self. Pleasure helps to maintain order, but by itself cannot create new order in consciousness...
[In contrast,] enjoyable events occur when a person has not only met some prior expectation or satisfied a need or a desire but also gone beyond what he or she has been programmed to do and achieved something unexpected, perhaps something even unimagined before.
Enjoyment is characterized by this forward movement: by a sense of novelty, of accomplishment. (Csikszentmihalyi, Flow, 46)
Sukkot, along with Passover and Shavuot, are called the "three pilgrimage festivals" because they were the three holidays when all the Israelites were commanded to come to the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. Each of the holidays also has their own name in our liturgy. Passover, understandably, is called "the time of our freedom." Shavuot, which marks the giving of the Torah, is naturally called "the time of the giving of our Torah." Sukkot's title, however, is a little more mystifying -- it is called "the time of our joy." Why is that?
There are any number of reasons, but one of the explanations recalls an ancient tradition from Temple times. On Sukkot, there was a ceremony called "the drawing of water," and the rabbis taught, "One who has not witnessed the celebration of the water-drawing ceremony has never seen real joy" (Sukkah 51a).
What was that "real joy"? Well, according to the Mishnah, people danced and sang, and the wisest and most pious men would juggle torches. While that sight would certainly make people smile and be happy, I think there's a deeper lesson.
Because Sukkot was one of the three pilgrimage festivals, the population of Jerusalem would increase dramatically, so before the holiday, the priests and Levites would make major renovations to the outer courtyard. They would add some extra balconies, and the courtyard ended up being a little bigger than about the size of a football field.
But lots of people were coming for the holiday. Lots of people. Probably more than what the courtyard could handle. If you want an image, think of MetLife Stadium, but instead of everyone being in the stands, everyone is on the field! But, the rabbis said, "Miraculously, tens of thousands of people were able to crowd in."
Thousands of people were coming in to celebrate Sukkot, which meant that thousands of people were coming in to feel "real joy." And while they physically may have been a little cramped, I think the true miracle was that one person's joy did not crowd out another's. While joy expands who we are, there is always room for more.
Think about this way: if you have a child, when your child was born, you didn't say, "Well, since I have only 100 points of love, so let me now figure out who I'll love less." Instead, the joy you felt caused your heart to grow. Miraculously, that joy led you to find room for more holiness, more specialness and more love.
Indeed, as Csikszentmihalyi taught us about being in flow, when we are doing anything that gives us real joy, we are learning new things and pushing ourselves. We discover that joy helps us grow -- and that there is no limit to its expansiveness.
So on this Sukkot, may we strive to create more joy in this world. We'll find the room.
-- Rabbi Geoffrey A. Mitelman (@RabbiMitelman)
|@ sherigurock : The rain stopped just in time. We are officially ready for #sukkot #ChagSameach #jewstagram http://t.co/5jtKvSfV|
At Hillels around the world, Sukkot celebrations are in full swing. From Quizzes and QR Codes in Kiev, to Candy Sukkah building at the University of Illinois Chicago’s Hillel, to University of Pennsylvania Hillel’s Sukkathon competition, students are engaging in holiday traditions by making them their own. At the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), the Hillel sukkah connects the entire campus community. This year, their Sukkot theme is "Connect For," and visitors have an opportunity to play a giant Connect Four game while considering the many ways in which connections are made. Check out the Sukkot Around Hillel photo album to see how Hillel celebrates student creativity, fosters collaboration, and stimulates both fun and thoughtful connection with tradition.
Check out HuffPost Religion's sukkah photo collection...