The Jewish festivals are more than food and family gatherings. They are both spiritually profound, and far more relevant for us today than most people realize.
The Jewish festivals are a trajectory of the nation’s destiny, a cardiogram of our joint heartbeat. The symbols of the Jewish festivals convey information that otherwise would be lost in the labyrinth of history or distorted beyond recognition. But our festivals deliver messages not only about our past, but also about our present and future.
Where It All Began
The first in line of the fall Jewish festivals is the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah (Head (Beginning) of the Year). It denotes a spiritual awakening. The festival marks the moment when a person senses an aspiration to discover the meaning of life.
Adam (Eve’s husband and briefly a resident of the Garden of Eden), was the first person to contemplate life’s meaning. We mark the day when he began to think about it as the beginning of the year, the beginning of the Jewish calendar, known as Rosh Hashanah.
In other words, Rosh Hashanah is not just a day on the calendar; it is a milestone of spiritual development. On this day we report to ourselves how we fared spiritually during the previous year, and seek to make corrections for the future.
At the Festive Table
Rosh Hashanah symbolizes our aspiration to higher values, benevolence, sharing, and caring for each other. The essence of Judaism is unity and brotherly love, expressed in the sayings, “That which you hate, do not do to your friend, ” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The tradition to eat a fish’s head symbolizes our decision to be at the forefront, leading ourselves and others toward unity.
The pomegranate, with its abundant juicy seeds, reminds us that we, too, are as seeds, and that it is time for us to ripen spiritually through unity. The seeds also represent our egoistic desires, which we must learn how to satisfy in a more balanced way, such as realizing our aspirations through contribution to society.
The Rosh Hashanah apple symbolizes the primordial “transgression” of disunity. We dip it in honey to symbolize its sweetening (correction) through our reestablished unity. To achieve this unity and rekindle our brotherly love, we have to rise above our egoism and balance it by establishing among us positive connections.
The High Holy Days
The High Holy Days begin on Rosh Hashanah and end on Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah is also the beginning of the Ten Days of Repentance. This time of reflection is our chance for change, our inlet into our souls when we choose to take control over our lives and be the head and not the tail, passively following life’s dictations.
Because the core of Judaism is love of others, it is customary to put a special emphasis on our attitude to others during these days. However, this symbolic conduct represents a major shift in our approach to life in general—from loving ourselves to loving others. Once we achieve this, we emerge cleansed at the end of Yom Kippur, and a year of brotherly love and mutual care can truly begin.
Happy New Year!
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