By Rabbi Levi Greenberg
I am often asked why Jewish festivals don’t have a set date on the Gregorian calendar. Chanukah can be observed at any point around December (most notably, it started on Thanksgiving several years ago) and Passover keeps you guessing from late March through April.
The Jewish calendar incorporates the Lunar and Solar cycles, which accounts for why the festivals are always on different Gregorian dates each year. It was first adopted during the Exodus from Egypt 3,332 years ago, but the number of any given Jewish year is the amount of years which have elapsed since creation, 5781 years ago.
The Book of Genesis records that Adam was created on the sixth day of creation, and according to Jewish tradition the anniversary of that event is the festival of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
On Friday evening, Sept. 18, Jews around the world will celebrate the New Year with prayers, contemplation, festive meals and traditional foods. The centerpiece of the two-day festival of Rosh Hashanah is the sounding of the Shofar (ram’s horn), symbolic of our submission to G-d, our celebration of life up to the present and our supplications for a good and sweet new year.
These last six months have been tumultuous and disruptive in so many ways and as we prepare for the new year our desire for health, stability and peace takes on more intensity than we have experienced in several generations. I find it ironic and apropos that a central part of our global COVID experience is reflected in the unique circumstances of this year’s Rosh Hashanah.
In pre-COVID times, handshaking was considered a basic tenet of social etiquette. Extending your hand in greeting was universally accepted as the first step to friendship and cooperation. Now it practically disappeared in order to preserve our health and to help stop the pandemic.
Sounding the Shofar on the two days of Rosh Hashanah is the essential observance of the festival, but this year, since it occurs on Saturday and Sunday, the Shofar is not sounded on Saturday due to Sabbath restrictions.
This becomes all the more extraordinary in light of the fact that Jewish philosophy and mysticism extoll the crucial need to sound the Shofar each day of Rosh Hashanah and yet, in order to preserve the sanctity of the Sabbath, we abstain from sounding the Shofar on the first day.
This leaves us only one day of Rosh Hashanah to observe this important ritual and I encourage all Jews in El Paso to make the effort to hear the sounding of the Shofar in person some time throughout the day on Sunday, Sept. 20.
Rather than being a vacuum of positive energy, the absence of the Shofar sounding on the first day of the year is a recognition of the far superior spiritual energy introduced by the Sabbath. Sometimes abstaining from certain actions invites greater and loftier opportunities. This is similar to how the disruptive COVID measures, instead of creating a vacuum of social interaction, have brought with them opportunities for strengthening family and community relationships for many.
Sabbath is a day of serenity and tranquility. As we welcome the new year on the Sabbath, I pray that its serenity permeates every detail of the new year and that we all experience a year of refreshed strength and much growth.
You can introduce this Sabbath experience into your daily life by setting aside some time in the beginning of the day for some quiet reflection on something meaningful to you. Dedicate a box in your home or office to give charity each day for the poor or a worthy cause or organization. These early morning routines set the tone for a day of purpose, clarity and joy.
For more information about local High Holiday services and opportunities to hear the sounding of the Shofar in person please visit http://www.ChabadElPaso.com.
Best wishes for a good and sweet new year.
Levi Greenberg is associate rabbi at Chabad Lubavitch in El Paso.
Cover photo: Children observe as Rabbi Yisrael Greenberg sounds the Shofar in the new sanctuary of the Chabad Lubavitch Center for Jewish Life in preparation for Rosh Hashanah. (Photo by Rabbi Levi Greenberg)