Rosh Hashanah, which begins tomorrow at sunset, is one of the most important holidays on the Jewish calendar. Also known as Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah is a time for repentance and introspection – and also the beginning of a 10-day period of prayer and thought that ends with Yom Kippur at nightfall on October 9. The intervening time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is called the Yamim Noraim, which translated as either the Days of Awe or the Days of Repentance.
Perhaps the most interesting thing to note about this 10-day holiday cycle is the importance of the unnamed days in between the two anchoring holidays. Rosh Hashanah is essentially the opening ceremony of a time of making things right with God; on Rosh Hashanah, according to Jewish belief, God writes down all of the events that will occur during the succeeding year, including births, deaths, and good and bad fortune. Until God closes the books on Yom Kippur, Jews have the opportunity to change their coming fate for the better by righting any wrongs they’ve done and extending charity to the community at large.
At the risk of mixing too many religious metaphors, Yamim Noraim offers a chance for instant karma, as it were. By seeking out anyone whom they have wronged, Jewish believers can actually change God’s mind, thus giving themselves the chance for a more positive year.
One way in which Rosh Hashanah observers signal this commitment to shedding their sins is through the tradition of Tashlikh, which means “casting off.” Bread carried in the pockets is emptied out into running water, symbolically carrying away all the bad actions of the previous year. Both Congregation B’nai B’rith and Santa Barbara Hillel will be observing Tashlikh at Goleta Beach this year, at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, the first full day of Rosh Hashanah. Other local groups will be using creeks, rivers, or streams.
Both the righting of wrongs and the shedding of sins, however, only go so far: They’re limited to sins committed against fellow humans. Yom Kippur, one of the most widely observed of all Jewish holidays, is dedicated to another type of reconciliation. On that day, through prayer, fasting, and thought, Jews right their relationship with God, repenting for those sins that affected no one but themselves and their deity. On Yom Kippur, it’s too late to repent for sins against others, and God’s books are officially closed.
Of course, if a believer can’t find the time to repent and make things right in the 10 days preceding Yom Kippur, perhaps he or she didn’t really want or deserve it in the first place. There’s something very intuitive and very comforting about a religious tradition that gives its adherents a very plain choice: Do right, reconcile with friends and enemies, and be rewarded or don’t. Jews and Gentiles alike can find a positive message in the celebration of Rosh Hashanah: that good behavior is truly its own reward.
Many Jewish organizations in Santa Barbara are observing Rosh Hashanah, Yamim Noraim, and Yom Kippur. For a full schedule of observances in the area, visit jewishsantabarbara.org.