The New Year Festival is far more than the mere opening of another year in the flight of time
NEW YEAR’S MESSAGES
Chairman Griqualand West Hebrew Congregation
SUNDOWN last night marked the beginning of the Jewish New Year 5778, and, like millions of Jews around the world, our little Jewish Community in Kimberley will congregate today and tomorrow for the start of the High Holy Days which will culminate in the Day of Atonement in ten days. The day is a holiday of hope for a sweet New Year.
It is a special day when we look back and take stock of the year that has passed, consider where we have erred, resolve to improve and pray for God’s blessings for the year to come.
In the last year, we in Kimberley have lost two greats – Arnold Rauff, past chairman and Trustee of the Community, and Dr Michael Sandler, also a past chairman and well known pathologist who practiced in the city in the eighties and nineties. Our heartfelt condolences to their families. With their passing a golden era in our community fades into history and we are all poorer.
When I look back at the year 5777 in South Africa, I despair. The great Albert Einstein once said: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
Our nation is one that was badly fractured and damaged by racism and ethnic division in the last century. It has therefore been deeply disturbing to see the rise of a new tendency in certain quarters to attribute all the blame for the country’s ills on its minorities.
At his inauguration as president in 1994, the great Nelson Mandela outlined his vision for the future of South Africa when he said: “We enter into a covenant, that we shall build a society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity: a rainbow nation, at peace with itself and the world.”
What a vision. Whatever our faith, whatever our ethnic background, whatever our political persuasion, let us make 5778 the year in which we return to the vision and strive consciously to make our communities at peace with one another and united in their efforts to lift the whole nation out of economic distress to the point where we can honestly say we are the United Nations of Africa.
Here’s wishing all who live in our city, province, country and the world, a wonderful year filled with happiness, prosperity, harmony and security. L’shana tova tikvah tevu – may you all be inscribed in the Book of Life for a good year.
Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft “The Travelling Rabbi”
Country Communities Rabbi – SA Jewish Board of Deputies
Spiritual Leader & CEO – African Jewish Congress
African Regional Director Commonwealth Jewish Council
As we welcome the Jewish New Year of 5778, we look forward to more unity between peoples, better lives for all the world’s citizens, and to nurture their connections with each other and to celebrate, rather than emphasize their differences.
In our multicultural society we encounter the beliefs, traditions and practices of many diverse faiths and cultures. Each of us strives to carve out a destiny true to our own particular tradition. At the same time, each one of us is an integral part of our shared society and we must nurture our connections with others and discover unity in diversity. As extremism sweeps through our fragile world, we need to emphasise the values and aspirations which bind us together rather than those put us apart.
Empathy is a key component of a moral society and cultural differences bring a collective strength that benefits all of humanity. Martin Luther King Jr said: “We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.” Close to three thousand years ago, the Book of Psalms put it this way . . . “behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity”.
Rosh Hashanah, our New Year, celebrates the birth of the universe. Communities will come together in festive spirit with song and devotion and, at the heart of our prayers, we will cry out to the Almighty: Remember all nations for life and for good, thus emphasising our concern for all mankind. May the coming twelve months produce a better life for all of us. Shana Tova!
A FESTIVAL PRAYER
ALTHOUGH Rosh Hashanah literally means “the beginning of the year” and according to tradition marks the day upon which Adam and Eve were created, it actually falls on the first and second days of Tishrei, the seventh month of the Jewish Calendar. As the anniversary of creation of man, the festival in Jewish Tradition is a powerful acknowledgment that G-d is the King of the Universe, the creator of man and Ruler of the lives of all.
The New Year Festival is thus far more than the mere opening day of another year in the flight of time. Just as the seventh day of the week (ie the sabbath) is a holy day, so is the seventh month in the year a holy month. Its opening day is the herald of the Day of Atonement which follows on the 10th of the month after the New Year Festival has been followed by the Seven Days of Awe or Repentance.
The day is also known as Yom Teruah or the day of the sounding of the Ram’s Horn. The sounding of the Ram’s Horn, the Shofar in Synagogues symbolises the whole spirit of the festival which is to stir those who have strayed from their spiritual purity and to remind them of the laws of their faith and their duties and to return to a spiritually better life.
According to Rabbinical tradition, G-d opens three books on the first day of Rosh Hashanah: In the first is written the names of all the Righteous as well as the rewards and blessings they will receive material and spiritual. The third book contains the names of the G-dless and the second contains the names of all those who do not fall into either of these two categories. They are not completely Righteous, but they aren’t completely G-dless either. They are granted a limited period in which they can repent and restore their broken relationship with G-d. If they do this, they will also be included in the ranks of the righteous and be inscribed in the first book – the Book of Life.
It is for this reason that Jews observe what are known as the Seven Days of Awe in the period between Rosh Hashanah (on 1 and 2 Tishrei) and the Day of Atonement on 10 Tishrei. This is a time in which prayers of repentance are offered in the Synagogues, charitable deeds are encouraged and peace is made between enemies. It is also a time when prayers are offered for peace and blessedness for all mankind.
The spirit of the High Holy Days has been well captured in the following passages by the Jewish novelist, Herman Wouk, in his book “This is my G-d”.
“A horn blast reverberates through the dark reaches of the universe. The angelic hosts, drawn up in array before the throne of G-d, shudder at the sound. It is Rosh Hashanah, the day of judgment. The scrolls of fate roll open before the Lord. In these scrolls every man’s hand has written his deeds of the year past. G-d reads the entries and pronounces judgment, fixing the destinies of every human being for the year to come: who shall die, who shall live, who shall be rich, who shall be poor, who shall rise in the world, who shall fall, who shall live in peace, and who shall stumble in misery.
“This decree on the day of horn-blowing is not final. Men have ten days in which to search their acts, repent of misdeeds, perform good works to alter the balance as it stands, pledge themselves to better conduct, and throw themselves on the Judge’s mercy in prayer. Yom Kippur, the last of these days of grace, is a crisis of confession and repentance. As the sun sinks to the horizon, the scrolls of fate roll shut. The destines of all men for the coming year are sealed. The annual judgment ends at sundown with a last blast of the horn.
“Atonement on this day is a process between a man and his Creator. The atonement for any ill one man has done another, the Talmud says, begins with repairing the injury in full; then one seeks G-d’s absolution. A prayer on Atonement Day does nothing, before G-d or man, to absolve a hit-and-run driver, or an adulterer who holds to his mistress. Our fathers in the Ten Days of Repentance used to seek out every person they could possibly have injured and beg forgiveness; they used to go to great lengths to pay all outstanding debts. Devout Jews do so still.”
Arnold Rauff and Rabbi Silberhaft in 2012