First post of the year at PunkTorah.org. This year I’ll be exploring a unique tradition or practice associated with either the holidays or seasons of each month of the Jewish year.
The most prominent rituals of Sukkot are the setting up of our Sukkahs, the “huts” we “dwell in” and the shaking of the Lulav and Etrog. The harvest roots of Sukkot are hardly worth discussing and debating, because they are just so blatant. So let’s talk about that other fascinating tradition: the Ushpizin.
Tishrei 5772 begins at Sundown on Wednesday, September 28, 2011
The shofar is not only a symbol we all associate with Tishrei, but it’s also a symbol of Judaism. Many of us only think about the shofar at the High Holy days, but in ancient times it was used regularly in religious rites.
Blow the shofar at the new moon, at the full moon for our feast-day.
In Psalms, we see the order to blow the shofar at both the new moon, Rosh Chodesh, and the full moon feast days. Historically the shofar would have been used to call us to prayer and attention for a myriad of reasons and events. The shofar was also the sound of G-d/dess’ voice we hear at Sinai. Is it any wonder that this ancient relic is one we still treasure today? When considering the shofar, also remember that it is a sign of our history as a nation of shepherds. I’m exploring purchasing my first shofar, and finding that I not only want one that is beautiful and playable — but also that I know comes from an animal that is not just kosher, but was also raised with respect and given a good life. I also want it to be local. Why should I import a shofar from a foreign country, when there are so many sheep right here? I would like to learn to play the shofar, but I also want to incorporate it into my fall altar, or spiritual focal point if you prefer. If you are unfamiliar with the idea of having a Jewish personal altar, here’s a post about the practice.
The tribe most commonly associated with the month of Tishrei is Ephraim. Ephraim is not a son of Jacob, but a son of Joseph. He is “adopted” by Jacob in Genesis 48:5, and they are given birth-right blessings. In a moment that reminds of Jacob stealing the birthright from his own older brother Esau, Jacob gives the younger son (Ephraim) precedence over the older (Menasseh). Joseph points out the error, but unlike Isaac blessing Jacob in error — Jacob shows us this is intentional (Gen 38:13-14).
What is the lesson of Ephraim for Tishrei? What can we learn from this patriarch and Tribe of Israel? In my research on Ephraim, I found an unexpected lesson. The lesson I learned is that Ephraim teaches us to strive to accept and work with contradictions. Truly, I found the message of Ephraim to be one of defying expectations.
Ephraim is presented in the traditional blessing of children as a model of what a Jewish boy should be. Little girls are told, “May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.” This makes sense. We want the girls to learn the lessons of the matriarchs and be blessed. Why then are boys told, “May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe.” Why these two and not “Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David”?
Tishrei is the head of our spiritual year. It is one of the four Jewish New Years, but over the generations it has become the Jewish New Year. According to the Talmud it is the new year of Kings. Like so many things in Judaism, Tishrei has layers within layers and microcosms within microcosms to explore.
This month is a challenging one for some many reasons. The number of holidays alone presents a challenge to our organizational skills. But in the modern world the number of holidays so close together also presents a challenge to our ability balance home, work, and our spiritual worlds. The sign of the month, the scales, I think is not only related to the concept of Divine judgment between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but also asking us to weigh what we value in the world.