September 14, 1996 in Features

Rosh Hashana Calls Jews To Introspection

Clark Morphew Saint Paul Pioneer Press

Friday night at sundown, the holiest time of the year began for Jewish people the celebration of a new year and a new opportunity for spiritual growth.

Rosh Hashana begins with the sounding of a ram’s horn. In the Torah, the day is referred to as Yom Teruah, the day of sounding the shofar, or ram’s horn.

The exact meaning of the blasts from the shofar is somewhat of a mystery, but Jewish people will tell you it stirs their souls. Some say it is a call to confront the worst in us and begin anew. Others believe the sound represents the endless cries of the persecuted Jewish people.

For the next 10 days, observant Jews will search their souls, make restitution for their sins against others and bear down on the day when they face their God with honest confession.

It is not an easy time. There is prescribed rest but also grueling fasts and much solemn prayer. But the toughest part of the personal ritual is facing sin. Those of us with dark spots in our souls understand the burden.

Most of us would rather look past our sin and into our goodness, and that is precisely what we do most of the time. But the magic for Jewish people is this time of reflection when they are required to look within. It is a solemn duty.

The duty is to both God and to others. Jews believe sins against God are forgiven without much fanfare. Their God is merciful and has a forgiving nature. But it is the sin against humankind that requires painful confrontations.

So for 10 days those duties, prayers and rituals are observed. Then the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) arrives at sundown on Sept. 22, and suddenly Jews are alone with their God and attempting to achieve At-One-Ment with the divine. The process includes a turning away from past sins and reaching out for purity and a spiritual presence.

There is a full day of fasting - no food or water - and a focus on prayer. During the opening ritual, the Kol Nidrei service, this prayer is recited:

“I hereby forgive all who have hurt me, all who have done me wrong, whether deliberately or by accident, whether by word or by deed. May no one be punished on my account. As I forgive and pardon fully those who have done me wrong, may those whom I have harmed forgive and pardon me, whether I acted deliberately or by accident, whether by word or deed. I am now ready to fulfill the commandment to love my neighbor as myself.”

When the lengthy service ends, friends and families gather to break their fast and celebrate new beginnings.

This is the richness of Judaism, those home gatherings where the faith is shared. Synagogue worship is intensely important, but it is within families where the ancient stories are told.

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