– PORTLAND – The Jewish New Year, or Rosh Hashana, begins at sundown tonight and continues through Friday evening. Rosh Hashana is a festive time, with families and friends gathering to eat together, with special challah bread and an apple dipped in honey to symbolize the hope that we have a sweet year.

The holiday also begins an important time in the Jewish tradition for individuals to examine how we are leading our lives. There are 10 days of repentance between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur (which occurs this year on Oct. 7 and 8), and this is a time of reflection for Jewish people.

When we look outside in the nature around us in Maine, we are able to go leaf peeping and see the beauty of the world. In Judaism, we are also now supposed to be going “soul peeping,” exploring the soul’s innermost variations and colors.

Every person’s soul has a special intensity or lightness of color that varies with time and age. We are capable of different good actions at different stages in life.

This is what I mean by soul peeping. We have to look inward and find out what good deeds we are now capable of performing.

On Rosh Hashana, God is said to sit on his throne of judgment deciding on the fate of all humanity. It is said that every good deed that we do in the world can influence the scales of justice in heaven to bend toward divine mercy and compassion.

The highlight of the day on Rosh Hashana is the blowing of the shofar, or ram’s horn, in the synagogue.

The blast of the shofar can be heard on two different levels. In our world, the shofar blast awakens the listeners to perform teshuva, a Hebrew word that means “return.”

In the same way that an alarm clock can wake us up from our nighttime slumber, the shofar blast jolts people to “Wake up!” and start the process of returning to reclaim our identity. The shofar blast should enable us to change paths and start life in a new and better direction.

This is one explanation of the shofar blast – that the sound awakens us to lead better lives.

A different mystical explanation of the sound of the shofar speaks to the idea that the blast of the horn resonates with hidden meanings that can elevate our prayers toward the highest chambers of heaven, to the throne of the all-powerful God. That sound can cause God to pay attention to us.

This past weekend at the Portland Marriot at Sable Oaks, I heard former Gov. Angus King speak at a dinner honoring Rabbi Harry Sky for Sky’s 50 years of service in Maine.

The former governor, while roasting Sky in a good spirit, also talked briefly about religion and about the “truth.” He spoke about the need to appreciate the truths of different religions.

King said that when he was younger, he had a friend who used to say that, “God is the only one who has the truth in the world and God is not paying attention.”

While King may have said those remarks in jest, in tune with the rest of his friendly and humorous remarks that evening, the theological idea made me pause to consider the concept that God was not listening.

When we look at all the suffering in the world and consider all the people in physical pain or financial distress, it might be hard to see how God is paying attention. Nevertheless, tradition teaches that God is waiting for us to return to him and that God can help us.

With the shofar blast on Rosh Hashana, we not only try to awaken ourselves to do good, but we also try to awaken God as well to heed our prayers and show compassion to us.

The mystical idea in Judaism teaches us that the blast of the shofar carries with it a unique sound. The shofar blast is so powerful that it can pierce the highest chambers of heaven and cause God to hear and answer us.

Ultimately, we do not know what is going on up above, but one thing is for certain. We can hear the sound of the shofar in this world.

We can let the sound pierce our souls and cause us to alter our behavior, so that we to behave with the principle of holiness in all our actions.

The shofar is the symbol of the Jewish New Year. With each New Year we have great reason to celebrate life.

The shofar sound tells us that we can celebrate life by taking life seriously.


– Special to The Press Herald