High Holy Day Questions Answered
The High Holy Days are the period from Rosh Hashana (the beginning of the Hebrew calendar year - the first of the month of Tishrei) through Simchat Torah (when we begin reading from the beginning of the Torah / Five Books of Moses again). Most understand the High Holy Day season as beginning with the month of Elul, which is the month that precedes Rosh Hashana. This time is one of reflection and introspection, when we take accounting of our souls, our lives, and our relationships.
For each holiday over the year I will ask a different department to submit questions for me to answer about the holiday. With thanks, these questions are courtesy of the JCCGW marketing department.
Ideally, what mitzvah should one begin immediately after Yom Kippur?
After we have spent the long day of Yom Kippur fasting, seeking forgiveness, and reflecting, we have faith that God has in fact forgiven. This begins an immediate period of joy! This is why the holiday of Sukkot is called Zman Simchateinu - a time of our joy. As soon as possible after Yom Kippur, we begin the mitzvah of building Sukkot (impermanent huts, with a view of the sky). One of the reasons it is a mitzvah to be in the Sukkah is because it reminds us to rely on God - not on our homes or possessions.
What is your favorite holiday tradition that is kid friendly?
Sukkot is my favorite Jewish holiday. I love dwelling outside - both eating and especially sleeping outside. Whatever the weather, it is a fun experience for all ages to see who can last the longest in the Sukkah. I have slept in a Sukkah in Alaska when it was -3 degrees in the morning when I woke up and I was the last one still there. And I have slept in a Sukkah in Florida when it was 85 degrees and I was the first to go in! In more temperate Maryland, one should have an easier go with the right sleeping bag. Make sure to look through the branches or bamboo on top of the sukkah to search for some stars or planets.
What is something universal that Jews and non-Jews can take away from these holidays?
These holidays remind us that what is important is not material things or wealth, but relationships and holy moments. When we are reflective, any moment can be a time of repair and rebuilding, as we recognize that the work of improvement and growth is never complete.
Before Rosh Hashanah we say: Shanah tovah! Happy New Year!
After Rosh Hashanah we say: Gmar Chatimah Tovah: May you be sealed for good!