ROSH HASHANA: We and the sheep

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בר”ה כל באי עולם עוברים לפניו כבני מרום

Rosh haShana is also known as Yom haDin: the day of judgment. Our rabbis said that on Rosh haShana: kol bae olam oberim lefanav kibne marom“.  All humans pass in front of the Almighty as the flock [passes in front of the shepherd].

Once every season, the shepherd gathers all his sheep in the barnyard to carefully examine each one of them. The expert shepherd needs just a brief moment to asses the quality of each animal. He checks its wool and its meat, to see if the sheep is strong and healthy. Then he takes his brush and marks each sheep with one specific color. Once marked, he sends each sheep back to the flock. If a sheep has very good wool, the sheep gets a yellow mark, which means that this sheep is going to shearing. If the sheep is healthy and strong, it will get a blue mark, which means that this sheep goes for reproduction. And if the sheep is skinny and the wool is of a bad quality, the shepherd paints on its back a red mark, which indicates that this sheep will be slaughtered and used for food. The destiny of every sheep is determined and ‘sealed’ by the shepherd on that crucial day.

The rabbis explained that on Rosh haShana the Almighty carefully examines every one of us. He checks our deeds and actions and He determines our fate accordingly, marking us for success, for life or has veshalom for non of it.

Same as the sheep, we ignore what color we bear in our backs. But unlike the sheep, our destiny is not sealed on Rosh haShana. We have a window of opportunity of Ten days of Teshuba, to repent, to admit our faults and ask forgiveness. Then, we dedicate one entire day , Yom Kippur, to appeal the original verdict, before our fate is definitely sealed.

How do we know what color is the mark that we bear in our backs? We cannot know for sure… Because even when I believe that I have done many good things this year, I cannot know if HaShem, who knows my potential better than me,  expects much more from me…  That is why we all assume that we have been marked with a red color. And that is why, from Rosh haShana until the very end of Yom Kippur, we ask HaShem for many things, but for one in particular : HAYYIM, life. Give us another chance,  let us have the opportunity to show You that we deserve our existence.

“Remember us for life, You the King who loves life. Inscribe us in the book of life, for Your own sake, You, the living God.”

 

Previous Halakhot

Do women have the same obligation as men regarding the Mitzvah of Shofar?

 

Men are obligated to listen to the Shofar following a Biblical commandment (yom teru’a yihie lakhem). And although women are formally exempted from any time-bounded positive Mitsva, in practical terms when it comes to the Shofar there is virtually no difference between the two genders.  Why? Because in most communities women are very careful to attend Synagogue and listening to the Shofar in Rosh haShana. Let’s remember that besides the formal fulfillment of this important commandment, the voice of the Shofar “wakes us up from our spiritual lethargy” and help us to repent and improve our actions. And that is a message that both, men and women, need to hear in these days of Teshuba. It is therefore highly meritorious for women to attend Synagogue, listen to the Shofar, be inspired by its voice, repent and do Teshuba.

 

The only practical difference between men and women relates to the recitation of the Berakha when a person cannot attend the Synagogue service in Rosh haShana.  In the Synagogue the Toke’a (=the person who blows the Shofar) recites the Berakha ASHER QIDDESHANU BEMITSVOTAV VETSIVANU LISHMOA’ QOL SHOFAR on behalf of the entire community. And all those who listen to this berakha and say AMEN are included in this blessing. However, if a woman was not able to attend Synagogue, when a Toke’a blows the Shofar for her no berakha should be recited, following the Sephardic tradition. According to the Ashkenazi tradition, in this case, the woman says the Berakha. While in the case of a man who listens to the Shofar outside the formal Synagogue service, that man himself or the Toke’a should recite the Berakha.