By RABBI TULY WEISZ, TEACH FOR ISRAEL—
Don’t be surprised if you hear Jews wishing each other a “Happy New Year” over the next few weeks. It’s not that we are confused or have our watches set three months fast, but, because on Wednesday, September 4, is the holiday of Rosh Hashana (Hebrew for “Head of the Year”).
The ten days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are referred to as the “Days of Awe” because we believe the fate of the world hangs in the balance as God decides whether it will be a year of blessing, or curses. Despite the seriousness of Rosh Hashana, we nevertheless greet the holiday with excitement and joy based on a scriptural passage from the Book of Nehemiah.
Nehemiah is well known for leading the Jewish people from exile in Babylonia back to the Land of Israel which culminated in the building of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. He leads the campaign to rebuild the wall around the holy city and upon its completion, gathers the Jewish people together and reads from the Torah. Chapter 8 contains Nehemiah’s remarks delivered on Rosh Hashana of that historic year which forever established the Jewish people’s code of conduct for this holy day:
9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. 10 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” 11 The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.” 12 Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.
As we prepare for the holy day of Rosh Hashana and as God assumes His throne of judgement upon the world, the Jewish state finds itself under fire in the halls of international diplomacy. It is only natural for those of us who love and bless Israel, that our hearts are filled with worry and concern for the safety of her people. However, if we appreciate the true nature of the day by studying the inspiring words of Nehemiah, then we must remain optimistic, “do not grieve for the joy of the LORD is your strength!”
May our fervent prayers this Rosh Hashana herald in an era just like in the times of Nehemiah, when the Jewish people returned to Israel and Jerusalem was rebuilt. May the new year of 5774 be one of celebration, great joy and peace for Israel and for each and every one us, those who love her, her “watchmen on the walls.”
Happy New Year – Shana Tova!
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Rabbi Tuly Weisz is the director of Teach for Israel which connects Jews and Christians in support of Israel and Israel365 (www.Israel365.co.il) which promotes the majestic beauty and the Biblical significance of the Land of Israel each day. He can be reached at RabbiTuly@TeachforIsrael.org.