The Approach of Rosh Hashana – Justice and Kindness
This coming Shabbat the month of Ellul begins, which heralds the approach of Rosh HaShanah. It is customary amongst Sephardic communities to begin early morning Selichot (special prayers of repentance) at the beginning of Ellul and continue until just before Yom Kippur. Ashkenazi Jews start these prayers a few days before Rosh Hashanah, but have a custom to blow the shofar every morning after the morning service during this month. It is a month when people start preparations for the new year in a spiritual way. Many study works of ethics (mussar) during this month, some recite more Psalms, and there is a very widespread custom to increase charitable giving and acts of kindness. There are two aromas that always remind of the onset of the month of Ellul and the approach of Rosh Hashanah – vinegar and honey-cake. My father, OBM, used to blow the shofar at our synagogue in Melbourne, Australia and before Rosh Hashanah he used to clean out his shofars with vinegar. My mother, OBM, used to bake delicious honey cakes for our family and for friends in the community for the festival. (She once sent a cake to me when I was studying in Yeshiva in Israel and the person bringing it could not resist taking a bite or two of the cake on the plane. Of course, by the end of the almost 24 hour journey, nothing was left of the cake.) I think that these two scents symbolize two components of Rosh Hashanah. On the one hand it is a time of judgement, criticism and evaluation (vinegar) and on the other hand it is a time of joy, optimism and hope (honey-cake). Our Sages point out that even though we are going to “court” on Rosh HaShanah, we dress up in nice clothing, eat good foods and engage in celebration. They explain that although we are entering judgement and hence we repent, reflect and approach the day with awe; we also are aware that the judge is our Father, Who loves us and wants us to be exonerated, hence the celebration. Have a happy, sweet New Year and may we all be inscribed in the book of life.