The Significance of Yom Teruah - Sefardi Customs

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XVI. Sefardi Customs[40]

The Aqedah of Yishaq Abinu is a very important theme on both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. HaShem said to Abraham that the shofar should be blown on Rosh Hashanah. Through this, whenever His people would sin, the shofar would remind him of the Aqedah and He would forgive them.

Abraham asked HaShem what a shofar was and on this it is written "...And Abraham lifted his eyes and behold a ram was caught in the thicket by his horns."

The shofar is first blown on the first morning of Rosh Hashanah (unless it falls on Shabbat) and is preceded by the blessing of Sheheheyanu. On the second day Sheheheyanu is not recited. This is in accordance with Sepharadim who, in general, follow the teachings of Maran in the Shulhan Arukh. Ashkenazim, who generally go according to the Rama, recite the blessing on both days.

Some sit for the recitation of the blessings of the shofar, while others stand. The custom at Midrash BEN ISH HAI is for the congregation to sit during the blessings. In accordance with the custom of the Sepharadim, the congregation sits during the blowings prior to the Amidah.

Women are, in theory, exempt from hearing the shofar. However, most women nowadays are considered to have made a vow to hear it and, as such, if they are unable to hear it on Rosh Hashanah they must make an annulment of that vow prior to the onset of the holy day.

Rosh Hashanah is one of the holiest days in the year and a day of judgment for all mankind. In preparation, on the morning of erev Rosh Hashanah, one should cut ones hair (specifically before midday, as according to the kabbala hair should not be cut in the afternoon). Both men and women go to the mikveh, (ritual-bath) and some fast. Hattarath Nedareem (the annulment of vows) is made.

It is customary to visit the cemeteries on the eve of the holiday. In Jerusalem, a Hakham should be consulted concerning changes made to this custom.

When Rosh Hashanah falls on Thursday and Friday, one must remember to prepare the Erub Tabshileen in order to be able to cook on Rosh Hashanah for Shabbat.

The wearing of white clothes is prescribed for Rosh Hashanah and Sepharadim should be strict in this regard. When the nations of the world are to be judged, they wear black. But the Jewish nation, coming in judgment before its Creator, wears white as a sign of faith and confidence that the Heavenly Father, in his abundant mercy, will bless us with a good and favorable judgment. However, one should not wear new clothes on the first day, as this might lead to arrogance at a time when one is pleading for mercy.

During the Arbit prayer, it is a good custom, and common in several Sepharadi communities, for the amidah to be read aloud.

Extreme care should be taken to avoid anger on Rosh Hashanah. To assist in this, the lady of the house should ensure that the table is laid and everything preprared when her husband returns home from Synagogue. But if it is not, the husband must take care not to be bothered by it in any way.

While some eat fish during Rosh Hashanah, it is correct to abstain, in accordance with the teachings of (among others) Rab Hida. Dagh is likened to the word for worry Deagha. If it is not practical to place a Rosh Kebes (ram’s head) on the table, a rooster head should be used instead. In any case a fish head should be avoided for the above-mentioned reason.

On the first day, Tashlikh, the casting of ones sins into the water, is recited. When the first day of Rosh Hashanah fall on Shabbat, Some postpone Tashlikh to the second day. However, according to the ruling in Ben Ish Hai, Tashlikh must be made on the first day, even when it is on Shabbat. In such a case, however, since one may not carry outside an erub, only the portion of "Mi E-l Kamokha" is recited by heart at the water, and the portions before and after are read in the Synagogue. Tashlikh is preceded by the reading of Tehilleem and Adra Zota. (Tehillim are also read on the second day, followed by Adra Rabba).

Rabbi David Yosef, the son of HaRav Ovadiah Yosef addresses this issue in his Torat HaMoadim on the Yamim HaNoraim (3:20).

"When [day one of] Rosh HaShana falls on Shabat, if there is eruv in town, or the place of saying the order of tashlikh is outside the eruv boundaries, one should refrain from saying the order of tashlikh on Shabat. [This is] so that the public will not stumble by carrying Mahzors from a private domain into a public domain. That year tashlikh should be recited on the second day of Rosh HaShana.

If the recitation of the order of tashlikh is performed within the boundaries of the eruv tashlikh can be recited even on Shabat. Even those who makhmir (follow stricter opinions) not to rely on the eruv and do not carry anything in the public domain on Shabat (even with an eruv) are still able to recite the order of tashlikh on Shabat. They can hand the Mahzors to children below the age of observing the mitzvot to carry for them.

There are those who always postpone reciting the order of tashlikh to the second day when the first day of Rosh HaShana falls on Shabat. If there is an eruv in a place it is always more correct to recite it on day one of Rosh HaShana, even when that day is on Shabat."

The reading of Tehillim and Adra Zota and Rabba usually takes place at people's homes, in groups of ten to fifteen. It is followed there by the the praying of Minha (afternoon prayers), except on Shabbat, when all pray at the Synagogue, in order to hear the Sefer Torah.

When the first day is on Shabbat, Ashkenazim postpone the recitation of Tashlikh to the second day. In the holy work BEN ISH HAI, however, it is written that Tashlikh is made on the first day, even when this is on Shabbat. In such a case, however, great care must be taken not to carry a prayer-book (or anything else) in a place where there is no erub.

Some Ashkenazim symbolically throw bread into the water at Tashlikh services. However, there is a difference of opinion among Ashkenazim on this matter and others do not, since it is forbidden to feed the fish in the sea on Shabbat or Yom Tov. Sepharadim do not have this custom and may not throw bread into the water on Rosh Hashanah.

During the ten days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur one should be particularly careful about ones actions and speech, be repentant and increase the giving of charity.


Taken from the writings of Hakham Ya'aqob Menashe.

'Aqedath Yishaq[41]
(The sacrifice [lit. binding] of our father Isaac).

At the age of one hundred years and ninety years respectively, after numerous years of waiting, when all thought it could not be done, Abraham and Sarah were blessed with a son: Isaac (Yitzchak).

Then one day, HaShem called out to Abraham: "Abraham", and he replied: "Here am I". And HaShem said: "Take now your...only son ...Isaac, whom you love and go to the land of Moriah and offer him there for a burnt-offering, on one of the mountains that I will tell you of."

Abraham did not know how to approach Sarah, as he knew that her soul was bound up with that of her son's. He told her that their son was now grown but had not had the opportunity to learn how to serve HaShem. He would take him to the Midrash of Shem and Eber where he would learn the ways of the L-rd.

All that night Sarah held her son tight and instructed Abraham to take good care of him for she had no other son. In the morning, all cried hard and long as Abraham took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son and they set off on their way.

On the way, Satan came to Abraham in the guise of an old man of lowly spirit. "Have you lost your mind," he said to Abraham, "that you are going to slaughter your only child, whom HaShem gave you late in life? Surely you realize", he added, "that this is not HaShem's beckoning. The Al-mighty would never command you to do such a thing as take your son's life!"

Abraham paid him no heed for he realized that this was Satan and scolded him and chased him away. But Satan returned.

This time he came in the guise of a very good-looking young man and approached Yishaq. "Did you know", he said to him, "that your old father has lost his mind and is going to slaughter you today for naught?"

"Ignore him," Abraham said to his son Yishaq, "for he is Satan and has come to turn us away from the mitzva that HaShem has instructed us to perform". And they continued on their way.

On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. He saw a pillar of fire from the ground to the Heavens and a heavy cloud in which he saw the Glory of HaShem. He asked Yishaq if he too could see the mountain, to which Yishaq replied that he could also see a pillar of fire and the Glory of HaShem in a cloud.

However, the two young men he took with him (Yishma'el and Eli'ezer) could only see the mountain. From this Abraham deduced that they were not to accompany him. So he put the wood for the sacrifice on his son Yishaq, took the fire and knife in his hand and he and his son continued on alone.

When they reached the place, Abraham built the altar and laid the wood upon it. Yishaq, knowing he was to be the sacrifice, helped his father to prepare it. Abraham then bound his son to place him upon the altar.

Yishaq requested his father to take the remaining ashes and give them to his mother Sarah, "But please do not tell her of this while she is near a well or a high place", he added, "lest she throw herself off because of me, and die".

Upon hearing this Abraham cried exceedingly, as did his son, till Yishaq requested him not to delay what the Al-mighty had commanded him to do. With that Abraham placed him upon the altar and stretched forth his hand to slay his son.

And the angel of HaShem called to him from Heaven and said: "Abraham, Abraham," and he replied: "Here am I." And he said: "Lay not thy hand upon the lad... for now I know that thou art a G-d fearing man, seeing that thou hast not withheld... thine only son from me." Then Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked and behold... a ram was caught in the thicket by his horns and he offered it as a burnt-offering instead of his son.

In the meantime, Satan, in the guise of a very humble old man visited Sarah. "Do you know", he said to Sarah, "what Abraham did to Isaac your son? He built an altar and sacrificed him on it, mercilessly, while Isaac was crying and screaming."

Upon hearing this Sarah cried an exceedingly loud and bitter cry. She then went with her servants to Hebron to ask if anyone had seen her son, but she received no reply. Then Satan returned, in the guise of a man, and said: "I lied to you, for Abraham did not slaughter Isaac and he is not dead."

When Sarah heard this her joy was so great that her soul left her and she died and was gathered unto her people. Noah has dry land. Noah removes the cover of the ark and dispatches the dove. Bereshit (Genesis) 8:5, 8:13 Rashi

Abraham and Isaac met up with the two lads whom they left on the way and all returned home. They asked of the whereabouts of Sarah and they were told that she went to look for them because of the thing that was told to her.