The Significance of Yom Teruah - Customs and Ceremonies

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X. Customs and Ceremonies

A. The first day of Yom Teruah can fall only on the second, third, or fifth day of the week, or on Shabbat. It can never fall on the first, fourth, or sixth day of the week. This regulation is an ordinance of Chazal (Our Sages).

B. It is customary, in some Ashkenazi and most Sephardi synagogues, to wear white kittels on this day.

C. The Temple / synagogue service included the musaf (additional) service for both Rosh Chodesh and Yom Teruah.

D. As at all Shabbats and festivals, candles are lit. The following two blessings are sung:

Blessed are You, HaShem, our God, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments, and has instructed us to kindle the light of the festival.

Blessed are You, HaShem, our God, King of the universe, Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.

A twenty-four hour candle is used so that it's light may be enjoyed for both days of the festival.

E. One of the customs for Yom Teruah is to avoid sleeping, especially during the evening and morning hours, and to study Torah, or recite “Tehillim” (Psalms) while awake. If one is idle, it is as if he slept. It is stated in the Jerusalem Talmud: “If one sleeps at the year’s beginning (i.e. on Yom Teruah), his good fortune likewise sleeps. And if one’s head aches and he would find it difficult to utter the Mincha (afternoon) prayer with proper concentration, because of fatigue, he is permitted to nap briefly during the afternoon.

F. In the Yom Teruah Amidah[38], we recite on of the most well known prayers of the daily service, Aleinu. Indeed, Yom Teruah is the time for which it was originally created, by Joshua, just as they crossed the Jordan. It was intended by one of the great Hakhamim of the Talmud, Rav, to introduce the Kingship section of the Yom Teruah Amidah. That is why the Aleinu refers again and again to HaShem as triumphant ruler, to Whom we owe our loyalty beyond all earthly kings and institutions:

(Aleinu and V'Anachnu)

It is incumbent upon us to praise the Master of all, to exalt the creator of the world, for He has made us distinct from the nations and unique among the families of the earth. Our destiny is not like theirs, our calling is our task.

We therefore bow, bend the knee, and prostrate ourselves in awe and thanksgiving before the One who is sovereign over all, the Holy One, blessed be He. For He stretched forth the heavens like a tent and established the earth. Truly there is none like our Lord and King. As the Torah says,

"You shall know this day and reflect in your heart that it is the Lord who is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath, there is none else."

We hope, HaShem our God, to soon behold Your majestic glory when all abominations shall be removed and all false gods shall be at an end.

Then shall the world be perfected under the rule of the Lord Almighty and all mankind shall call upon Your name. For to You every knee must bow and every tongue declare that You are God.

Reign over us soon and forever. May the kingdom of David's greater son be established forever. For then shall the words be fulfilled, "The Lord shall be king forever", and, "the Lord shall be king over all the earth; on that day the Lord shall be one, and his name one." (Psalm 104:1-2, Devarim (Deuteronomy) 4:39, Psalm 10:16, Zechariah 14:9)

The unique three middle blessings of the Rosh HaShana Amidah correspond to the major themes of the High Holy Day: HaShem's kingship over the Jewish people and the world (malchuyot); HaShem's remembering us as a unique and eternal nation, (zichronot); and HaShem's revelation to, and redemption of Israel through the sound of the shofar (shofarot).

The blowing of the shofar is incorporated into the Musaf (additional) service three times. Each one is followed by Biblical verses that form the keynote of the entire service:

1. MALKIYOTH - The existence of HaShem as ruler.

Tekiah Shevarim-Teruah Tekiah
Tekiah Shevarim Tekiah
Tekiah Teruah Tekiah

2. ZICHRONOTH - HaShem's divine justice.

Tekiah Shevarim-Teruah Tekiah
Tekiah Shevarim Tekiah
Tekiah Teruah Tekiah

3. SHOFAROTH - HaShem's revelation.

Tekiah Shevarim-Teruah Tekiah Tekiah Shevarim Tekiah
Tekiah Teruah Tekiah-Gedolah

There are three essential themes to Rosh Hashanah: Malchuyot (Kingship), Zichronot (Remembrance) and Shofrot (Revelation). The musaf (additional) prayer service is structured around these three themes. The Book of Our Heritage elucidates:

“In the Kingship section we acknowledge G-d's creation of all existence, His active supervision of the entire universe, and our acceptance of His eternal rule.”

In the Remembrance section we proclaim our understanding that:

1) The Creator has a one on one relationship with every human being.

2) HaShem cares about what we do with our lives and sees and remembers everything.

3) There are Divine consequences for our actions.

In the Revelation section we accept the Torah as if it were given once again with thunder and lightning and mighty shofar blasts. We also await the final redemption which is to be heralded by the “shofar of the Mashiach”.

One of the central themes of Rosh HaShana is HaShem’s kingship over the world. Chazal call this idea "Malkiyot", and it appears as one of the three main topics of the Musaf Prayer on Rosh HaShana. In addition, we find this idea in every Tefilah of Rosh HaShana, as well as in the Rosh HaShana Kiddush. It seems that in order to understand Rosh HaShana, we must understand its connection to HaShem's kingship.

Maimonides explained the meaning of the sounds of the shofar as follows:

"Awake, ye sleepers from your slumber, and rouse you from your lethargy. Scrutinize your deeds and return in repentance. Remember your Creator, ye who forget eternal truth is the trifles of the hour, who go astray all your years after vain illusions which can neither profit nor deliver. Look well into your souls and mend your ways and your actions; let each one of you forsake his evil path and his unworthy purpose, and return to HaShem, so that He may have mercy upon you."

This reminds me of what Paul wrote to the Ephesians:

Ephesians 5:1-20 Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children And live a life of love, just as Mashiach loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person--such a man is an idolater--has any inheritance in the kingdom of mashiach and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (For the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) And find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, For it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: "Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Mashiach will shine on you." Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise, Making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with Tehillim (Psalms), hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Yeshua Mashiach.

G. The Torah refers to Yom Teruah in two ways: as a remembrance of blowing (Lev. 23:24), and as a day of blowing (Num. 29:1) The term "remembrance of blowing" implies that the shofar is only remembered, but not actually blown. This is a scriptural support for the Rabbinic prohibition against blowing the shofar on Yom Teruah that falls on the Shabbat (Rosh Hashanah 29b). The verse in Vayikra (Leviticus) reads: "a rest day a remembrance of blowing". the term "a rest day" may also allude to a Shabbat prohibition.

H. Various symbolic foods are eaten at the festive meal on Yom Teruah:

Challah is normally eaten. There is a custom of baking the Challot in the shape of a crown (round) or a ladder (from Bereshit (Genesis) 28:10-22 to look forward to the day when they are linked again). There is an almost universally accepted Ashkenaz custom of dipping the first piece of Challah into honey. It is said that on Yom Teruah we are apportioned an abundant share for the coming year; and we must rely wholeheartedly on HaShem's beneficence for our sustenance. The 'bread from heaven' remembers this beneficence. And what was the taste of the 'bread from heaven'? Its taste was that of dough fried with honey. So, we dip our challah in honey to remember HaShem's beneficence!

In accordance with Sephardi minhagh, the Challah must be dipped three times in sugar and three times in salt. Salt is used because the table is likened to the altar and the Challah to the offering thereon. And on this it is written:

Vayikra (Leviticus) 2:13 And every oblation of thy meat offering shalt thou season with salt; neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking from thy meat offering: with all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt.

Sephardim also abstain from the use of honey, as it is further written in connection with the offering of incense:

Vayikra (Leviticus) 2:11 No meat offering, which ye shall bring unto HaShem, shall be made with leaven: for ye shall burn no leaven, nor any honey, in any offering of HaShem made by fire.

For this reason, sugar is to be preferred.

Sephardim eat apples dipped or cooked in sugar because the Torah admonishes us agains having honey in any sacrifice:
Apples in Sugar (apple jam)
Eaten on Rosh Hashanah during the
Yehi Rason Seder.
6 apples
2½ tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. ground cardamom or cloves
½ cup water
Peel and slice dessert apples (sweet, or sweet and slightly sour). Cut into wedges, about 6 or 8 to an apple. Place in a pan, add sugar to taste, cloves or cardamom (seeds or pwder). Add water and bring to a slow boil, then simmer until softening. If the apples are fairly firm, they will remain in wedges. Cool.

A deeper allusion to the custom of dipping the challah into honey may be found in:

Tehillim (Psalms) 81:16 But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you."

Remember that Psalm 81 is about Yom Teruah!

This verse comes at the end of the psalm which the Talmud identifies as the song sung by the Levite chorus of the Beit HaMikdash to accompany the Temple sacrifices on Yom Teruah.

Tehillim (Psalms) 81:3-4 Blow the shofar at the new moon, at the covered time for our feast day. Because it is a decree for Israel, a judgment day for the God of Jacob.

This psalm, which we read at Rosh Chodesh, obviously also refers to Yom Teruah. This translation from the Artscroll Machzor for Succoth, page 341, shows clearly the reason for the understanding that this is the time that HaShem sits in judgment, to which Rashi agrees. (The New Moon, for Tishri, is not announced the Shabbat before, so as not to warn ha-Satan.)

After the challah has been eaten, a piece of apple sweetened with honey is given to each participant and the blessing is recited:

Blessed are You, HaShem our God, King of the universe, Who creates the fruit of the tree.

A small piece of apple is eaten and the following prayer is recited before the apple is finished:

May it be Your will, HaShem our God and the God of our ancestors, that You renew for us a good and sweet year.

The selection of the apple, above other fruits, for this symbolic purpose is based upon:

Bereshit (Genesis) 27:27 So he went to him and kissed him. When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him and said, "Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that HaShem has blessed.

The Talmud identifies this fragrance as that of a field of apple trees. Moreover there is a view that the blessing of Jacob, which is prefaced by this verse, took place on Yom Teruah.

Fenugreek is eaten because its Aramaic name, רוביא implies increase or abundance. Magen Avraham writes that one may use any food whose name carries this implication, even if the name is not Hebrew. Based on this view, it has become customary to eat carrots because their Yiddish name is mehren, a word which can also mean "to increase".

May it be Your will, HaShem our God and the God of our forefathers, that our merits increase.

Leeks (karti - "to cut down") or cabbage.

May it be Your will, HaShem our God and the God of our forefathers, that our enemies be decimated.

Beets (silki - "to remove") (not sour borscht, for only sweet foods should be eaten):

May it be Your will, HaShem our God and the God of our forefathers, that adversaries be removed.

Dates (tamri - "to consume"):

May it be Your will, HaShem our God and the God of our forefathers, that our enemies be consumed.

Squash (kara - "to read"):

May it be Your will, HaShem our God and the God of our forefathers, that the decree of our sentence be torn asunder; and may our merit be proclaimed (read) before You.


May it be Your will, HaShem our God and the God of our forefathers, that our merits increase as [the seeds of] a pomegranate.


May it be Your will, HaShem our God and the God of our forefathers, we be fruitful and multiply like fish.

Head of a sheep (or fish):

May it be Your will, HaShem our God and the God of our forefathers, that we be as the head and not as the tail.

For the head of a sheep, some add:

And may it be Your will that the merit of our Patriarch Isaac be remembered for us.

Another custom is to avoid eating nuts. The Hebrew word for nut is chet, a whose gematria is the same as "sin". On this day we want to avoid any hint of sin. Some say we avoid nuts, and similar foods, because we want to minimize phelgm which might disturb our concentration in prayer.

I. Another custom is to give charity. This is based on:

Nehemiah 8:10 Nehemiah said, "Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of HaShem is your strength."

Here we have another allusion to Psalm 81:1

I suspect that that is why Yeshua said the following AFTER telling his disciples to keep watch:

Matityahu (Matthew) 25:31-46 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' "They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' "He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

Notice that when the Son of Man returns it will be in all His glory. I believe that this is an allusion to His CORONATION which the sages have said will take place on Yom Teruah. The sage, Saadia Gaon, said that the first reason for blowing the shofar on this day is: "Because this day is the beginning of creation, on which the Holy One, blessed be He, created and reigned over it. Just as is with kings at the start of their reign - shofarot and horns are blown in their presence to make it known and let it be heard in every place - thus it is when we designate the Creator, may He be blessed, as king on this day, for David said:"

Tehillim (Psalms) 98:6 With shofarot and the blast of the ram's horn--shout for joy before HaShem, the King.

J. As at all Shabbats and festivals, special holiday clothing is worn, after we have bathed and shaven.

K. We do not weep because we are to be judged:

Nehemiah 8:10 Do not mourn and do not weep, eat delicacies and drink sweet things and send gifts of food to those who lack, for the day is holy unto our Master. Do not grieve for God's joy is your strength.

L. On the first night of Rosh Hashanah, after the Arbit service, it is customary to wish one another the following greeting:

To a man - Leshana tova tikateiv v'techateim!

To a woman - Leshana tova tikateivi vetichatemi!

"May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year, and for good life immediately."

M. We do not recite Hallel. Why? Because it is a day for judgment. Should we rejoice on such a day? Hallel is recited when our hearts are joyful. On this day our hearts are full of fear and trembling.