Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Week 1 (From the Book): To Raise our Heads, Choose a Master, and Recognize G-d’s Oneness
Each week will begin by quoting the week’s animal in Perek Shirah, rabbi in Pirkei Avot, and sefirah combination. The program begins on the week of Rosh Hashanah, coinciding with all or part of selichot, the days of repentance leading up to the holiday. The exact day of the week in which counting starts is the same as the day the Counting of the Omer starts, the second day of the Passover holiday.
The month of Tishrei is represented by the tribe of Ephraim, and is almost entirely devoted to spiritual pursuits. It is replete with Jewish holidays, full of joy from beginning to end. Ephraim, the son of Joseph, studied Torah under his grandfather Jacob and led a life that was almost completely devoted to spiritual concerns.
The first week of the Jewish calendar is the week of Rosh Hashanah, which literally means “the head of the year.” The first animal in Perek Shirah is the rooster, who awakens us by singing an introductory verse followed by seven songs, one for each day of the week. Similarly, on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish people experience a spiritual awakening through the blowing of the shofar. Each of the songs of the rooster parallel the meaning behind the shofar blows that take place on Rosh Hashanah. The shofar is blown 100 times, and the rooster’s verses contain 100 words.
The first week also contains the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah, which are called selichot. On these days, like the rooster, we arise early in the morning in order to ask forgiveness for our sins and begin the year with a clean slate.The rooster, the majestic animal that heads the list of animals in Perek Shirah, represents the concept of G-d's kingship. It is exactly on Rosh Hashanah that the Jewish people acknowledge G-d as King.
The number one represents G-d’s unity as the Master and Creator of the universe. This is the fundamental belief of the Jewish faith.
In Pirkei Avot, the first set of sayings found in Chapter I repeat the idea of receiving guidance from a single teacher/spiritual guide (rav). In order to grow as a person, it is important to have a life coach; someone that knows us well and can therefore guide, answer questions, and be objective about what aspects of our life need improvement.
These verses of Pirkei Avot include an introduction followed by seven pairs of rabbis, which is parallel to the introduction followed by the seven songs of the rooster. Upon careful review, one will find that each of these lessons is intimately connected to Rosh Hashanah, in which we acquire G-d as our ultimate Master.
The first week is associated with the sefirah combination of chesed shebechesed. Chesed means loving kindness, and on Rosh Hashanah we feel that G-d pours his kindness upon His children. The Ba’al Shem Tov explains that the blowing of the shofar is like the cry of a prince who spent years away from home and forgot his mother tongue. Seeing his father, the King, from a distance, the son screams to Him in order to be recognized.
It was exactly on Rosh Hashanah that G-d showed enormous kindness to Sarah, the first of the four matriarchs of the Jewish people. During this festival, Sarah, an elderly woman who had been unable to become pregnant her entire life, received the news that she would give birth to a son, Isaac. It was also on Rosh Hashanah that Chanah was told of the extraordinary news that she would give birth to a son, the prophet Samuel. Chanah was also barren and advanced in years. It is worth noting that the rooster is mentioned in our prayer book as an animal that recognizes the kindness of its Creator. Every day, in our morning prayers, we thank G-d for giving the rooster the understanding to distinguish between day and night.
We can also learn a very important lesson in self-improvement from the rooster. It tells us to stop sleeping, to get up, and to move forward. Getting out of bed is an important first step in fighting sadness. The act of arising in the morning is a daily miracle, as well as an essential action in facing the joys and the challenges of every new day. By tapping into the song of the rooster and the call of the shofar, our physical and spiritual alarm clocks, we acknowledge G-d’s oneness, and take an important first step towards a harmonious, spiritually aware, and productive new year.
 It is worth noting that Rosh Hashanah is also known as “Yom HaDin,” the “Day of Judgment,” which is more associated with gevurah than with chesed. That is because Rosh Hashanah is associated with the judgment of our actions during the previous year (See Week 52), although it is also the day in which all the blessings of the coming year are determined. Perhaps that is another reason why Rosh Hashanah is called “kesseh,” the hidden holiday, for G-d’s tremendous chesed on this day is somewhat hidden.
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