Rabbi Eli Backman, rabbi at UMDChabad. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Backman.

Why does the first month of the Jewish calendar – Tishrai – have so many holidays? We miss so much school right away…could it not have been divided more evenly through out the year?

In order to break you into school slowly….

Commerce was different years ago, in many ways. Without transportation like we have today, every region would have a large fair once a year. Everyone who made something or had something to sell would bring their items to sell at the once-a-year fair. In their little corner/stall they would sell what they brought. At the end of the fair everyone would pack up all the different things which they bought and go home. Through out the next year when ever they needed something they would go back to their bags and unpack that item: a little firewood in the winter, a little salt for their food, some shmatas to clean with, some schmaltz to grease the pan and so on.

Tishrai is the beginning of the year and has the same quality. We go to the ‘fair’ and load up on our relationship with G-d on Rosh Hashanah, we load up on forgiveness on Yom Kippur, we load up on our unity and community on Sukkot, and finally we load up on joy and dancing on Simchat Torah. Through out the long ‘routine’ year (Notice how the next month on the Hebrew calendar – Cheshvan – has no holidays at all) we slowly unpack the inspiration or joy we need from our ‘Tishrai’ bags and revive ourselves.

So, this year load up on it all, take in each holiday and its unique theme! You will use it well throughout the rest of the year.

Can one use splenda instead of honey to dip into?

Part of the significance on Rosh Hashanah is being stuck to G-d and family for another year and only honey can do that…

Honey comes from a bee–an insect that is not only inedible, but it also actually stings. Nevertheless, the honey that it produces is sweet. 

Honey represents a sweetness; a sweetness that comes from times of challenge. Challenges when things don’t go the way that we would like them to, when tragedy strikes, when our job is in jeopardy, when we fail to reach the goals we expected of ourselves, when our relationships are being strained and tested, or when we feel alone.

At those times when life hands us our challenges, they seem bitter and insurmountable, like the sting of a bee. But if we are strong and withstand difficult times, and overcome the obstacles to our own happiness, we reveal layers of our personality that we would never have tapped into if we weren’t challenged. Something deeper is brought out when we are tested. We have all experienced events in our lives that at the time were painful, but in retrospect we say, “Thank G-d for the tough times–imagine where I would be without them!” So, we use honey, to remind us that just as honey is a by product of a bee, so to our sweetness is a by product of our challenges.

I was told I also have a Jewish birthday, what does that mean and why do I need it?

How about double the presents!

Establishing a “Jewish calendar” was the first mitzvah (commandment) the Jewish nation received from G‑d. This unique calendar is based on the lunar months but is occasionally adjusted so that it remains synchronized with the solar year and its seasons. Incidentally, Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the birth of Adam, not the birth of the world, the first human birthday! 

Your Jewish Birthday is the day you were born on the Jewish calendar. From year to year, a date on the Jewish calendar will fluctuate with respect to other calendar systems, but will always remain in close proximity – about three weeks – to its corresponding date on the commonly used Gregorian (solar-based) calendar. 

As individuals we celebrate those dates that have personal significance your Jewish birthday has dual significance: a) According to Jewish tradition, your mazal (good fortune) is dominant on your birthday. b) As a nation we celebrate those dates when special events that affected our destiny occurred, a.k.a. holidays. As individuals we celebrate those dates that have personal significance—and what is more significant than your birth? It is when the Creator said, “Here, I am giving you a body, a soul, and a divine mission. I have absolute trust in your ability to pull through for Me.”

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