It's beautiful to me the way that biblical time, Jewish time, starts at sundown or it starts at the new moon. It starts with the darkness.

In the same way we bury a seed in the ground, cover it up, and it's in that mysterious process that something new roots and shoots and blossoms and transforms.

It's as though we allow one year to die and a new one to be born. We're laying a year to rest.

And this TEKIYA, this shout, this cry out, is a primal language. A primordial language. A language that doesn't yet have articulation. The cry of the shofar is primary speech. Melody seeking its lyric.

We know so much communication is non-verbal. It's a gesture. This clap, this shout. It's paralanguage. It's all the things other than the words.

Liturgically speaking, the EREV ROSH HASHANAH service, the evening of Rosh Hashanah, varies only from the rest of the years' evening services by one line, the insertion of a line from Psalm Psalm 81, verse 4. TKU BACHODESH SHOFAR, BAKESEH LEYOM CHAGEINU

"Blast on the new moon, the shofar, the ram's horn, on the concealment or the covering of the day of our feast, of our festival."

TIKU is a blast. A clap. A strike.

When we talk about the sounds we hear of the shofar — TEKIYAH! — it's this verb of sounding out. To make a noise.

CHODESH is a word that means month or new moon from the root CHADASH, newness. When the moon is new and renewing itself, it goes dark, so to speak, and some new light, new birth, grows out in that coming moon, in that coming month.

TIKU BACHODESH SHOFAR.

The shofar is the ram's horn. There are countless teachings on shofar, which I won't get into here, but the shofar sounds have several functions: to wake us up; to gather us around; and also to help us move on, move forward.

These horn blasts, in the context of a wilderness people, of a nomadic people, are a signal, a siren, a sign. And depending on how that horn is signaled, it signals different actions or attributes.

KESEH is a word that means full moon. But there's also a notion of covering up. LECHASOT is "to cover up" and in the way that the moon is either covered in light or covered in darkness.

[LEYOM CHAGEINU] "This is the day of our feast, of our festival, of our celebration."

The entire Jewish calendar is tied to the moon cycles. Every month is Rosh Chodesh, the new moon, which begins the day after the new moon, when we can see that first crescent. Or many festivals are on the full moon, or really the day after the full moon — like Passover, like Tu B'Av, Tu Bishvat, Purim — these are celebrations of the cycles of life, renewal and return.

Rosh Chodesh is the new moon. ROSH is a beginning or the start, the "head" of something, the headquarters of something, the beginning of something new.

So Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the year, the head of the year. It's not just the moon's, but the renewal and the cycle of coming together again. And the way that the shofar calls us together, a CHAG is a festival.

There are three pilgrimage festivals or three holidays we call CHAG.

Three times a year we would say CHAG SAMEACH and CHAG is related to going up, pilgrimage. Pilgrimages are Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. Strictly speaking, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are not CHAG. They are known as the ASERET YEMEI TESHUVA, the "10 days of return," but this line here from the Psalms, which is talking about the new moons is also referred to as a CHAG, which means feast, but I think is cognate with the [Arabic] word HAJJ or that circumambulation that happens in Mecca. It's circling around.

So Rosh Hashanah is returning, it's the birthday of the year, it's a birth of a new calendar cycle. It's circling back or spiraling around in this life spiral.

This song is a shout of joy. Its third part — K' K' K' K' KESEH LEYOM — is like the blasts that we hear of the shofar.

May this song, may the shofar, may this new year, be a time of awakening, of circling around, of waking up and going forth to what is deeper and truer and more vital for you — in your life and all life everywhere.

 

Shir Yaakov Feit

About

Shir Yaakov is Kol Hai's founder and spiritual director.