Debate Magazine

Women of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur

Posted on the 07 October 2011 by Starofdavida
Women of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur areprobably the most well-known Jewish holidays. Separated by the Aseret YimeiTeshuva, ten days of repentance, they’re the two holiest days on the Jewishcalendar. Rosh HaShanah, which commemorates the creation of the world, is whenGod judges everyone. The completely righteous are immediately written in theBook of Life; the completely evil are blotted out. In the interim AseretYimei Teshuva, those who fall somewhere in between are given the chance to domore good deeds and tip the scales in their favor. On Yom Kippur, we do teshuva(repentance) for all the bad things we did in the past year, and hope that thegood deeds we did will redeem us and get our names into the Book of Life.
Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippuroccur in the month of Tishrei (September-October). Technically, this is thefirst month of the Jewish year; however, Nissan (April-May) is biblicallyconsidered the first month, as the Jews were freed from slavery in Egypt duringNissan. Tishrei is the seventh month from Nissan. The number seven has a lot ofsignificance in Judaism. One reason is because there are seven female prophetsin the Bible: Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah, and Esther. Eachof these prophets has a unique connection to Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur thatwe must learn from.
Sarah, the firstMatriarch, relates to the shofar, the ram’s horn that is blown on RoshHaShanah. According to Leviticus Rabbah (a commentary), after the Binding ofIsaac, Isaac returned home and told Sarah what had happened. Disturbed by thefact that her only child, who she gave birth to at age ninety, was almostkilled by his own father; “Thereupon she uttered sixcries, corresponding to the six blasts of the shofar.”
We read the story of the Bindingof Isaac every Rosh HaShanah. The shofar is made of a ram’s horn, whichis the animal that Abraham sacrificed in Isaac’s stead. Sarah’s cries determinethe number of times we blow the shofar. This shows us that every familymember should have the same opportunities to connect to God during RoshHaShanah and Yom Kippur. Mothers and girls over bat mitzvah age shouldn’t beexpected to stay home with the children and cook; they should be able to go tosynagogue and pray. Fathers and boys over bar mitzvah age should share theresponsibility and take care of issues in the home too. That way, everyone getsa chance to connect to God on the holiest days of the year.
Miriam was Moses andAaron’s older sister. She has a deep connection to water: her name means bitterwater, it was in her merit that the Jews had a well of water while theywandered in the wilderness for forty years, and she led the Jewish womenthrough the Red Sea. She was not always aspure as water, though, since she sinned by speaking lashon hara (evilspeech) about Zipporah, Moses’ wife. Just like water is clean and basic, we areall forgiven for our bitter sins and given a clean slate on Yom Kippur: back tothe basics. We should learn from Miriam that no one is past teshuva, andwe can all achieve a sinless state.
Deborah, the prophet andjudge, connects to the mazal (fortune) of the month of Tishrei: scales. Accordingto the Sefer Yetzirah, this is because we are all judged on RoshHaShanah and Yom Kippur, our good and bad deeds compared in a scale. Deborahdispensed justice among the Jews of her generation, judging them from her datetree. We should learn from Deborah that if she was able to judge others, weshould all be able to judge ourselves. Part of teshuva, especiallyaround the Aseret Yimei Teshuva, is making a heshbon hanefesh, orthinking back on all of the things we’ve done in the past year. To make up forthe bad things we must have done, we should continue to try to tip the scalesin our favor and do as many good deeds as possible.
Hannah was the prophetSamuel’s mother. Samuel was the one of the greatest prophets that ever lived:he anointed Saul and David as kings over the Jews, and delivered countlessprophesies. His greatness, however, was all due to his mother. Hannah wasunable to have children, so she begged God for years, beseeching the Creator tobless her with a child. Her prayers were answered on Rosh HaShanah. (The sameis true for Sarah with Isaac.) She composed the Song of Hannah in thanks. Heractions show us that nothing is beyond prayers; if we ask God with the rightamount of sincerity, the Holy One, the God of Mercy, will answer all of ourprayers.
Abigail was one of KingDavid’s wives, known as an intelligent and beautiful woman. Her name in Hebrewhas the letter lamed (which makes the l sound). This shows herconnection to Tishrei, as the letter that represents Tishrei is a lamed.The reason for this is because the shape of the letter reaches up, towards thesky (not unlike an l), as if it were longing to return to the source of lifeabove, our Creator. We try to ascend to the highest levels of spirituality andcreate the closest connection to God possible on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.Abigail’s name ends with a lamed. This shows that she went through lifeconstantly trying to improve herself, working hard to reach the highest levelsof being one with God. If we just try to copy her diligence, we’ll be set for ahappy, sweet new year.
Huldah is one of the moreobscure biblical women. She was a prophet during Jeremiah’s time, andprophesied for King Josiah. In addition to having the letter lamed inher name, she was from the tribe of Ephraim, which corresponds to Tishrei. Thisis because the word ephraim comes from the root word pri, whichliterally means fruit; it’s used in the verse “to be fruitful and multiply” (Gen1:28), the first commandment given in the Torah. Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippurare all about rebirth: wiping away the bad of last year, working on making thenext year better. Huldah is also known for teaching young women, helping thegenerations be reborn with Torah knowledge. We should learn from Huldah that wehave to take our lives into our own hands and rebirth ourselves, that we haveto purposely reach out to God to get closer to the Holy One, especially at thistime of year.
Esther is the famedprotagonist of the Purim story, who saved the Jews from extinction at the handsof Haman. The holiday of Purim is considered to be even more important than YomKippur. The Zohar, the main Kabbalah book, points out similarities betweenEsther’s approach to Ahasuerus (in order to invite him to a party to exposeHaman’s plot) and the Kohen Gadol (High Priest of the Temple) on Yom Kippur. Queen Esther dressedin her special royal garments, fasted, and entered King Ahasuerus’ innerchambers at risk to her life (because he had not called for her) in order toplead for the Jewish people; the Kohen Gadol dressed in special whitegarments, fasted, and entered the Kodesh Kodashim, the innermost sanctuaryof the Temple (forbidden except on Yom Kippur) in order to plead for the Jewishpeople. If Esther was on the same level as the Kohen Gadol, the onlyperson who was ever allowed into the home of God’s presence, it’s all we can doto try and emulate her.
This Rosh HaShanah, AseretYimei Teshuva, and Yom Kippur, it’s essential that we learn from the sevenwomen prophets mentioned in Tanakh (Jewish Bible). They gave us theirlegacy in order for us to live the best lives we can.

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