Selichos is a series of penitential prayers that are recited several days before Rosh Hashanah. It is important to attend synagogue for Selichos, as its text contains several important passages which may be said only in the presence of a minyan.
Rosh Hashanah means, literally, “Head of the Year.” It is the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, highlighting the special relationship between G-d and humanity. The primary theme of the day is our acceptance of G-d as our King. G-d not only wants to have a world populated with people, He wants an intimate relationship with each one of us. In addition to the collective aspects of Rosh Hashanah worship, each man and woman personally asks G-d to accept the coronation, thus creating the bond of “We are Your people and You are our King.”
Fast of Gedalia, usually occurs one day after Rosh Hashanah and commemorates the assassination of Gedalia, Governor of Judah, whose murder ended Jewish autonomy following the destruction of the First Temple. When Rosh Hashanah occurs on Thursday and Friday, the fast occurs on Sunday, since we don’t fast on Shabbos.
Yizkor, a special memorial prayer for the departed, will be recited following the Torah reading on Yom Kippur and Shemini Atzeres. Yizkor means “Remember” and represents the overall theme of the prayer, in which we implore G-d to remember the souls of our relatives and friends that have passed on. When we recite Yizkor, we renew and strengthen the connection between us and our loved one, bringing merit to the departed souls, elevating them in their celestial homes. The main component of Yizkor is our private pledge to give charity following the holiday in honor of the deceased. By giving charity, we are performing a positive physical deed in this world, something that the departed can no longer do.
Yom Kippur commemorates the day that G-d forgave the Jewish people for the sin of the
Golden Calf. Moses spent 40 days on top of Mount Sinai pleading w th G-d for forgiveness. On the tenth of Tishrei, G-d gave Moses the second set of tablets containing The Ten Commandments. From that moment on, henceforth known as the Day of Atonement, we observe this date every year as a commemoration of our special relationship with G-d, a relationship that is strong enough to survive any rocky bumps it might encounter. Yom Kippur also features the Yizkor prayer, asking G-d to remember the souls of the departed.
Sukkos. For forty years, as our ancestors crossed the Sinai Desert prior to their entry into the Holy Land, miraculous “clouds of glory” surrounded and hovered over them, shielding them from the dangers and discomforts of the desert. Ever since, we remember G-d’s kindness and reaffirm our trust in His providence by dwelling in a sukkah – a hut of temporary construction with a roo -covering of branches – for the duration of the Sukkos festival. For eight days and nights, we eat all our meals in the sukkah, and regard it as our home.
Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah, are independent holidays, that immediately follow Sukkos. These holidays are characterized by joyousness, which surpasses even the joy of Sukkos. Shemini Atzeres features the prayer for rain, officially commemorating the start of the rainy season in Israel, and the Yizkor prayer, asking G-d to remember the souls of the departed. The joy reaches its climax on Simchat Torah, when we celebrate the conclusion and restart of the annual Torah-reading cycle. The highlight of Simchas Torah are the hakafos, held both on the eve and morning of Simchat Torah, in which we march and dance with Torah scrolls around the synagogue.