History: The first mention of a scheduled Torah-reading cycle appears in the Bible, in Deuteronomy, where Moses instructs the tribe of Levi and the elders of Israel to gather all the people for a public reading from portions of the Torah once every seven years. The need to read the Torah publicly intensified after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE; Jews were dispersed into other parts of the Middle East, into North Africa, and into Europe; and their earlier religious and cultural world became decentralized. By the beginning of the 7th century CE the Jews of Babylon established the custom of completing the entire cycle each year, which they did by dividing the Torah into 54 weekly portions. In Hebrew, the word for portion is parsha (plural, parshiyot).
Today: The weekly Torah portion, parshat hashavuah, serves as the focal point for much Jewish learning, from individual study to informal discussion groups to rabbis’ sermons. Each portion is named for the first word or words of the passage — and each linked to a specific week. The weekly portion is read aloud, or chanted, from the Torah scroll as part of the Torah service in synagogue on Shabbat (Saturday) morning. It is also usually the focus of our afternoon Yeshivas.
At City on the Hill, we get our Torah portions from the First Fruits of Zion website, torahportions.ffoz.org and Ahavat Ammi Pearls of Torah, https://ahavatammi.org/our-teachings/pearls-of-torah/.
“From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf [omer] of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks [Sabbaths].” (Leviticus 23:15)
Therefore, the counting of the Omer for seven weeks of seven days (49 days) represents the expectation of completion, the age of a universal “rest,” which is the coming of Messiah, and the Messianic age. This counting links Passover, which commemorates the Exodus, with Shavuot, which commemorates the giving of the Law. Counting the Omer today reminds the Jewish People that their redemption from slavery in Egypt was not complete until they received the Torah. Similarly, we are to be counting the days in blessed anticipation until Yeshua returns and establishes His Kingdom of righteousness, peace, and justice on this earth.
Today, these 49 days are counted aloud every evening after sundown. Before counting, a special blessing is recited:
“Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, Ruler of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us concerning counting the Omer.”
“Today is __ days, which is __ week(s) and __ days of the Omer.”
Tashlich, the ritual ceremony that takes place in the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah, is a powerful opportunity for families to have a concrete experience of repentance. The actual ceremony involves casting breadcrumbs, which symbolize a person’s sins, into a moving body of water, symbolically repenting for those sins and casting them away for a fresh start in the new year. Children enjoy this ritual, and they can understand the idea that even though they have made mistakes, they can learn from their errors, ask forgiveness, repent and try not to repeat them in the new year. Bring the spirit of tashlich into your home by using bathtub crayons or markers to re-enact the ritual at tub time. If your child can write, they can write brief descriptions of their mistakes (“forgot to share,” “was unkind to David”) on the bathtub or the bottom edge of the tile wall.
Drawings of the playground where Alyssa pushed a friend, or the dinner table where Jon threw spaghetti, can also be used to depict the mistakes kids have made. Have your child swirl a washcloth around in the water to mimic the moving waters of traditional tashlich, and invite them to wash their mistakes away. Point out how fresh and clean the tub looks, and remind them that Rosh Hashanah is a chance for a similar fresh start.
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In her Fresh Bread segment on Shabbat, July 6, Rozalie mentioned the letter George Washington sent to the synagogue in Rhode Island. In part:
"For happily the Government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support."