October/November 2016

Our five senses help us perceive the world around us. Taste, hearing, smell, sight, and touch provide the stimulus for living life. These senses can even create “memory cells” that can be recalled when wanted or needed. I want to connect our five senses to the Fall Jewish holidays. From Rosh Hashanah through Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, each sense can give extra meaning to our experiencing the Holy Day or Festival. And each sense can create positive memory cells that can be recalled, taught, and experienced years from now.

Taste and Rosh Hashanah: It would be easy to connect hearing and the shofar with Rosh Hashanah. Yes, we hear the shofar to awaken within ourselves the urge to do teshuvah (repentance). Another name for Rosh Hashanah is Yom Teruah: the day of the blowing of the horn. While we hear the sounds of the day, I believe most people connect Rosh Hashanah to the family meal after services. It’s the foods and more specifically the tastes of the food that stand out. One can eat a piece of challah or a slice of apple drizzled with honey any time of year, but most people don’t. Only on Rosh Hashanah do we deliberately eat these combinations of sweetness. They are the taste of what we want for the New Year: a sweet and good year ahead.

Hearing and Yom Kippur: Hearing Kol Nidre by our wonderful Hazzan and meshorerim is one of the powerful and moving sounds of Yom Kippur for me. It is not just Kol Nidre, there are numerous prayers on Yom Kippur that move us to reflect on the meaning of Yom Kippur. It is the day when we look inward in silence while hearing the prayers that can move us to do teshuvah.

Smell and Sukkot: The festival of Sukkot is an olfactory revelry. No other Jewish holy day is directly connected with the sense of smell. The etrog is my favorite scent source. It’s the strange lemon-like fruit, with a tantalizing fragrance. Only the etrog and hadas (myrtle) of the luluv are fragrant.   And while dwelling outside in the sukkah, we are surrounded by the smells of Autumn, especially this October as Sukkot falls right in the middle the change of leaves.

Sight and Shemini Atzeret: Officially Shemini Atzeret has no intrinsic symbols, save being called the Festival of Assembly. As our ancestors gathered once more in the Great Temple on the eighth and concluding day of Sukkot, so too do we gather together as a kehillah. The most recognizable part of the service is Yizkor. It is here where our sense of sight comes into play. Seeing one other allows us to remember that we are not alone but connected to a sacred community. The comfort of saying kaddish happens when we see others sharing the experience together on Shemini Atzeret.

Touch and Simchat Torah: It is simply carrying, touching, dancing with Torah that brings the meaning of this fifth sense to light. Torah isn’t just to be seen or heard, it is to interact with. Carrying Torah is to carry our heritage, our peoplehood, our history, and our tradition. Touching Torah brings all this alive.

Our five Holy Days and festivals are vehicles for us to experience our lives and our Judaism to the fullest. May we all revel in our five senses and holy days over the next month.

From my family to yours, Shanah Tova and may we all be inscribed B’sefer Hachayim–the Book of life, for health, happiness, peace, and love.

Rabbi, Dr. Larry Bazer