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Kavvanah before Shofar Blowing on Rosh Ḥodesh Elul for Rosh haShanah la-Behemah (the Jewish New Year’s Day for Animals), by Aharon Varady

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For a sourcesheet on Rosh ha-Shanah la-Behemah, find Aharon Varady’s compilation of texts, here.

The text of this ritual shofar blowing for Rosh Ḥodesh Elul and Rosh ha-Shanah La-Behemah developed as part of the annual ceremony taking place at the dairy barn on the campus of the Isabella Freedman Retreat Center beginning in 2009 under the auspices of Elat Chayyim and the Adamah Jewish Farming Fellowship. The ceremony was co-developed by Rabbi Jill Hammer and Sarah Chandler in 2009, with the kavvanah added by Aharon Varady beginning in 2010. The text presented here was further developed by Aharon prior to the Detroit Hazon Jewish Food Festival in 2016.

Source (Hebrew) Translation (English)

(Opening Song: Nishmat Kol Chai Tivarech et Shimcha, YHVH Eloheinu…

If meeting in front of a working farm or garden with grazing animals, introduce the animals and the purpose of the farm to guests, visitors, and staff.

Introduce Rosh haShanah La-Behemah with the following explanation:

On Rosh Ḥodesh Elul falls the Rosh haShanah La-Behemah —
the New Year’s Day for Tithing Domesticated Animals described in the Mishnah.

ראש השנה פרק א משנה א
Seder Moed: Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 1, Mishnah 1

באחד באלול ראש השנה למעשר בהמה.
The first of Elul is the Rosh haShanah for tithing behema (domesticated animals).

On the day intended to count one’s animals for sacrificial temple offerings,
take into account and consider how domesticated animals
rely on humankind for their health and well-being
and in what ways our lives rely upon those of domesticated animals.

On Rosh Ḥodesh Elul,
the first day of the new moon of Elul,
we begin an accounting for all the souls
with whom we are in a relationship.

On a day dedicated to counting,
this is an accounting (a ḥeshbon nefesh) for all of our souls.
Before we can expect to be forgiven our transgressions,
we must examine them thoroughly, and wherever possible, correct and heal them.

On Rosh hashanah la-Behemah,
the New Years Day for Domesticated Animals,
we specifically take into account
all those souls which we depend upon for our diet and lifestyle choices
and which, in turn, depend upon us for their well-being —
all the creatures that we (our society, and our ancestors before us) have brought
from the category of ḥayot (wild animals that can make their own living)
into the category of behemot (domesticated animals which depend upon us for their living).

Just as we depend on the Compassionate One (haRaḥaman) for our sustenance,
so too has humankind made many creatures dependent upon our welfare,
directly through our need for them,
and indirectly through our disruption of their ecosystem.

On the first day of Rosh Ḥodesh Elul
when the shofar is blown to remind us
to begin our preparation for Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe,

  • consider all the animals that were once domesticated and now live as homeless scavengers in our communities,
  • all the animals being used for experiments intended to improve human life,
  • all the animals kept captive to satisfy appetites for flesh and clothing made from their bodies.

The mitsvah in the Torah
that demands our mindful awareness of the suffering of all living creatures
is called tsa’ar baalei ḥayim.
We are forbidden to cause other creatures unnecessary suffering,
and we are obligated not to turn away from, pass by, or neglect other creatures
that have fallen under the burden our fellow human beings have placed upon them.

Before we ask the blessed Holy One, our Shepherd,
to take responsibility with care and compassion for their flock,
we must show that we are taking care and responsibility
for the flock that depends on us.

For Elohim gave us dominion —
the power to domesticate other creatures —
to cultivate and preserve the Garden of Eden with them.
We are liable for their care
and we are liable for our impact together on the Adamah,
which Elohim loves.

Take a census of all the creatures you are directly and indirectly in relationship with.
In what way can you take responsibility for the animals on whom your lifestyle and diet depends?

Take a moment, consider, and share your your thoughts with a friend or someone next to you, then pause and listen for the voice of the animals in the sound of the shofar.

Take a moment for people to coalesce, share thoughts.

On the first day of the month of Elul,
on the New Year’s Day for all animals that depend on us for their welfare,
when our thoughts turn inwards towards correcting and healing all of our relationships,
listen for the voice of the animals in the sound of the shofar.

(The shofar is blown once, a single tekiyah/blast.)

(If the ritual is taking place at an animal pen: Open the gates to the animal pen and let any shepherded animals (e.g. goats) run free.)

We have become as the Nefilim and the Giants in the Generation of the Flood: tyrants on this planet, using its resources for ourselves and driving its wild creatures into the corners of the earth.

As our energy, food, settlement, and other land use choices impact and disrupt the capability of ḥayot (wild animals) to make their own living, the more we incur liability for their lives as animals that depend on us for their welfare.

Before we can make amends to one another this Elul Zman, we must first make amends to the vulnerable creatures who live among us.

As we hear the cry of the shofar for the first time, may we hear in it the cry of all animals, behemot and ḥayot, together with all our interconnected ecosystems supporting life on earth.

May the One who is the breath of life guide us to protect the earth and make room in it for other creatures to thrive.

(The shofar is blown a second time.)

We are grateful for all the good we receive from behemot, from domesticated animals.

  • Some of us eat them,
  • some wear their skins,
  • some eat eggs and cheese,
  • some use medicines and even organs that come from animals,
  • some wear wool and silk,
  • some write on Torah scrolls, wear tefillin, and blow shofarot that come from animal’s bodies.
  • Some of us do none of these things, but we benefit from the bee that pollinates the flowers and the worm that softens the earth.

May the One who is the breath of life cause us to be mindful of these gifts and never to waste them or take them for granted.

(The shofar is blown a third time.)

We bless all the creatures, behemot and ḥayot we are privileged to live with on the earth:

  • the loving companion animals who live in our houses,
  • the birds at our windows and in the forests,
  • the burrowing creatures under our feet,
  • the fish in the waters of our streams and oceans.

May the One who is the breath of life bless all living things that we love and strengthen them.

We bless all the spirits, all the nefashot we are privileged to live with on the earth, the known and the unknown.

עֲשָׂרָה דְבָרִים נִבְרְאוּ בְּעֶרֶב שַׁבָּת בֵּין הַשְּׁמָשׁוֹת, וְאֵלּוּ הֵן,
פִּי הָאָרֶץ,
וּפִי הַבְּאֵר,
וּפִי הָאָתוֹן,
וְיֵשׁ אוֹמְרִים,
אַף הַמַּזִּיקִין,
וּקְבוּרָתוֹ שֶׁל משֶׁה,
וְאֵילוֹ שֶׁל אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ.
וְיֵשׁ אוֹמְרִים, אַף צְבָת בִּצְבָת עֲשׂוּיָה:
Ten things were created on the eve of the [first] Shabbat at twilight. They are:
the mouth of the earth [that swallowed Qoraḥ and his followers in the wilderness],
the mouth of the well [of Miriam, that accompanied the Camp of the Israelites in the wilderness],
the mouth of the donkey [which spoke to Bil’am],
the rainbow [of the covenant with the survivors of the Great Flood],
the manna [that nourished the children of Israel through their journey in the wilderness],
Moshe’s staff,
the shamir [worm whose secretion enabled the First Temple to be built without iron tools],
the writing (of the tablets of the Ten Commandments),
the writing instrument [for the tablets of the covenant on Mt. Sinai],
and the tablets [of the covenant at Mt. Sinai].
Some say [also]:
the sheidim [the unseen spirits animating creation around us],
the grave of Moshe [hidden from us],
and the ram [sacrificed in place of Isaac on Mount Moriah].
And some say, also the [first human-made] tongs, made with [Divine] tongs.

(Bring forward or turn toward any creatures you wish to bless. Together, recite the following blessing over observing creatures that one finds strange or unusual.)

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה
יְיָ אֶלֹהֵינוּ
מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם,
מְשַׁנֶּה הַבְּרִיּוֹת:
Blessed are you
YHVH our elo’ah
Cosmic Majesty
who diversified the creatures.

Baruch ata
adonai eloheinu
melekh ha’olam,
meshaneh/meshanah haberiyot.

Beruchah at
shekhinah eloheinu
ruach ha’olam,
meshaneh/meshanah haberiyot.

Another translation:

Blessed are You,
Infinite Presence
surrounding and filling the world,
who makes many kinds of creatures.
May we hear their voices and delight in them.

(The shofar is blown a fourth and final time.)

Optional: Songs and Liturgy

תְּהִלִּים לו
Psalms 36

Psalms 36:7 declares that both the fate of humankind and its domesticated animals are preserved by Hashem.

1 לַמְנַצֵּ֬חַ ׀ לְעֶֽבֶד־יְהוָ֬ה לְדָוִֽד׃

2 נְאֻֽם־פֶּ֣שַׁע לָ֭רָשָׁע בְּקֶ֣רֶב לִבִּ֑י
אֵֽין־פַּ֥חַד אֱ֝לֹהִ֗ים לְנֶ֣גֶד עֵינָֽיו׃

3 כִּֽי־הֶחֱלִ֣יק אֵלָ֣יו בְּעֵינָ֑יו
לִמְצֹ֖א עֲוֺנ֣וֹ לִשְׂנֹֽא׃

4 דִּבְרֵי־פִ֭יו אָ֣וֶן וּמִרְמָ֑ה
חָדַ֖ל לְהַשְׂכִּ֣יל לְהֵיטִֽיב׃

5 אָ֤וֶן ׀ יַחְשֹׁ֗ב עַֽל־מִשְׁכָּ֫ב֥וֹ
יִ֭תְיַצֵּב עַל־דֶּ֣רֶךְ לֹא־ט֑וֹב
רָ֝֗ע לֹ֣א יִמְאָֽס׃

6 יְ֭הוָה בְּהַשָּׁמַ֣יִם חַסְדֶּ֑ךָ
אֱ֝מֽוּנָתְךָ֗ עַד־שְׁחָקִֽים׃

7 צִדְקָֽתְךָ֨ ׀ כְּֽהַרְרֵי־אֵ֗ל
מִ֭שְׁפָּטֶךָ תְּה֣וֹם רַבָּ֑ה
אָ֤דָֽם־וּבְהֵמָ֖ה תוֹשִׁ֣יעַ יְהוָֽה׃

8 מַה־יָּקָ֥ר חַסְדְּךָ֗ אֱלֹ֫הִ֥ים
וּבְנֵ֥י אָדָ֑ם
בְּצֵ֥ל כְּ֝נָפֶ֗יךָ יֶחֱסָיֽוּן׃

9 יִ֭רְוְיֻן מִדֶּ֣שֶׁן בֵּיתֶ֑ךָ
וְנַ֖חַל עֲדָנֶ֣יךָ תַשְׁקֵֽם׃

10 כִּֽי־עִ֭מְּךָ מְק֣וֹר חַיִּ֑ים
בְּ֝אוֹרְךָ֗ נִרְאֶה־אֽוֹר׃

11 מְשֹׁ֣ךְ חַ֭סְדְּךָ לְיֹדְעֶ֑יךָ
וְ֝צִדְקָֽתְךָ֗ לְיִשְׁרֵי־לֵֽב׃

12 אַל־תְּ֭בוֹאֵנִי רֶ֣גֶל גַּאֲוָ֑ה
וְיַד־רְ֝שָׁעִ֗ים אַל־תְּנִדֵֽנִי׃

13 שָׁ֣ם נָ֭פְלוּ פֹּ֣עֲלֵי אָ֑וֶן
דֹּ֝ח֗וּ וְלֹא־יָ֥כְלוּ קֽוּם׃

For the Leader. [A Psalm] of David the servant of YHVH.

Transgression speaks to the wicked, methinks—
There is no fear of God before their eyes.

For it flatters them in their eyes,
Until their iniquity is found, and they be hated.

The words of their mouth are iniquity and deceit;
They have left off to be wise, to do good.

They devise iniquity upon their bed;
They set themselves in a way that is not good;
They abhor not evil.

Your lovingkindness, YHVH, is in the heavens;
Your faithfulness reaches unto the skies.

Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains;
Your judgments are like the great deep;
Human (adam) and domesticated animal (behemah) you preserve, YHVH.

How precious is your lovingkindness, Elohim!
And the children of Adam
take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

They are abundantly satisfied with the fatness of your house;
And you make them drink of the river of your pleasures.

For with you is the fountain of life;
In your light do we see light.

O continue your lovingkindness unto them that know you;
And your righteousness to the upright in heart.

Let not the foot of pride overtake me,
And let not the hand of the wicked drive me away.

There are the workers of iniquity fallen;
They are thrust down, and are not able to rise.

תְּהִלִּים סה
Psalms 65

Talmud Bavli Rosh Hashana 8a gives Psalms 65:13 as the source-text for whenthe New Year’s Day for tithing domesticated animals occurs.

לַמְנַצֵּ֥חַ מִזְמ֗וֹר לְדָוִ֥ד שִֽׁיר׃

לְךָ֤ דֻֽמִיָּ֬ה תְהִלָּ֓ה אֱלֹ֘הִ֥ים בְּצִיּ֑וֹן
וּ֝לְךָ֗ יְשֻׁלַּם־נֶֽדֶר׃

שֹׁמֵ֥עַ תְּפִלָּ֑ה עָ֝דֶ֗יךָ כָּל־בָּשָׂ֥ר יָבֹֽאוּ׃

דִּבְרֵ֣י עֲ֭וֺנֹת גָּ֣בְרוּ מֶ֑נִּי
פְּ֝שָׁעֵ֗ינוּ אַתָּ֥ה תְכַפְּרֵֽם׃

אַשְׁרֵ֤י ׀ תִּֽבְחַ֣ר וּתְקָרֵב֮ יִשְׁכֹּ֪ן חֲצֵ֫רֶ֥יךָ
נִ֭שְׂבְּעָה בְּט֣וּב בֵּיתֶ֑ךָ קְ֝דֹ֗שׁ הֵיכָלֶֽךָ׃

נ֤וֹרָא֨וֹת ׀ בְּצֶ֣דֶק תַּ֭עֲנֵנוּ אֱלֹהֵ֣י יִשְׁעֵ֑נוּ
מִבְטָ֥ח כָּל־קַצְוֵי־אֶ֝֗רֶץ וְיָ֣ם רְחֹקִֽים׃

מֵכִ֣ין הָרִ֣ים בְּכֹח֑וֹ נֶ֝אְזָ֗ר בִּגְבוּרָֽה׃

מַשְׁבִּ֤יחַ ׀ שְׁא֣וֹן יַ֭מִּים שְׁא֥וֹן גַּלֵּיהֶ֗ם וַהֲמ֥וֹן לְאֻמִּֽים׃

וַיִּ֤ירְא֨וּ ׀ יֹשְׁבֵ֣י קְ֭צָוֺת מֵאוֹתֹתֶ֑יךָ
מ֤וֹצָֽאֵי־בֹ֖קֶר וָעֶ֣רֶב תַּרְנִֽין׃

פָּקַ֥דְתָּ הָאָ֨רֶץ ׀ וַתְּשֹׁ֪קְקֶ֡הָ רַבַּ֬ת תַּעְשְׁרֶ֗נָּה
פֶּ֣לֶג אֱ֭לֹהִים מָ֣לֵא מָ֑יִם
תָּכִ֥ין דְּ֝גָנָ֗ם כִּי־כֵ֥ן תְּכִינֶֽהָ׃

תְּלָמֶ֣יהָ רַ֭וֵּה נַחֵ֣ת
גְּדוּדֶ֑יהָ בִּרְבִיבִ֥ים
תְּ֝מֹגְגֶ֗נָּה צִמְחָ֥הּ תְּבָרֵֽךְ׃

עִ֭טַּרְתָּ שְׁנַ֣ת טוֹבָתֶ֑ךָ
וּ֝מַעְגָּלֶ֗יךָ יִרְעֲפ֥וּן דָּֽשֶׁן׃

יִ֭רְעֲפוּ נְא֣וֹת מִדְבָּ֑ר
וְ֝גִ֗יל גְּבָע֥וֹת תַּחְגֹּֽרְנָה׃

לָבְשׁ֬וּ כָרִ֨ים ׀
הַצֹּ֗אן וַעֲמָקִ֥ים יַֽעַטְפוּ־בָ֑ר
יִ֝תְרוֹעֲע֗וּ אַף־יָשִֽׁירוּ׃

For the Leader. A Psalm. A Song of David.

Praise waits for you, Elohim, in Tsiyon;
and unto you the vow is performed.

You who hears prayer; unto you does all flesh come.

The tale of iniquities is too heavy for me;
as for our transgressions, you will pardon them.

Happy is the one whom you choose and bring near, that they may dwell in your courts;
may we be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holy place of your temple!

With wondrous works do you answer us in righteousness, elo’ah of our salvation;
You are the confidence of all the ends of the earth, and of the far distant seas;

Who by your strength sets fast the mountains, who are girded about with might;

Who stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the tumult of the peoples;

So that they that dwell in the uttermost parts stand in awe of your signs;
You make the outgoings of the morning and evening rejoice.

You have remembered the earth, and watered her,
greatly enriching her, with the river of Elohim that is full of water;
You prepare them corn, for so prepare you her.

Watering her ridges abundantly, settling down the furrows thereof,
You makest her soft with showers;
You bless the growth thereof.

You crown the year with your goodness;
and your paths drop fatness.

The pastures of the wilderness do drop;
and the hills are girded with joy.

The meadows are clothed with flocks;
the valleys also are covered over with corn;
they shout for joy, yea, they sing.

Closing Song: Kol Haneshama

In rabbinic Judaism, the law of tsaar baalei ḥayyim is derived from Genesis 9:4, as interpreted in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 59a). Compassion for animals is declared to have been the merit of Moshe which made him the shepherd of his people (Exodus Rabbah 2), while Yehudah ha-Nasi saw in his own ailment the punishment for having once failed to show compassion for a frightened calf (Bava Metzia 85a). The aggadic (mythic) tradition concerned with the origin of predatory nature in Olam Hazeh (this world) can be found in the Jewish deutero-canonical works of Sefer Ḥanokh (1 Enoch) and Sefer Yubalim (Jubilees) as well as in Midrash Abkir and the collection of rabbinic midrash and midrash aggadah, Yalkut Shimoni.

In Sefer Yubalim (circa 3rd century BCE), the need for circumscribing the predatory nature of humankind after the Dor Hamabul (depraved generation of the Flood) is given as the raison d’etre for the giving of the Torah. As required by the covenant of the Rainbow made to Noaḥ and his descendants after the flood, a representative people was needed who might abide by the general commandment of ever min haḥai (forbidding eating living creatures). In this tradition, Avraham was the first to prove worthy since his actions epitomized ḥesed, lovingkindness (an innovation in Judaism’s mytho-historic chronicle of humanity in Genesis). As noted in Rav Shlomo Kluger’s HaElef L’cha Shlomo in Yoreh Deah 322, dairy foods, the product of living creatures, were prohibited after the Flood, but this prohibition was relaxed upon the giving of the Torah at Sinai just as the prohibition against eating flesh was relaxed after the covenant at Ararat. For this reason, dairy is a symbolic food eaten on the festival of Shavuot (Pentecost) and remains a symbolic food representing the subversion of predatory nature as reflected in Megillat Yehudith and the dairy food traditions of the festival of Ḥanukkah. (More here.)


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