1. Rosh Hashana is a Jewish gift to humanity as are the Shabbat, the seven day week cycle, Yom Kippur and the Torah, which greatly impacted the Founding Fathers of the USA. Rosh Hashana is a universal feature of Judaism, committed to the enhancement of humanity (Tikkun Olam), and not just the Jewish People.
2. ROSH (Hashana) means in Hebrew “BEGINNING”, “SOURCE”, “ORIGIN”. The Hebrew letters of ROSH are at the heart/middle of the Hebrew word for the book of Genesis, “BERESHIT”, which is the first word in the Hebrew Bible, containing some of the key messages of that divine document. Rosh Hashana is celebrated during the Hebrew month of TISHREY, which means GENESIS in ancient Acadian. Rosh Hashana is referred to as “HA’RA’T OLAM” (the pregnancy of the world), and its prayers highlight the pregnancies of SARAH and CHANAH who gave birth to ISAAC and SAMUEL. NOAH – who led the rebirth of humanity/world – also features in Rosh Hashana prayers.
2. ROSH (Hashana) also means “HEAD” in Hebrew. This is the occasion when one should exercise the head/brain, with the aim of concluding key decisions for the coming year.
3. (Rosh) HASHANA is a derivative of two Hebrew words, LISHNOT (to repeat) and SHINUI (a change) – While we go through a cycle of another year, we should not repeat past errors, but rather enhance the quality of our life through a positive change.
4. COMMEMORATION DAY (“Yom Hazikaron” in Hebrew) is one of the names of Rosh Hashana. One can avoid past mistakes and enhance future quality of life by examining history (roots, principles, values, precedents). The more one remembers, the deeper are the roots and the greater is one’s stability and one’s capability to withstand storms of pressure and temptation. The more stable/calculated/moral is the head of the year (Rosh Hashana), the more constructive is the rest of the year.
Rosh Hashana commemorates:
*The appearance of the FIRST HUMAN BEING on the sixth day of The Creation;
*The opening of the Ark of NOAH following The Flood;
*The almost-sacrifice of ISAAC (another Jewish gift to humanity – no human sacrifices);
*The release of JOSEPH (who is buried in northern Samaria, Nablus) from Egyptian jail;
*The laying of the cornerstone for the Second TEMPLE;
*The beginning of the CYCLE OF NATURE – seed planting – and equality of day and night (Rosh Hashana is the holiday of Rejuvenation & Reawakening);
*The three Patriarchs, ABRAHAM, ISAAC and JACOB were born during the first month of the year (Tishrey, which is called “The Month of the Strong Ones” (Nature and Patriarchs); The two days of Rosh Hashana are dedicated to Abraham and Isaac and Yom Kippur (which ends the Ten Days of Repentance/Atonement, initiated on Rosh Hashana) is dedicated to JACOB.
*The Patriarch ISAAC and the Prophet SAMUEL were conceived, in Tishrey, by SARAH and CHANAH;
5. STOCK TAKING (REPENTANCE) DAY (Yom Teshuva, Yom Hadeen in Hebrew) is another feature of Rosh Hashana, which is the first of the Ten Days of Atonement, culminating on Yom Kippur. TESHUVA means RETURN, which encompasses spiritual and physical qualities – Returning to core morality and returning to the Homeland. The more detached one is from one’s spiritual roots, the less attached is one to the physical homeland, susceptible to trade the homeland for political, diplomatic, military or economic short-term convenience. On Rosh Hashana one is expected to plan a “budget” for the entire year. The prerequisite for a wholesome “budget” is HUMILITY, without which one is incapable of objective “stock taking”. The three Hebrew words, Teshuva (repentance/atonement), Shiva (return) and Shabbat – derived from the same root – constitute a triangular (personal and national) foundation, whose strength depends on the level of Commemoration.
6. THE SHOFAR (ritual horn) is blown on Rosh Hashana, which is also called “YOM TE’ROO’AH” (the day of blowing the Shofar). Shofar is a derivative of the Hebrew word for IMPROVEMENT (Shipur), which requires a blow of the Shofar to awaken one’s conscience. SOUL-SEARCHING requires HUMILITY, symbolized by the Shofar, which is not supposed to be decorated with silver or gold. There are three types of Shofar-blowing, commemorating the three patriarchs and the three types of human beings on judgment day (pious, evil and mediocre).
There are TEN COMMEMORATIVE MEANINGS to the Shofar:
*The superiority of G-D;
*The pleading to G-D;
*The gift of the Torah at Mt. Sinai;
*The wisdom of the Prophets;
*The destruction of the Temples;
*The lessons of the almost-sacrifice of Isaac;
*The human anxiety/fear;
*The Judgment Day;
*The spiritual and physical deliverance of slaves, Peoples, etc. (The Shofar is made from the horn of a ram, which is a peaceful animal equipped, but with strong horns in order to fend off wild animals);
The Shofar used to lead nations to the battle field. On Rosh Hashana the Shofar leads individuals to the battle of soul-searching.
7. Rosh Hashana customs feature dipping apple (the forbidden fruit) in HONEY and eating POMEGRANATE (the Tree of Life at Garden of Eden), while wishing each other:
“May the coming year be renewed with goodness and sweetness, may our rewards be as numerous as the pomegranate seeds (613 = number of Jewish commandments), may the past year with its curses be over, and may the coming year with its blessings dawn upon us.”
By Yoram Ettinger