Rosh Hashanah is the day on which mankind was created by G-d.
While a wish for a “happy new year” is an appropriate expression at Rosh Hashanah, the month of Tishrei is actually the seventh month in the Hebrew calendar. Prayers recited on Rosh Hashanah refer to this day as being “the day of the beginning of G-d’s work”. It is the introduction of man’s role in the world and our efforts toward spiritual triumph.
Rosh Hashanah means “head of the year” and holds great symbolic significance. The head is the powerhouse of our entire body and, Rosh Hashanah heads off the year with the same energy. On this day, we re-crown G-d as our King and rededicate ourselves to the service of G-d. Our endeavors on Rosh Hashanah set the tone for the rest of our year.
We all know the shofar is sounded during holiday services, but what is it for? Wake up! A whole year has passed by and what do we have to show for it? The blasting of the shofar stirs us to consciousness and, hopefully, helps us refocus on the important things in life.
We are just beginning to comprehend the power of human prayer. Research shows that prayer – even when an individual does not know he or she is being prayed for – can impact a person’s health. The critical role that prayer has in our lives is emphasized at Rosh Hashanah. We read about, both, Sarah and Hannah, who each prayed desperately for a child. We read about Abraham and the near sacrifice of his son, Isaac. Prayer and the deepest of faiths – and their importance in our lives - are modeled to us by some of our oldest ancestors.
Within the depths of our joy during Rosh Hashanah lies great fear. Sometimes, when we are so nervous, we become a little giddy. Rosh Hashanah is filled with celebratory meals, time spent with families and friends, and cards sending wishes for a sweet new year. And, that’s often where our focus remains, but Rosh Hashanah is truly a very serious holiday. The Book of Life is opened by G-d and G-d decides whether we will live or die in the year to come. As we recount our year, we assess our good deeds and our misgivings. Such intense introspection may cause us to feel ashamed or disappointed in ourselves, and feelings of disgrace may intensify as we contemplate G-d judging our actions. But, Rosh Hashanah is a time to accept responsibility for our choices and to rededicate our lives to living a higher purpose.
During Rosh Hashanah, we greet each other with wishes for a good year (L’Shanah Tovah) or L’Shanah tovah tikatev v’taihatem (May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year). Our words may have become rote through the years, but the meaning behind them remains profound. It is on Rosh Hashanah when our destinies for the upcoming year are determined by G-d. After the first night, we no longer express this greeting as our fate has already been declared.
Rosh Hashanah is a time for making declarations of change. But, unlike the secular New Year where our promises involve commitments to exercise, promises to join weight loss programs or pledges to complete long-standing projects, our oaths at Rosh Hashanah have a more spiritual essence. Our goals at Rosh Hashanah center around Teshuvah and returning to G-d. We may decide to enroll in a class to learn more about our faith, bring a new ritual into our home or work harder on some of the mitzvoth we already perform.
Rosh Hashanah is no time for sleep. The Talmud tells us “If one sleeps at the year’s beginning, his good fortune likewise sleeps.” Rosh Hashanah is not a day for rest. How you spend your day is a reflection of how your year is going to be. On Rosh Hashanah, we want to “work” hard (in the spiritual sense). We want to pray with all our might. We want to create wonderful moments with our family and friends. We want to have deep conversations with G-d about the kind of person we want to be.
Nuts are not permitted on Rosh Hashanah. If you have a nut allergy, this is the holiday for you. We refrain from eating nuts during this holiday primarily because the word for nuts (egoz) has the same numerical value as the word for sin (chet). I suppose, with all the other symbolic foods and the play on words that accompany them, avoiding nuts in your menus can also be a statement that there will be no “nuts” in your life this year.
As with most Jewish rituals and traditions, Rosh Hashanah provides us with many physical tasks that lead us into the spiritual world. By observing (even seemingly stringent) laws of Rosh Hashanah, we can open new gates as discipline leads us to freedom.