By: Rivka C. Berman, Contributor
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What Does Rosh Hashanah Celebrate?
First a Little Background
Rosh Hashanah is only one of the many new years listed in the Talmud.
There are new years for vegetables, for counting the reign of kings, for
trees. Rosh Hashanah is the date that marks, at least according to sages
quoted in the Talmud, the birthday of the world when Adam and Eve were
created (T.B. Rosh Hashanah 27a).
The world’s birthday informs the celebration of Rosh Hashanah by linking
world renewal to personal renewal. The day Adam and Eve were created was
the first moment God could be considered a Sovereign. Until then there
were no subjects under royal dominion. Traditional Rosh Hashanah liturgy
is full of references to God’s coronation, God as Ruler. One reason for
this is only if God is the Ruler of all is it worthwhile to direct
prayers for life and a sweet year to God.
It’s helpful that the Talmudic sages explained Rosh Hashanah because a
cold reading of the Torah verses that command the celebration of this
holiday give little indication of its purpose.
“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to the Children of Israel,
saying: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month you will
have a Sabbath, a memorial of the horns, a holy gathering” (Leviticus
Rosh Hashanah gets a second mention in Numbers. “And in the seventh
month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a holy gathering
and you will do no work. It will be a day of blowing the horn for you….”
The Torah counts the months from Nissan, the beginning of the festival
calendar that starts with Passover. Rosh Hashanah, in Tishrei, begins
the annual calendar is the seventh month from Nissan.
Cryptic Torah verses are nothing new. Many have likened the Torah’s
words to notes taken during a lecture, brief and unclear to those who
aren’t immersed in study.
Pslamists encoded their understanding of Rosh Hashanah in Psalm 81.
“Blow the horn on the new moon, on the full moon of our feast day. For
it is a law for Israel, [a day of] judgement of the God of Jacob.”
In later generations the sages quoted in the Mishna, a collection of
sayings and elaboration on Torah laws, envisioned Rosh Hashanah as a
time when “all those who come into the world pass before God like
legions of soldiers.” (Mishna Rosh Hashanah 1)
Some suggest Rosh Hashanah grew into its meaning as a day of judgement
because of its closeness to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
God as Sovereign and Judge
The ancients gazed at the starry, starry Tishrei nights and saw scales,
Moznaim. The zodiac constellation fit in with the understanding that
Rosh Hashanah was the day of Judgement.
Even those who feel more comfortable reading Rosh Hashanah as an
unexplained biblical holiday that got its character from its nearest
calendar neighbor, Yom Kippur, have their interest piqued by a
comforting biblical coincidence.
If, as Rabbi Eliezer argues in the Talmud, Rosh Hashanah is the day
humans were created, then this is also the day that Adam and Even sinned
and gained forgiveness. Holding a Day of Judgment on this anniversary of
eating the forbidden fruit brings solace. If Adam and Eve were forgiven,
we can be forgiven too.
Disquieting as the thought of God sitting in judgment may be, the notion
brings hope. God, Sovereign of all, cares about what we do. You matter.
You are more than a highly evolved lucky possessor of useful chromosomes
and opposing thumbs.
Watching the symbolic scales of good and evil tip and sway, praying for
a clean of enough slate to be jotted down, in pen, in the Book of Life
is a yearly trauma much like a measles shot. It’s scary but it’s good
for you. An annual check up at Rosh Hashanah, keeps soul shmootz from
settling. Any necessary Divine corrective are spread out over the year
and not administered in one huge, lump sum wallop. (Even if it feels
Mazor Guide to Rosh Hashanah brings you much more about the holiday, its
meaning and its traditions... See the links below.
Buy Kosher Wines for Rosh Hashanah!!