The Essence of Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, observed for 2 days beginning the first of the month of Tishrei of the Hebrew calendar. That much we know, but why all the hours in synagogue, why the shofar, why the festive meals? What’s the connection between them? Let’s try to understand what this day is all about.

The Origin of Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah commemorates, according to the Jewish calendar, the creation of the world on the same date 5774 years ago. According to Jewish tradition, the first of Tishrei was actually the sixth day of Creation, the day when Adam and Eve were created, and mankind was born. The reason for this is the creation of man was the purpose of all of G-d’s creation which preceded him, his mission being to perfect through his actions the world given to him, and the anniversary of this day is the one that starts our new year.

A Day of Remembrance

Interestingly, the Torah itself doesn’t not refer to this day as Rosh Hashanah, rather instead mysteriously alludes to it as Yom HaZikaron (Day of Remembrance) (Leviticus 23:24-25). What’s being remembered? G-d, so to speak, remembers that original vision and hope for man for which the world is dependent. At the same time, the Sages call it the “Day of Judgment”, when the life of every individual is judged in accordance with what vision. By re-committing ourselves to that original vision for which G-d created the world and renewing our connection with the Creator, we have the power to inscribe ourselves in the “Book of Life”.

The Shofar

That is why we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. The primal cry of the shofar is mainly a wake up call to repentance, to return to our true purpose in this world. Just as Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of man’s first sin and his subsequent repentance, thus it serves today as the first of the “Ten Days of Repentance” which culminate in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

A Celebration of Life

At the same time, Rosh Hashanah is a celebration of life as we look forward to the year ahead. The festive meals, the symbolic foods, the family gatherings all affirm our faith in the judgment at hand and help to influence it for the good as well.