Rosh HaShanah, is the collective birthday of humanity. Every year we are revisiting the day on which Gd created the first man and woman, the 6th day of Creation.(1) "To accept man of creation, a being created by Gd with an inner energy capable of constant growth and modification, takes courage and daring." Throughout Elul we have worked to put aside fear and control, the arch enemies of self discovery (2), and focus on returning to our essential self. There has been the painful work of righting wrongs and the peace that lies in being forgiven. And there has been the quiet recovery that comes with forgiving ourselves for those things we have done that have kept us from our true course. We have returned to celebrate Gd's Kingship over the world and to begin anew.
Rosh HaShanah falls on the 1st and 2nd days of the month of Tishrei, the month connected with the fall equinox. It is the only festival celebrated for two days in Israel. It has three other names: Yom HaZicharon (Day of Rmemberance), Yom HaShofar (Day of the Shofar) and Yom HaDin (the Day of Judgement).
There are other days of judgement in the Jewish Calendar. "At Pesach, the rabbis said, judgement is executed through the plenty or scarcity of grain; at Shavuot, through plenty or scarcity of fruit; at Sukkot, through plenty or scarcity of rain. Each of these days of judgement is in some sense the beginning of the year. But the day of judgement for humans came to be understood not as a new year but the new year". (2)
Hearing the Shofar is the mitzvah associated with Rosh HaShanah. "The sound of the Shofar connects us to that place inside of ourselves that transcends worlds.The deepest cry of the soul piercing the heavens and calling to our Creator. The breath reverberating through the ram's horn re-enacts the breath that Gd blew into the first man. The Torah says "Gd breathed life into Adam". The soul is Gd's breath inside us. The sound of the Shofar realigns us and reconnects us to the deepest part of ourselves, to our source in the Divine". (1) The Shofar is not blown when Rosh HaShanah falls on the Shabbat.
One of the Torah readings for Rosh HaShanah is of the Akedah, the sacrifice of Isaac. The ram replaces Isaac on the altar. The Shofar is a reminder to us of Gd's mercy in sparing Isaac. The 13 Attributes of Mercy constitute an important part of the liturgy of the Machzor (the festival prayerbook).
On the afternoon of the first day of Rosh HaShanah (unless it's Shabbat) we go to a body of water and, taking a line from the Prophet Micah, "cast our sins into the depths of the sea". Symbolically this is achieved by tossing a few crumbs of bread into the water. This ceremony called Tashlich, while not commanded, has taken firm root in the tradition as a way to physically enact the work we are doing on all other levels. It is possible to do Tashlich up until Hoshana Rabba during Sukkot. No major body of water? Using water soluable ink find a time to write out on bits of paper what you would like to 'cast out', then drop the pieces of paper into a bowl of water and watch as those inscriptions are 'washed away'. (3)
Serve apples and honey (instead of salt) for a sweet year, with a round or ladder shaped challah. And remember a 'new' fruit for the second night so you can make a second Shehechiyanu blessing, for the new season. Here's a great apple cake recipe.
May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year!
photo 'Rabbis in Harlem blowing the Shofar' from NYTimes Magazine, April 19, 1992
Eliezer Shore, Rosh HaShanah Holiday Supplement 1988 for "A Still Small Voice"
Rabbi Simon Jacobson, The Meaningful Life Center, "Who Really Needs Rosh HaShanah?" 1999 (1)
Rabbi BZ Shloime Twerski, ztzal, from a pamphlet "Rosh HaShanah: A Daring Beginning" (2)
Arthur I Waskow "Seasons of Joy" (3)