These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

What is Rosh Hashanah?

Posted on October 5, 2016 by Ori Bieder

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On the morning of Rosh Hashanah, Rivka went into the bedroom to wake her son and tell him it was time to get ready to go to the synagogue, to which he replied in a dull voice, ‘I’m not going.’

‘Why not?’ Rivka demanded.

‘l’ll give you two good reasons Mother,’ he said. ‘One, they don’t like me, and two, I don’t like them.’

Rivka replied in an exasperated voice, ‘I’ll give you two good reasons why you must go to the synagogue. “One, you’re 54 years old, and two, you’re the Rabbi.”

My Journey in writing this dvar took me far and wide. Always seeking the Truth.

What is Rosh Hashanah?

Sefer Vayikra refers to Yom T’ruah, the day of shouting. We each shout individually and it becomes a collective shout.  The tanach tells us that the 1stday of the 7th month will be Yom Zichron Teruah. Yom Zichron Teruah is the day to remember the collective shouting of the Jewish people. Why are we crying out? Is it a call to action? Are we making an emotional plea or a halakhic plea?

Rosh Hashanah is a commemoration of Briat HaOlam, the creation of the universe. Masechet Sanehdrim tells us that Adam VeChava were born on Rosh Hashanah. Did you know If you rearrange the Hebrews letters in the word “Breishit” you get “alef b’tishrey”? Crazy right?

The tanach reveals this yom tov to us as Yom Zikaron T’ruah, the day to remember to blow the shofar or Yom T’ruah, the day of blowing the shofar. We blow the shofar in coronation of Hashem as king of the universe. The Talmud tells us that a king is forgiven on the day of his coronation. Rosh HaShanah is the day of God’s coronation. On Rosh HaShanah, before we can crown God, we must first forgive God. Can we forgive god? Can we forgive others or ourselves?

The sound of the shofar is meant to inspire, instill fear, create sorrow, encourage repentance, awaken. The shofar is meant to represent breathing, the collective breathing of the Jewish people. The different shofar sounds are different kinds of breaths: deep, sigh, quick paced, etc.  On Rosh Hashanah we stop and listen to our breath.

Chazal tells us that Rosh Hashana is about Tshuva. The first of Tishrei is an opportunity for looking inward: taking a moment to reflect on who we are, how we behave, and the words we use.  We repent and make a sincere commitment to be better. We have 2 days to focus. You may ask yourself, When I focus on something, what do I notice, what changes for me?  What is my integrity by which I gauge myself?

Most of you reading this are probably thinking, “I’ve been around for a while.  I know that Rosh Hashanah is about apples-and-honey, challah, and wine and many other names of foods that this space does not have the capacity to hold.” Rosh Hashanah is about going to shul and getting together with family. It’s the day we hear long Rabbi speeches or walk through the empty streets of Jerusalem.

Rosh Hashanah has also been called Yom Neshima (the day of breath), Yom Tza’aka (the day of yelling), Yom bechi (the day of crying), Yom koveah (the day that things are set).

Rosh Hashanah is about the individual, and the nation. It’s about quiet reflection and shouting. Rosh Hashanah is about revealing secrets in Hebrew words. So, while I was seeking the Truth about Rosh Hashanah what I found were the truths.

Probably, because Rosh Hashanah is for man and man is complex that the identity issues of Rosh Hashanah can live in harmony. It makes sense that the complexity would manifest in a day where man is immersed in introspection and reflection.

There are many channels by which to connect to Rosh Hashanah. It seems like a chag with a buffet of meaning from which we can find what speaks to us, what the best is for us to create meaning for ourselves. We are fortunate to be at a place in Jewish history where we can experiment and explore different modes by which we can be a version of ourselves that is conducive. Our lives, our rich reservoirs of experience, have prepared us as we are for this day in time.

Shanah Tova,

Ori Bieder