Happy Rosh Hashanah everyone! Previously, my understanding of Rosh Hashanah was limited to the few small-print words that appeared on my calendar every fall. However, with my recent introduction to many wonderful people of the Jewish faith, I have been looking forward to this two-day holiday with great anticipation.
So what is Rosh Hashanah?
Rosh Hashanah is a lot of different things. First of all, it is a type of Jewish New Year. The literal translation of Rosh Hashanah is ‘beginning (or head of) the year’. Though it is actually the seventh month in the Jewish calendar, it is believed to be the month that God created the universe and therefore marks the beginning of all things. It is also important to note that the Jewish Calendar is lunar and therefore the date of Rosh Hashanah changes slightly from year to year.
*Fun Fact: There are actually 4 New Years in the Jewish Calendar. One for Kings, one for trees, one for animals, and Rosh Hashanah.
Personally, I love the idea of a New Year in the fall. The back-to-school season is a great time to set goals with kids as they start the school year. For the adults, hopefully a summer of sun and fun has left you energized and ready to recommit and refocus or if you are like me, fall finds you limping across the back-to-school finish line in desperate need of some order after all the summertime chaos. Either way, Rosh Hashanah is a great opportunity to make a fresh start.
Follow this link for a great article on setting back-to-school goals.
One of my favorite parts of any holiday or festival is the amazing food that is sure to accompany it. Rosh Hashanah does not disappoint. One traditional treat is bread called, ‘challah’ which is braided in a circle, symbolizing the eternal cycle of life. The challah is often dipped in honey, symbolizing the hopes for a sweet New Year. Apple slices are also served dipped in honey.
Click here for some recipes to make your own challah bread.
Shofar: Call to Repentance
Rosh Hashanah is more than just a New Year celebration; it is also a time of serious personal introspection. It stands as a bookend, facing Yom Kippur, with the days of ‘Teshuvah’ stretching in between. Teshuvah is usually translated as “repentance” but it literally means “turning” thus the focus of the season is on turning away from sin and back towards God.
In the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah and with great frequency throughout the high holy days, the shofar or ram’s horn is blown as a call for believers to awake. The sound of the shofar reminds many people of a crying voice or of the voice of the ram caught in the thicket during Abraham’s great trial of faith. Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon, a Jewish Scholar and philosopher from the 12th century said,
“Although it is a divine decree that we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, there is a hint of the following idea contained in the command. As if to say: ‘Awake from your slumber, you who have fallen asleep in life, and reflect on your deeds. Remember your Creator. Those of you who miss reality in the pursuit of shadows, and waste their years in seeking vain things which do not profit or deliver, look well into your souls and improve your behavior. Forsake each of you your evil ways and thoughts.’”[i]
*Fun Fact: There are four distinct sounds of the shofar — tekiah, shevarim, teruah, and tekiah gedolah.
The sound of the shofar reminds me of the call to awake mentioned over 23 times in the Book of Mormon. In the second book of Nephi, chapter 4, verse 28 it states:
I know it is all too easy to let myself become spiritually drowsy and I welcome the shofar blast as a much needed reminder to wake up from my own sins and turn to God.
Click here to find a fun craft tutorial to make a shofar horn at home. I think my kids would have a great time sounding the call to repentance at a Family Home Evening.
Tashlikh: Cast Away Sins
Another highly symbolic aspect of Rosh Hashanah is the ritual called ‘Tashlikh’. Believers gather to cast crumbs of bread into flowing water while reciting from Micah 7:19 “cast all our sins into the ocean’s depths”. It acts as a physical reminder of the human effort to cast away one’s sins. By casting crumbs of bread into the water, we state our intention to return to our true selves.[ii]
Another beautiful element of Rosh Hashanah is deals with the Book of Life and God’s ultimate judgement. Rabbi Robyn Frisch said,
“On Rosh Hashanah, the symbolic Book of Life is opened and we become advocates for our personal inscription in it. We review the choices we have made over the past year, our actions and our intentions, as we attempt to honestly evaluate ourselves.”[iii]
The more I learn about the rich traditions and beautiful symbolism of Rosh Hashanah, the more grateful I am for the diverse religious landscape that surrounds us. We can learn so much from each other and find so much strength in our common beliefs. I want to wish all my new Jewish friends ‘Shana Tova’. May we all awake and return to God this season.