Rosh Hashanah

Introduction

Rosh Hashanah is almost universally recognized today as the Jewish New Year. Some observe the holiday as a time for gift exchanging and holiday greetings, while others observe it as a time of prayer and introspection. One would be surprised, however, to learn that the day on which Rosh Hashanah is observed is not designated as the New Year in the Torah or Bible. In fact, through the first century C.E. (the Common Era), there is no mention of Rosh Hashanah as the New Year in any Jewish literature.

Historical Background

Rosh Hashanah which in Hebrew means “Head or Beginning of the Year” attained its current designation as a new year in post biblical times. Scholars cite several factors for the change that took place. Among these is the influence of the Babylonians who designated Tishri (Ethanim) as the first month of their calendar (at one time the ancient Israelites were under the control of the Babylonians). Also, there was the rabbinic interpretation of the holiday as a day of judgement occurring on what they considered the anniversary of the creation of the world. Our congregation, however, does not recognize Rosh Hashanah (or the first day of the seventh month) as the new year. We designate the first of Abib as the New Year. See Exodus 12:1-2 and 13:4.

Within the Torah, the day on which Rosh Hashanah is observed, is referred to as “the day of the blowing (blast) of the trumpet (shofar or ram’s horn)”. The Hebrew phase for the Torah reference is “Yom Teruah”. See Leviticus 23:24 and Numbers 29:1. The holiday occurs on the first day of the seventh month, Ethanim. (See I Kings 8:2 for the original name of the seventh month. The seventh month is also referred to as Tishri, a name adopted after the Babylonian captivity of Jewish people). According to the scriptural references in the Torah, the holiday is a memorial, a holy convocation, and a sabbath. It is commanded that “no servile work” should be done on this day.

The most distinctive feature of Rosh Hashanah is the blowing of the shofar (trumpet). The shofar is made from the horn of any clean animal except a cow or ox, although it is usually made from a ram’s horn. Typically, ten to twelve inches in length, it is spiral in shape. On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the shofar is blown, bringing in the “Ten Days of Repentance or Days of Awe.” It warns the people and stirs them to moral rehabilitation. See Isaiah 58:1.

The Process of Turning

Since antiquity, Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgement or Day of Remembrance, has been recognized as a day of reflection and repentance, basically concerned with the individual. It is the day to become aware of oneself. It is a time to come to terms with God and to begin to change one’s life from sin to holiness. There are four steps in this process of change; namely, inner reckoning, repentance, forgiveness, and walking in the new way.

The first and most important step in the process of change is inner reckoning. This can be quite a difficult task, because one must assume responsibility for his/her own actions and behavior. This includes how one has dealt with God, one’s fellowman, and oneself verbally, in thought, and in action. The second step is to repent or be remorseful of the wrongs that have been committed against others and God. Prophet William S. Crowdy said that “Repentance is the first step to the kingdom of God.” Repenting is also being regretful and feeling sorry about a sinful action.

After recognizing the wrong that has been committed, one should seek forgiveness from the brother or sister that has been affected. Conversely, if others have wronged against us, we should be willing to forgive them. Thus, seeking forgiveness or being forgiving is the third step. The second component of forgiving is once we have sought forgiveness from others or forgiven them, we then should turn to God to ask for His forgiveness for sins we have committed against Him.

The final step of the process of turning can be summed up in Psalms 51:7-10. With a clean heart and right spirit, we can start afresh with a resolve not to repeat the former mistakes. We then can begin to lead a new life of walking with God. Also, as we live in the way that the LORD has chosen, we will do as David promised to do. See Psalms 51:13.

The Days of Awe

The time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is known as the Days of Awe or Ten Days of Repentance. It is a time when we become aware of and feel sorry for our sins and seek forgiveness for our transgressions. It also is a time to remember the giving of the commandments, to study the Torah, and to prepare ourselves for praise and service to God and our fellowman. As a symbol of cheerful confidence and purity, we wear white. The men wear white yarmulkes, the females wear white head coverings, and the ministers wear white yarmulkes and robes.

Summary

Rosh Hashanah, Hebrew for “head of beginning of the year”, is a holiday which is observed within our congregation. Yet, we do not commemorate it as a new year. It is recognized by its biblical designation; namely, as a day of rest, worship, and introspection. Rosh Hashanah also begins the Ten Days of Awe, leading to Yom Kippur. The “Ten Days” is a time of introspection, prayer, and spiritual renewal.