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September 20, 2017 12:12 pm

Rosh Hashanah Guide for the Perplexed, 2017

avatar by Yoram Ettinger


A shofar blowing in Israel. Photo: Screenshot.

1. Rosh Hashanah (“the beginning of the year” in Hebrew) is celebrated on the first day of the Jewish month of Tishrei (תשרי). Tishrei was a Babylonian term for launching the agricultural (creation) calendar, starting with the planting of seeds and the first rain.

2. Rosh Hashanah highlights the centrality of the soil in human life. The Hebrew word for soil is Adamah — אדמה — a metaphor of humility. It combines the Hebrew word for a human-being (אדמ, Adam) — which is also the name of the first human-being — and the Hebrew letter ה, which is an abbreviation of God, the Creator. The Hebrew word Adam (אדמ) contains the Hebrew word for blood (דמ) — the liquid of life, and is the acronym of Abraham (אברהם), David (דוד) and Moses (משה), three role models of humility.

3. Rosh Hashanah is announced and celebrated in a humble and determined manner — by the blowing of the Shofar. The Hebrew spelling of Shofar, שופר, is a derivative of the verb שפר, which means to enhance, improve and succeed.

4. The shofar is the epitome of peace-through-strength. It is made from the horn of a ram, which is a peaceful animal equipped with strong horns to fend off predators. The numerical value of the Hebrew word for “ram,” איל, is 41, which is equal to the value of “mother” — who strongly protects her children. Rosh Hashanah prayers highlight motherhood, optimism and the pregnancies of Sarah, Rachel and Chana, who gave birth to Isaac, Joseph, Benjamin and Samuel, respectively. Noah — who led the rebirth of humanity/the world — also features in Rosh Hashanah prayers.

5. Rosh Hashanah and the blowing of the Shofar symbolize and commemorate:

*The blows of the Shofar that tumbled the walls of Jericho, and intensified Judge Gideon’s posture of deterrence during his war on the Midianites;

The reaffirmation of faith in God as the Creator, the supreme king (kings were anointed to the sound of the Shofar) and judge (a day of judgment);

The bonding of God and fellow human beings;

The creation of the first human-being, Adam, on the sixth day of the Creation;

The annual judgment day, soul-searching and behavioral enhancement;

The almost-sacrifice of Isaac, which was avoided by God’s angel and a ram — and the Biblical (Abrahamic) Covenant;

The three Jewish Patriarchs —  Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — and the Prophet Samuel born during the month of Tishrei, “the month of the strong ones ” (Kings A, 8:2);

Blows of the Shofar — along with thunders and lightning — were heard when Moses (“the humblest of all human-beings”) received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai;

The ingathering (Aliyah) of Jews to the Jewish homeland;

Optimism in the face of adversity; and

The fallibility of all human-beings, starting with Adam and including Moses.

6. Rosh Hashanah was conceived by Jewish sages, during the Second Temple period, referring to the Biblical “day of blowing the shofar” and “the day of commemorating the blowing of the shofar” (Leviticus 23:23-25, Numbers 29:1-6). Commemoration is a central Jewish value — a prerequisite for national cohesion, survival, an enhanced future and refraining from past critical errors. Forgetfulness means ignorance, the loss of critical values and lessons, and, therefore, the repetition of past errors.

7. The Hebrew word “Rosh” means “beginning,” “first,” “head” and “chief.” The Hebrew letters of Rosh (ראש) constitute the root of the Hebrew word for Genesis, “Be’re’sheet” (בראשית), which is the first word in the Bible. Rosh Hashanah is celebrated at the beginning of the Jewish month of Tishrei, which means beginning/Genesis in ancient Acadian. The Hebrew spelling of Tishrei (תשרי) is also included in the spelling of Genesis (בראשית).

8. Rosh Hashanah is one of four Jewish New Years: (a) Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the Creation, the beginning of the Jewish civil calendar; (b) the first day of the month of Nissan initiates the three Jewish pilgrimages/festivals (Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles); (c) the first day of the month of Elul initiated the preparations for Rosh Hashanah and the New Year for animal tithes in ancient Israel; (d) the 15th day of the month of Shvat is the new year of the trees, which are role-models of humility, tenacity and growth for human-beings.

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