8 thoughts on “Rosh HaShanah Part 1

  1. Wendy

    From Rabbi Avraham Arieh Trugman

    Giving Birth to a New Year

    On Rosh HaShanah in the year 1746, the Ba’al Shem Tov had an ascension of soul to the higher heavenly spheres where he found himself in the presence of the soul of the Messiah. In responding to his asking him “When will the master come,” the Messiah answered him with a verse from Proverbs (5:16): “when your wellsprings [of Torah] spread outwards.” (This revelation was explained in a letter written by the Ba’al Shem Tov to his brother-in-law Rabbi Gershon of Kitov and was first published as an appendix to Ben Porat Yosef 128a). Just as Biblical stories play themselves out in every generation and relates to each person, so too we can understand the meeting of the souls of the Ba’al Shem Tov and the Messiah to signify much more than an individual revelation, but as a teaching for all of us on many different levels. In addition, the significance of this revelation and the verse quoted from the Messiah is very connected to the very essence of Rosh HaShanah.

    According to the teaching of the Ba’al Shem Tov, that each person has a spark of the Messiah within them, we can understand that the Ba’al Shem Tov had activated and perfected his own spark enough to merit such a meeting. Interestingly, the Messiah put his own coming back into the hands of the Ba’al Shem Tov – “when your wellsprings [of Torah ] spread outwards.” This dialogue, in a sense, is the ongoing theme of the “Days of Awe,” beginning with Rosh HaShanah. At certain times we turn to God and say: it’s all in Your hands,” while at other times God, as it were, turns back to us and says: “really, its all in your hands.” During these times of great reflection and soul searching, our deepest spark of longing for holiness and to be close to God is aroused, which in turn enflames our own deepest potential, our spark of Messiah deep within.

    The image of the wellsprings is especially significant on Rosh HaShanah due to the custom of Tashlich, where we go to a body of natural water, most preferably a spring or other body of flowing water where there are fish, and cast our sins on the water which take them away. There are many levels of symbolism in this beautiful custom. Water is always a symbol of purity, cleansing and rebirth, the very essence of Rosh HaShanah. Not only is it the “birthday of the world,” as we recite in our prayers, but Rosh HaShanah, when properly appreciated, serves as a vehicle for personal rebirth. Fish and life teeming in the water allude to their being the first creations of the animal kingdom. They also were the first creatures to receive the blessing to be “fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:20-22).

    The letters of “be fruitful” (p’ru), along with the letter shin, form the word, shofar, the horn we blow on Rosh HaShanah. The blowing of the shofar concentrates all the basic themes of Rosh HaShanah in a most powerful and dramatic experiential manner. When looking in a prayer book at the series of shofar blasts we see an interesting arrangement of repeating series of nines. This number represents the nine months of pregnancy. Therefore, hearing the shofar acts, as it were, as the birth pangs of each person as they attempt to give birth to a new year. Just as each day has its unique energy and opportunities, never to be repeated, each year brings a totally new and unique energy into the world. Yet this energy must be grasped and developed or it lies dormant and hidden. Each person is like a midwife to themselves, with the opportunity to recreate their very being and in so doing give birth to their own selves and a new year.

    When Abraham was taking Isaac to Mount Moriah, in the episode known as Akedat Yitzchak, the binding of Isaac, Satan tried to halt their journey by creating a raging river (Sh’lah; Levush). Their ability to see through the illusion and their determination to carry on allowed them to transcend the obstacle. The custom of Tashlich reminds us that most of our obstacles in life are also illusionary in nature and are there to push us to newer and greater levels of self awareness and closeness to God.

    Each soul has within it wellsprings of creativity and unique talents waiting to be born, nurtured and revealed to the world. Activating and manifesting these innate qualities is not a matter of achieving fame, wealth or power. Using our God given abilities is reward enough. If one reaches a wider audience, well and good, but sharing with friends, family and community in venues large or small has its own deep feeling of spiritual satisfaction. Creating for just oneself or God in moments of quiet or solitude reveal sacred parts of our being hidden to even ourselves. The wellsprings deep within us have the power to water seeds of creativity just waiting to sprout. Yet, it is only through a determined effort, much like the birthing process, that we can indeed bring to fruition that which we are truly capable of achieving. Though in principle we can do this at any time of the year, Rosh HaShanah is particularly tuned to the energy of birth and newness. May we merit to use this time and opportunity wisely.

    The Significance of Rosh Hashana
    Also Being a New Moon

    There are many levels of understanding the significance of Rosh Hashana also being Rosh Chodesh, a new moon. Every Rosh Chodesh inaugurates an entirely new energy and a new opportunity to begin again. The ability to renew and rejuvenate is one of the secrets of the Jewish calendar being based on the lunar cycle. The capacity to begin again and again lies at the very root of Jewish survival. Rosh Hashana, the new year, is the “headquarters” for newness, thus it shares the same energy as Rosh Chodesh.

    The shape of the moon on Rosh Chodesh and Rosh Hashana is but a thin, cup like sliver, seen for a short time in the western sky before going down at sunset. The judgement taking place on Rosh Hashana is similarly very hidden, yet a sliver of the light does reach us. We can envision the shape of the moon representing our heartfelt prayers to create a vessel to receive blessings. God wants to give us so much – the question is do we have vessels to receive it.

    The Midrash states that when the moon was created it complained to God that both it and the sun could not wear the same crown. Therefore God made it smaller. A different Midrash states that every Rosh Chodesh God – as it were – brings a guilt offering for making the moon small. Rosh Hashana comes on a Rosh Chodesh in order to teach us that since we should not judge anyone till we stand in their place, God – so to speak – whispers to us that he empathizes with our situation and thus understands our desire for rectification and forgiveness, for He too brings a guilt offering on this day! This parable represents the judgement on Rosh Hashana as one of understanding and compassion.

    The Significance of the
    Different Notes of the Shofar

    There are three basic sounds of the shofar – tekiya, shevarim and teruah. In the Torah Rosh Hashana is actually called “Yom Teruah,” a day of sounding the shofar. The Sages in the Talmud all agreed that the teruah connotes crying, but disagreed whether it was like a melancholy moaning or a more uncontrolled staccato sound. Therefore, both opinions are honored and today we sound the shevarim, which alludes to sighing and has three medium length sounds, the teruah, which connotes uncontrollable crying comprised of nine short sounds and the shevarim-teruah, a combination of the two. Preceding and following each of these sounds is the tekiya which alludes to many things in our tradition: a summons to gather together, a wake up call, a way to greet the king, as well as a sound of joy and rejoicing.

    One notices a certain inconsistency between the different crying sounds of the teruah and shevarim and the more uplifting, joyful sound of the tekiya. This paradox reflects two equally important aspects of Rosh Hashana. On one hand it is a very joyful day when through our heartfelt prayers we praise God and crown Him king of the universe. It is also a day to begin again, full of hope and anticipation of a year of blessing. Yet, it is also a very serious, reflective day when all souls are judged by God and our lives and future are on the line. Therefore, the arrangement of the shofar blasts on Rosh Hashana reflect this reality.

    It is taught that there is no vessel as whole as a broken heart. Rosh Hashana is the time to open our hearts and express our desire to rectify our lives and be close to God. These heartfelt emotions are surrounded by the tekiya and the hope, trust and joy it represents.

    Special Foods for Rosh Hashana

    It seems almost every Jewish holiday has its special foods and Rosh Hashana is no exception. In fact, it actually has more special foods than any other holiday due to the custom of eating a series of foods at the first meal of Rosh Hashana and reciting various expressions of blessings desired for the new year. The most well known custom is dipping apples in honey as a sign of a sweet year and that all judgements which may be pending should be “sweetened.”

    Other foods and blessings include: pomegranate, whose many seeds allude to the increase of merits; dates and our wish to consume our enemies, fish and our prayer to be fruitful and multiply, a fish head and our request to be the head and not the tail, beets so that our adversaries be removed, a gourd so that any decree be torn up etc… Different communities include additional foods and expressions as well. Each phrase is based on either a play on words or an allusion to the corresponding food.

    The eating of these foods and their appropriate idioms are called “significant omens” and there is a profound meaning in this being one of our first acts of a new year. Every day we are confronted with numerous situations and events. God in fact communicates with us through the daily circumstances of our lives. To understand the true significance of these messages we must look much deeper than the surface and learn to decipher their signs, “coincidence” and symbolism and give meaning to these occurrences. Beginning the year with eating ordinary food while concurrently attaching great importance and symbolism to each type trains us to see God’s messages and hints to us in the very fabric of our ordinary lives.

  2. Wendy

    From Reb Zalman

    In the mapping of the Holidays and the Sefirot, Rosh Hashanah’s two days correspond to Chochmah and Binah. The following is a translation of Reb Zalman’s text for Rosh Hashanah from Yishmiru Daat.

    And on Day One of Rosh Hashanah, God makes possible for us an opportunity to tap into energies of “Beginning” and Chochmah / Flash of insight so one can start afresh. And on Day Two, the opportunity to tap into energies of fifty gates of Binah / practical plans for the above flash and Teshuvah / realignment with God, with the Supernal Mother Who is the source of loving-kindness, and the lady of Forgiveness.

    And so I can say, “I believe with perfect faith, that Hashem Yitbarach, by Chochmah / flash of insight, (Yerushalmi Sanhedrin 51), makes possible for us to access a loophole under the throne of glory – which is Binah – when the Shofar sound is heard, (cf Zohar II 46), the Supernal Jubilee,

    [The Supernal Jubilee is the traditional shorthand for “Beginning a Messianic Age. ” But if this image doesn’t work for you, or if you hold that this image doesn’t work for us generally, please realign the language with your way of expressing the vision of what you feel might work better for world redemption. Gabbai Seth.]

    and through the personal Rosh Hashanah work, we can begin anew to crown God as King, to be one with Hir, to see Hir as One, and to tell others of our encounter with Hir majesty until such time in which it will happen that all those with breath in nostrils will say ‘YHVH Elokai Yisrael Melech‘ (Psalm 103:19) and ‘Malchuso Bakol Mashalah.‘ And this is faith in Hashem as Father and Mother, bringing together the vision and the plan.”

  3. Wendy

    From Rabbi Jill Hammer
    The Jewish Book of Days

    Conceiving Seed

    In autumn, as the leaves are withering, it is hard to believe life will ever grow again. Yet beneath the earth, the cycle of life is beginning. The wrinkled seed, buried after harvest, waits to sprout. On Rosh Hashanah we discover that we too, can blossom even after we have withered.

    A legend tells that on Rosh Hashanah the Divine made the barren matriarch Sarah fertile, and she conceived from her husband Abraham ( Babylonian Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 10b). We read the story of Isaac’s birth on the new year to celebrate this seeding of life. Sarah, 90 years old, is like the soil of autumn: outwardly dry and barren, yet inwardly fecund.

    Rashi adds to this story of growth, telling us that many women around the world conceived when Sarah conceived, and many sick people were healed. The 1st of Tishrei is a day of healing and creating, a day we conceive ourselves anew through self-reflection. The word teshuvah (repentance) signals not only regret but turning. As the rains of autumn ready the earth for spring, we too return to the cycle of life and growth. If we do not turn back to the cycle of life, do not grow, we become stagnant and hold life back. If we do turn, we become part of the earth’s renewal.

    Cited: Genesis 18:12-14
    Rashi on Genesis 21:2

    The First Return
    Rosh Hashanah

    The path of return is not only joyous but also frightening. In a midrash from the Talmud, the first night Adam and Eve spend outside Eden fills them with fear that the world will return to darkness and void. They reflect on their actions, regretting they ate the fruit of knowlege of good and evil. When dawn arrives, they come to understand night is not a punishment: It is the way of the night to fall and the way of the day to come again. Adam offers a sacrifice in thanksgiving for the dawn. His sacrifice perhaps also indicates that his soul-searching has drawn him closer to God.

    Rosh Hashanah falls as the days grow perceptibly shorter. It is a re-creation of the first human’s long night. In this mythic darkness, we move through anxiety about our future toward a sense of gratitude and understanding. Adam and Eve discover darkness is not permanent but part of a larger cycle of life. On Rosh Hashanah, we too pass through a dark night of the soul so we may renew ourselves.

    Cited: Numbers 29:1-2
    Babylonian Talmud, Avodah Zarah 8a

  4. Wendy

    From Rabbi David Seidenberg

    Hayom Harat Olam: Rosh Hashanah and Our Planet
    Unlike most Torah teachings on neohasid, this one is more of a sermon than a d’var Torah. (Read more on sermons vs. divrei Torah here.)
    1) We hear the shofar and call out, “Hayom Harat Olam”!
    “Today is the birthday of the world; Today the world is born”

    So says the liturgy according to most readings. And this birthday is not just one of celebration: “Today the world stands in judgment.” These two motifs alone should give us pause today to consider what we are doing to the planet, to how we can restore the balance of the atmosphere, the balance of the waters and the air, of the forests and plains, the ocean and the continents.

    But let’s look more closely at these words, to see what they can teach us.

    ‘Harah’ means pregnancy, conception or gestation. Not birth, but the process which leads up to birth. If we wanted to say “the birth of the world” we would say “leidat ha’olam”. ‘Olam’ can mean world, but if we wanted to say “the conception of the world,” we would say “harat ha-olam.” ‘Olam’ really means eternity, from the root that means “hidden,” or more precisely, the infinite that is hidden, that is beyond our limited perception.

    So ‘Harat Olam’ means very literally, “pregnant with eternity”, or “eternally pregnant.” The day of Rosh Hashanah is pregnant with eternity.

    2) “This day is pregnant with eternity…” What deeper evocation could one find of this wondrous and miraculous creation than “eternally pregnant,” always bringing forth new lives, new creatures, even new species? Always dynamic, growing; balanced not like a pillar on its foundation, but like a gyroscope, turning and turning. What higher praise of the Creator than, “How wondrously diverse, how limitless, how changing are your works! Mah rabu ma’asekhah Adonai”? You show us the infinite in the finite, the world in a grain of sand, a child’s grasp, a caterpillar’s transformation, a leaf unfolding or decomposing. What greater potential in this moment, than for it to be “pregnant with insights, with hopes, as great as eternity”? It is as unbounded as the hidden potential of every gestation and every birth—or, in the archaic sense of ‘great’ as pregnant, it is “great with eternity!”

    3) This day of Rosh Hashanah is when we honor the still small voice that comes after the sound of the shofar, the moment when we can hear the echo and potential of this eternity, of this infinite creativity. Every time we hear the shofar blasting, again and again and again, we respond: Hayom Harat Olam!

    This moment, this day, this year, this world, gives us a new chance to pause and reflect on what Kabbalah calls the or ein sof, the infinite light which filled the beginning of creation with lovingkindness. This light shines in the radiance of this earth, the womb of all life, which is eternally pregnant, and which constantly brings forth life. (Tanya, Igeret Hakodesh 20) Every time we hear the shofar, it gives us a moment when we can, if we choose, reflect on what we are doing to this earth, our home and our womb. When you hear the shofar, what is conceived inside you?

    4) Jeremiah says, “Vat’hi li imi kivri v’rachmah harat olam. Let my mother be my grave and her womb be pregnant eternally.” (20:17) This is the source of the expression “harat olam.” On a very personal level, this verse is an expression of Jeremiah’s profound grief and desperation; for us, this verse is heavy and problematic. In Job, however, the womb is our planet, as in, “yam b’gicho meirechem yeitzei; when the sea gushed forth from the womb.” (38:8) Jeremiah’s lament, applied to the earth, becomes one of the truest and most loving sentences in the Tanakh. This earth is a mother to us and it is our grave; it is eternally pregnant, and from our deaths will come new life and new lives. When we hear the shofar and call out, “Hayom harat olam!” may we find hope, may we find courage, may we find blessing, in this moment filled with birth and death, pregnant with eternity.

    5) This day, today, we are changing the quality of that radiant light as we change the atmosphere, as we change the conditions of life on this planet. We are putting back into the atmosphere the carbon that millions and millions of years and billions of billions of creatures removed and stored in the earth, and we are doing it faster than we can realize. We are changing the air we breathe, the winds that drive the rains, the atmospheric blanket that holds the warmth of the sun long enough for us to survive from one day to the next. This blanket allows us to live, to thrive, to be nurtured and nourished. By holding in more and more energy, the blanket causes the earth’s climate not only to become hotter (as most everyone knows), but also to become more and more chaotic, more unstable. The global climate crisis is not a problem of poisons and pollutions. It’s not a problem of a degree or two. It’s a problem of balance.

    6) Listen further to our words after the shofar: “Hayom ya’amid bamishpat.” Usually this is translated, “Today the world will stand in judgment.” The phrase ya’amid bamishpat comes from Proverbs: “Melekh b’mishpat ya’amid aretz. A king through justice makes the earth stand.” (29:4) Another translation could therefore be: “This day will be sustained by Justice.” May this day bring justice, may this day teach us justice. Without justice, the creatures of all the worlds, y’tzurei olamim, even the earth itself, cannot stand and endure.

    Ecologically, justice, mishpat, means many things, including balance, as it does in Tanakh: “Samti mishpat l’kav utz’dakah l’mishkelet. I set justice with a plumb line and righteousness with a balance.” (Isa. 28:17) God is the king who sets justice in the earth. If we want to be agents of change, agents of God, we need to help the world stand upright through acts of justice, fairness and balance. There are so many levels to this mishpat, between us and God, between fellow human beings, within ourselves. And one of those levels is justice and balance between us and the earth, and between us and our fellow species.

    Balance means every person, every species, and every place has enough of what it needs for life to thrive. Balance means that our relationship with the earth is dynamic and sustainable, that we are not consuming future generations to take for ourselves. Each of us helps to establish balance, not just when you see someone in need, but in this moment, hayom, today and every day, in every act and gesture, every choice, in what you eat and wear, how you dwell in your house, in how you travel to work and how you return home.

    7) The requirement of the shofar is that it must be curved, spiral, like a ram’s horn, and not straight like an antelope’s horn. It teaches us to turn back towards what is right, to return from the precipice. And it reminds us of the spiral of life, the spiral dance that leads to this earth, these species, this humanity, and on to whatever comes after us. Listen: we are not the end of this dance, nor the beginning, but an essential link in a chain that goes from creation to redemption. Listen and hear the still small voice after the storm wind, the silence of the heart after our ears are filled with the trumpeting of the ram’s horn. What do you hear about where you are on that spiral, in this world; what do you hear about what role you want to play and who you want to become?

    8) “Hayom harat olam.” Today, this day, this Rosh Hashanah, is pregnant with eternity. Today births new intentions, conceives new possibilities. Today is our day, today we are alive on this planet, “Chayim kulchem hayom.” Today our choices will gestate the future, for our children, and for the children of every species upon the earth.

    “Hayom t’amtzeinu.” Today you will find courage. “Hayom t’varcheinu.” Today you will be blessed. “Hayom ticht’veinu l’chayim tovim.” Today you will be inscribed to live.

    “Hayom im b’kolo tishma’u.” Today, if you will listen to the Voice.

  5. Wendy

    From Rabbi James Stone Goodman

    Shofar on the New Moon

    Tiku va-chodesh shofar—

    bakesseh –
    le-yom chageinu

    Make a tekiah on the month with the shofar

    when it’s hidden/bakesseh

    on the day of our chag [Sukkot] — Psalm 81:4

    The moon is the image of the growth arc this time of year. It begins with Rosh Hashanah, the new moon, the first of Tishri. The new moon is barely discerned; that’s the nature of what we draw into the world — every Rosh Hashanah — something entirely new, dimly discerned, but something Godly.

    It’s ba-kesseh, hidden, on Rosh Hashanah and is somewhat hidden until Sukkot, when it becomes fully plumped, like the moon.

    Something new, there is so much hope in that. Every Rosh Hashanah we draw something new into the world. Like the moon, on Rosh Hashanah, the new moon of Tishri, we do not discern it. The newness, the wisdom that we draw into the world, begins to plump just as the moon. Through Rosh Hashanah, during the deep inner work of ten days of teshuvah-transformation, through the atonement of Yom Kippur, still not fully realized, plumping with the moon but still not entirely revealed until Sukkot.

    On Sukkot, the newness that we draw into the world is fully expressed. Like the full moon of Sukkot, the fifteenth of the month Tishri, that which was partial, unexpressed, hidden, not quite actualized, becomes visible and realized with the full moon of Sukkot. Sukkot is the culmination of the growth arc that we celebrate during these Days of Awe.

    From the kitchen
    wisdom will rise
    from the dinner table
    the true peace
    integrative peace
    from the hidden sources of wisdom
    knowledge will plump like the moon.

    This could be the year.


    R. Eleazar said, “this day is called
    ‘the concealing [keseh] for the day of our feast:
    tiku va-chodesh shofar, bakesseh, l’yom chageinu [Psalm 81:4]

    Because the moon is still covered and does not shine. Through what then will it shine? Through teshuvah and the sound of the shofar, as it is written, “Blessed is the people that know the trumpet sound, because, O God, they shall walk in the light of your countenance” (Psalm 89:15). On this day the moon is covered, and it does not shine until the tenth day, when Israel turns with a perfect teshuvah, so that the supernal Mother gives light to her. Hence this day is called the day of atonements (kippurim), because two lights are shedding illumination, since the higher lamp is illuminating the lower. For on this day the moon receives illumination from the supernal light and not from the light of the sun.

    Zohar, 13th c.
    100b – 101a

    Every Rosh Hashanah new light issues from Ein Sof into the attribute of Malkhut for the entire year, to give life to the worlds Beriah, Yetzirah, and Assiyah (the three lower worlds), to nourish them, to sustain them. This light and life force contains the life force of the world, the year, the soul of the entire year, however, on Rosh Hashanah, it is still in a state of “bakesseh.” [Psalm 81:4, Tik’u va-chodesh shofar bakesseh l’yom chageinu”, Blow the shofar in the new moon, in the time “appointed” on the day of our festival, the world bakesseh means also “hidden” as well as the time “appointed”] On the new moon, what we seek is still hidden and obscured.

    On Yom Kippur, it comes forth as revelation in the higher realms, and on Sukkot it is “of our festival” there is more revelation at the level of makif, and on Shemini Atzeret it comes to the level of penimi, inwardliness, and that is the meaning of the gathering on Shemini Atzeret. And after that it flows through malkhut day by day in a revelation below in the worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah, and Assiyah. And this is how the most high chesed from the level of keter is drawn into the kindnesses of atik and malchut on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and from malkhut into all the worlds.

    From Kuntres Uma’ayan
    Ma’amar 18
    R. Shalom Dov Ber Schneersohn, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe

    A Blessing On the New Moon

    Master of Mirrors,
    let me see with the unclear mirror, the dark images,
    the images that are only discerned at night,
    by moonlight.

    God of the light and the dark,
    release me from distractions,
    bind me with invisible fibers to the deep story –
    the right words, not the simple words
    not the easy ones not even the sweet words
    I want the true ones.

    God of the right and wrong
    don’t sweet talk me, draw me into the deep.
    Carry me not in your pocket but sling me like a satchel
    over your shoulder.
    Let the truth plump like the moon,
    the dark moon, the dark candle,
    the candle at the hearth with all its shadows,

    it’s the moon, it’s the moon, the dark candle,
    the reflected dark dark dark —

    jsg, usa

    The Sounds of the Shofar

    from “It’s a Sad and Beautiful World”

    Tekiah — sustained note of the shofar
    Original unity, before all exiles

    Tekiah — the universal, metaphysical and musical
    Against the tekiah sounds the teruah
    The relative

    Tekiah — the universal in the ensemble
    The drone the tonic
    Against which the relative shudders with melody

    Shofar begins and ends in Tekiah
    Original unity
    Where we come from, where we return

    Teruah –the sound is separated
    Exiled into teruah
    Crying, longing to return

    Three yevavot three wavering crying blasts*
    Trembling quivering yearning to return
    When we lose our way, the roads go into mourning

    Teruah — crying weeping longing yearning for return
    Tekiah the universal
    Teruah the relative

    It is a sad and beautiful world
    Sad so far away
    Beautiful so hungry are we to return

    End always with Tekiah G’dolah
    The Great Tekiah
    The sustained universal tekiah

    We yearn for it
    Hunger for it
    Believe it

    *(Mishnah RH 4:9)

  6. Wendy


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