Six things that will help you make sense of the Jewish New Year, which begins sundown on Sunday:
1. Rosh Hashanah means the head or start of the year. According to the Jewish calendar that happens on the first of the month of Tishrei, which occurs this year at sundown on Sunday, Sept. 16. It always occurs in early autumn, but the exact date on the “regular” or Gregorian calendar changes because the latter is a solar calendar while the former is a lunar calendar which keeps things seasonal by regular adding an extra month to close the gap between the moon’s cycle and solar months. The Muslim calendar, by the way, doesn’t make those additions, which is why the same Muslim holidays occur at different seasons during different years.
2. Rosh Hashanah celebrates the birth of the world and humanity. While the number 5773 corresponds to the age of the world, according to some ancient calculations, it speaks to a much larger issue which remains central to understanding Rosh Hashanah even for those of us who think that that world is far older. By celebrating the birth of the world and of humanity, not the birth of the Jewish nation or of the first Jew, Rosh Hashanah celebrates that whatever particular faith we follow, we share a common origin and destiny.
3. Rosh Hashanah promises everyone a second chance, even if it’s their hundredth one. The New Year also carries the promise of a new you. We are invited to see both ourselves and each other in light of that promise. In fact, Rosh Hashanah teaches that with a bit of work, there is no past that cannot be overcome, and no person who does not deserve the opportunity to do so.
4. Symbolic foods such as apples and honey are central to the holiday. The adage that we are what we eat is taken quite seriously on Rosh Hashanah, as those celebrating the holiday break out all kinds of foods symbolizing the sweetness, health, success and good deeds which they hope the coming year will bring. Of course, you don’t have to be Jewish to eat your wishes for the year ahead! What foods would you eat to symbolize your aspirations for the new year at work, school, or any other part of your life?
5.Rosh Hshanah is also called “the day of the horn sounding.” The horn referred to is known in Hebrew as the shofar, a curving ram’s horn that is mentioned numerous times in the Hebrew Bible, always associated with life- changing events. Perhaps the best way to think of a shofar is as an ancient alarm clock, and Rosh Hashanah as the day on which set to help wake ourselves up to becoming the person we most want to be.
6. Rosh Hashanah is about relationships. Whether between individuals and the God in whom they believe, communities and the traditions which define them, or simply between individuals, whether any God or tradition is a part of their lives, it’s all about sustaining relationships which sustain us and help us do the same for others. Rosh Hashanah invites us to reconnect, repair, and renew. Call it what you will, observe it any way you choose, but if that isn’t worthy of our attention and celebration, what is?
So Happy Rosh Hashanah to us all!