The holiday of Rosh Hashana is unique in that it is celebrated two days in Israel just as in the Diaspora.
The first night of Rosh Hashana, we wish each other “L’shana Tova Tikateivu Vtaichateimu” – “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”
We don’t wish the same on the second night. The reason is because the Talmud tells us that, “The righteous people are immediately inscribed on the first day of Rosh Hashana, for good life.” To demonstrate that we consider everyone righteous, we wish “L’shana Tova” only the first day. To wish someone the same on the second night or day, would mean that we are in doubt whether they are righteous. It teaches us how careful we must be to view others in a positive way, especially on Rosh Hashana.
On Rosh Hashana, we eat different foods to symbolize our prayers for a sweet year. For this reason, we dip the Challa and apple in honey. We also eat foods which symbolize good things. For example, many people eat part of the head of a fish and declare, “May we, this year, be at the head!” In other words, we should be on top and not on the bottom.
Listening to the blowing of the Shofar on Rosh Hashana is a very important mitzvah. The sound of the Shofar on Rosh Hashana serves as a wake up call to return to G-d, for the sound of the Shofar reminds us that Rosh Hashana is the Day of Judgment.
Also, on Rosh Hashana we proclaim G-d as the King of the universe. At the coronation of a king, it is customary to blow trumpets. Through blowing the Shofar we declare G-d King of the universe.
Q. Why is it customary that the Rosh Hashana challahs (bread) are shaped round?
A. The round challah symbolizes the shape of the universe and remind us that the world is judged on this day. It also resembles the shape of a crown. This signifies that on this day we crown G-d as the king of the universe, as mentioned above.
Q. Aside from the practical application, is there any significance in the fact that the Shofar is blown from the narrow end while the wide end of the Shofar is pointing upward?
A. One of the verses from the Psalms recited before the sounding of the Shofar is, “Out of distress I called to G-d; with abounding relief, G-d answered me.”
The narrow side of the Shofar through which we blow represents our call of distress while the wide end of the Shofar represents G-d’s answering our call of distress with abounding relief.
HAVE A VERY GOOD, HAPPY, HEALTHY AND SUCCESSFUL DAY AND SHANA TOVA
On the first day of Rosh Hashana, after the Mincha service, it is customary to go to a body of water – a lake, river or stream that has fish in it and perform the Tashlich service.
Tashlich means “cast away”. The Tashlich service consists of different verses from the Bible and Psalms. After reciting the Tashlich service, we shake out our pockets (or the corners of our garments) over the water. This symbolizes the words of the prophet Micha: “And thou shall throw into the depth of the sea all your sins.”
Q. What is the symbolic significance of throwing away our sins at a body of water on Rosh Hashana?
A. The Midrash tells us that when Abraham went to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, Satan tried to intervene. So he put a river in their way to block their path. Abraham and Isaac continued walking, right into the river. When the water reached their necks, Abraham exclaimed, “Save us O Lord, for the waters have come to take my soul.” At that point, G-d ordered Satan to remove the obstruction. Tashlich, like many other Rosh Hashana customs, commemorates the acts of our forefathers. By reciting Tashlich near water, we recall the self-sacrifice of Abraham and Isaac and ask G-d to apply their merit in our favor.
Another reason: In Biblical times, it was the custom to anoint every king near a body of water so that his rule might flow smoothly and continuously like a river. Similarly, we say Tashlich by water for it is a time when we proclaim G-d as King of the universe.
Q. What is the significance of having fish in the water?
A. The reason we try to find a river that has fish for Tashlich: Fish have no eyelids, their eyes are always open. In the same way, we ask Hashem who, “neither sleeps nor slumbers” (Psalms 121) to watch over us continuously and bless us and our loved ones with a happy, healthy, and sweet year.
During the Middle Ages, ignorant peasants used the custom of Tashlich as an excuse for a pogrom against Jews. They claimed that Jews were casting a spell over the water or even poisoning it. As a result, the Rabbis would at times prohibit the practice of Tashlich for fear that Jewish lives would be endangered! Today, we can all celebrate this wonderful custom. If you cannot get to water on Rosh Hashana, you can perform the custom even after Rosh Hashana.
Q. Why is the Torah reading on the first day of Rosh Hashana about the miraculous birth of our patriarch Yitzchak (Isaac)?
A. Yitzchak was born on Pesach 400 years before the Exodus. He was born on the day that G-d would choose to take the Jewish people out of Egypt 400 years later. It was on Rosh Hashana that Sarah, at the age of 90, became pregnant with Yitzchak. Thus, we read about this miracle on Rosh Hashana.