Rosh Hashana begins Friday night September 18, through Saturday (Sept. 19) and Sunday (Sept. 20).
Q. Rosh Hashana, in addition to being the Day of Judgment, is also Rosh Chodesh, the first day of the month Tishrei. Why is there no mention in the prayers that it’s also Rosh Chodesh?
A. When the king visits a city together with his ministers, all the attention is given to the king. It would be disrespectful to the king if we diverted our attention from the king and gave special attention to his ministers while in the king’s presence.
Rosh Hashana is the day when we crown G-d as King of the universe. On Rosh Chodesh we pay special tribute to the reappearance of the new moon. Thus, it is not befitting that on the day when we accept and recognize G-d as King of the universe to also focus on one of His subjects and pay tribute to the reappearance of the moon. For this reason, the prayers of Rosh Chodesh are omitted.
Q. Why does the date for Rosh Hashana vary from year to year?
A. Rosh Hashana will vary from year to year only on the secular calendar. However, it is always on the same day in the Hebrew calendar – on the first day of the Hebrew month, Tishrei.
The reason it varies on the secular calendar is that the Hebrew calendar, which is lunar based, has around 354-355 days in the year. However, the secular calendar, which is solar based, has 365 days.
In order to keep the Jewish holidays in their proper seasons (Passover in the spring, etc.) adjustments are made in the Hebrew calendar. Every few years an extra Hebrew month is added, thus making it a 13-month year. In that case the Hebrew calendar will be over 380 days. But on average it has just over 354 days.
Thus, the Hebrew holidays, which are established by the Hebrew calendar, are different on the secular calendar from year to year.
Q. Why did the Torah set the first of Tishrei as Rosh Hashana – beginning of the New Year?
A. Rosh Hashana is celebrated on the sixth day of creation, the day in which Adam and Eve were created. The upkeep of the universe and fulfilling G-d’s purpose for His creation depends on mankind. It teaches us the special merit and at the same time the great responsibility we all have in making this world a better place.
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.
Every Holiday has its unique mitzvah. The special mitzvah on Rosh Hashana is the blowing of the shofar. It is preferable that the shofar be made of a ram’s horn.
Q. What is the reason for blowing the Shofar on Rosh Hashana?
A. One reason is to recall the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. The Torah tells us that at the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, there was thunder and lighting and the sound of the Shofar.
Q. What connection does the Giving of the Torah have with Rosh Hashana – the day of judgment?
A. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Barditchev gives the following parable: A king became lost in a forest. He wandered deeper and deeper in the woods, until he lost all hope of ever seeing his beautiful palace again. One day, he suddenly met a man who knew the way out of the forest and who helped him back to his kingdom and palace.
The king rewarded the man very generously and made him one of his closest friends. One day, the man sinned against the king. Knowing that he was about to be severely punished, the man asked of the king to grant him one wish–that he be allowed to wear the same clothes that he wore when he saved the king. The king agreed. As soon as the king looked at him, he remembered how the man saved his life. Immediately, this invoked feelings of affection by the king and he forgave the sinner and restored him to his position.
The same is with the Jewish people, when they stand before G-d in judgment on Rosh Hashana. When G-d wanted to give the Torah He approached many nations, but no other nation was willing to accept the restrictions and responsibility of the Torah and mitzvot. Only the Jewish people accepted the Torah and crowned G-d as their king. Sounding the Shofar on Rosh Hashana recalls the Giving of the Torah when the Jewish people were there for G-d. So too, we pray that G-d remember our merit and be merciful upon us to grant us a happy and healthy New Year.
Q. Why is a ram’s horn used for the Shofar?
A. Another reason for the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashana is to recall the merit of our patriarch Abraham who passed his tenth test when he was ready to sacrifice his son, Isaac, on the altar. In the end G-d told him it was only a test and he sacrificed a ram instead.
On Rosh Hashana, the day of judgment, we need as many merits as possible to invoke G-d’s mercy on His children. By sounding the Shofar made of a ram, we recall Abraham and Isaac’s merit for their total dedication to G-d’s commandments. We pray that in their merit, G-d will grant us, their descendants, a good, healthy and sweet year.