The biblical command to celebrate Rosh HaShanah is found in Leviticus 23.23-25. The name Rosh HaShanah means New Year or literally Head of the Year.” This name is not found in the Scriptures. It is actually celebrated on the first day of the seventh month. The new year on the Hebrew calendar actually falls in the month of Nissan, the month of Passover. The rabbis called it Rosh HaShanah because they considered it a special Shabbat. They consider it the spiritual new year.
The Scriptural name is Yom Teruah, which means sounding of the trumpets, literally the day of the blast. The whole month preceding it, the month of Elul, is considered a holy month. The forty day period including the month of Elul and the 10 days leading to Yom Kippur are a time of holiness and reflection and preparation. In fact, sometimes the shofar is sounded every day in the synagogue during this month.
It is also known also as Yom haDin, “Day of Judgment” and Yom haZikkaron, “Day of Remembrance. It is called the Day of Judgment because it is said that at this time one’s deeds for the past year will be judged. It is called a Day of Remembrance because it is a time of remembering the creation of the world.
It marks the beginning of the 10 days of awe, the period leading up to Yom Kippur. During this ten-day period we are called to search ourselves to see if we have drawn closer to G-d or farther away from Him. It is a time of reflection on the past year.
Traditionally, it is believed that the Book of Life is opened at this time and all deeds good and bad are recorded.
The theme of the day is repentance. Tashliach, a ritual “casting off of sin” is practiced on Rosh HaShanah. Tashliach comes from Micah 7.19 where the prophet declares, “You will hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” People gather by a body of water, the ocean, a river, stream or even a lake and cast breadcrumbs into the water or empty their pockets of any lint. This symbolizes the casting off of one’s sin and the rejoicing in G-d’s promise of forgiveness.
Central to the holiday is the sounding of the shofar. The shofar is usually a ram’s horn. One of the biblical stories read on Rosh HaShanah is the “Binding of Isaac.” It was a ram that became a substitute for him. Thus, the shofar is made from the ram’s horn. There are three basic sounds of the shofar that are blown on Rosh HaShanah. Tekiah, which is one long blast. Shevarim, which are three short blasts. Teruah, which is an alarm consisting of nine short, fast blasts. And then comes Tekiah Gedolah, the great blast.
White is a common color for the day. From the tablecloth to personal clothing, white is seen. This is in recognition of the promise G-d makes in Isaiah 1.18 to turn our sins from scarlet to white.
As with all other holidays, the celebration begins with a festive meal. It is common to have things made with honey in anticipation of a sweet and new year. Special foods are eaten on this holiday. The challah is round symbolizing a crown. On this day we recognize the kingship of G-d. Apples and honey are also eaten. Apples are considered a new fruit and represent the new year. Honey is symbolic of a sweet year to come. The prayer to one another is “L’Shanah Tovah u’metukhah”. May you have a good and sweet year.
There are two blessings to say when you eat apples and honey. Cut an apple into pieces. Dip each piece in honey. Then say the following prayers before eating the apple:
The tree fruit blessing follows:
Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth fruit from the tree.
After this blessing you take a bite of the apple that has been dipped in honey and recite the following blessing:
May it be Your will, Adonai our God, God of our fathers and mothers, to renew for us a good and sweet year.
The ‘Tashlich’ prayer is said on the first afternoon of Rosh HaShanah by a pool of water that preferably has fish in it. These prayers are symbolic of the casting away of our mistakes. If Rosh Hashanah falls out on Shabbat, ‘Tashlich’ is pushed off until the second day. If ‘Tashlich’ was not said on Rosh Hashanah itself, it may be said anytime during the Ten Days of Repentance. Both the body of water and the fish are symbolic. In Talmudic literature Torah is represented as water. Just as fish can’t live without water, so too a Jew can’t live without Torah! Also, the fact that fish’s eyes never close serve to remind us that, so too, God’s eyes (so to speak) never close; He knows of our every move.
This is the text of ‘Tashlich’:
Who is like You, God, who removes iniquity and overlooks transgression of the remainder of His inheritance. He doesn’t remain angry forever because He desires kindness. He will return and He will be merciful to us, and He will conquer our iniquities, and He will cast them into the depths of the seas.
Give truth to Jacob, kindness to Abraham like that you swore to our ancestors from long ago.
From the straits I called upon God, God answered me with expansiveness. God is with me, I will not be afraid, what can man do to me? God is with me to help me, and I will see my foes (annihilated). It is better to take refuge in God than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in God, that to rely on nobles.
Many people also read Psalms 33 and 130.”