What do you know about Rosh Hashanah? Most people have a vague sense of what this means to followers of the Jewish faith, which in the United States alone constitute nearly 5.3 million people.
However, the following things will help you make sense of the Jewish New Year, which begins sundown on Sunday.
1. Rosh Hashanah means the beginning or entrance 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 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, in fact, doesn’t make those additions, which is why the same Muslim holidays occur at different seasons during different years.
2. According to Jewish tradition, Rosh Hashanah celebrates the birth of the world and humanity. While the number 5773 corresponds to the age of the world, according to ancient calculations, it speaks to a much larger issue which remains central to understanding Rosh Hashanah. 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 affords 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.
5.Rosh Hoshanah 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 Torah, 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 God, communities, and the traditions which define the Jewish people, 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.
Furthermore, on the first night of Rosh Hashanah after the evening prayer, it is the Ashkenazi and Hasidic custom to wish Le'shana Tova Tikoteiv Vetichoteim (Le'Alter LeChaim Tovim U'Leshalom), which is Hebrew for "May you (immediately) be inscribed and sealed for a good year (and for a Good and Peaceful Life)". Shana Tova is the traditional greeting on Rosh Hashanah, which in Hebrew means "A good year".
Whether celebrating with family or friends, make sure to bring some fresh apples and honey to indulge on such a sweet occasion.
Happy Rosh Hashanah!