Rosh Hashanah guide for the perplexed, 2015
Based on ancient Jewish Sages, September 11, 2015
1. Rosh Hashanah ("beginning of the year" in Hebrew) is a universal, stock-taking holiday of hope and renewal, celebrated on the 6th day of The Creation, when the first human being, Adam, was produced.
Shana (שנה) is the root of the Hebrew words שנוי (change/transform) and שינון (rehearse): changing negative - and repeating positive - behavior.
2. The Shofar (ritual horn) is the key symbol of Rosh Hashanah, the Jubilee, Sabbatical years, new months, gathering people to the battlefield and the ingathering of Jews – symbols of Jewish unity.
On Rosh Hashanah, the Shofar gathers people to a soul-searching battle between positive and negative attitudes, sounding the gun for the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, invoking the sounds of the Shofar on Mt. Sinai, when Moses received the Ten Commandments.
The Torah does not mention Rosh Hashanah, but calls for a memorial of blowing the Shofar as a wake-up call – triggering awe - to enhance human behavior, and to remember the events/attitudes which led to the destruction of the two ancient Temples and the subsequent exiles. Rosh Hashanah is also called "Yom Te'roo'ah" (the day of blowing the Shofar). Shofar (שופר) is a derivative of the Hebrew word for enhancement (שפור), which requires humility, symbolized by the bent and non-decorated Shofar.
The Shofar is the epitome of peace-through-strength. It is made from the horn of a ram (invoking Abraham's faith and covenant with God and the prohibition of human sacrifices) - a peaceful animal equipped with strong horns, in order to fend off predators.
While blowing the Shofar is a major virtue, the Biblical statute is to listen to the sounds of the Shofar. The Hebrew root of "listening" (מאזין) is אוזן (ear) which contains the balancing mechanism in our body. אוזן is also the root of "scale", (מאזניים), which is the zodiac sign of the month of Tishrei.
Listening to the sounds of the Shofar – rather than just hearing them – reflects a profoundly effective means of communications, scrutinizing the multi-dimensional, internal and external nature of the tone and strength of sounds as well as words.
Rosh Hashanah reminds us to exercise humility, listening to voices around us, not only our own. Joseph was freed from the Egyptian jail on Rosh Hashanah, as a result of listening to – and interpreting - the dreams of two distinguished Egyptian prisoners, which catapulted him to historical prominence.
3. Rosh, in Hebrew, means "beginning," "first," "head" and "chief." The Hebrew spelling of Rosh (ראש) is the root of the Hebrew word for Genesis (בראשית), which is the first word in the Bible. Just like The Creation, so should the New Year and our own actions, be a head-driven, thoughtful – and not a hasty - process. Rosh Hashanah is celebrated at the beginning of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, which means beginning/Genesis in ancient Akkadian. The Hebrew letters of Tishrei (תשרי) are, also, included in the spelling of Genesis (בראשית).
4. Rosh Hashanah is also referred to as "Ha'rat Olam" (the pregnancy of the world), and it’s prayers highlight motherhood, optimism and the pregnancies of Sarah and Rachel, the Matriarchs, and Hannah, who gave birth to Isaac, Joseph, Benjamin and Samuel respectively. Sarah (שרה in Hebrew, the root of the word, Israel, ישראל) and Hannah (חנה in Hebrew, the root of the words Pardon, Amnesty and Merciful, חנינה, חנון) were two of the seven Jewish Prophetesses: Sarah, Miriam, Hannah, Deborah, Huldah, Abigail, Esther.
5. The pomegranate - one of the seven species blessing the Land of Israel - is featured during Rosh Hashanah meals and a key blessing: "May you be credited with as many rewards as the seeds of the pomegranate." The pomegranate becomes ripe in time for Rosh Hashanah and contains - genetically - 613 seeds, which is the number of Jewish statutes. It was employed as an ornament on the Holy Ark, the Menorah of the ancient Temples (candelabrum), the coat of the High Priest and Torah Scrolls.
The first two letters of the Hebrew word for pomegranate (רמון) – which is known for its crown - mean “sublime.” The pomegranate (skin and seeds) is one of the healthiest fruits: top heavy with iron and anti-oxidants, anti-cancer. It lowers blood pressure, enhances the quality of blood, the cardiac and the digestion systems. The pomegranate is used as a metaphor for a wise person: “wholesome like a pomegranate.”
May the coming year be top heavy on realism and low on wishful-thinking.
For more on Rosh Hashanah, other Jewish holidays, the Sabbath, Jubilee, annual fasting days and the Jewish meaning of “holiday”: http://bit.ly/137Er6J