Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger, “Second Thought: a US-Israel Initiative”
The evening of September 15, 2023 will launch Jewish New Year of 5784.
1. Genesis. Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the Jewish New Year is celebrated on the 6th day of Creation, when the first human-being, Adam, was created. Adam is the Hebrew word for a human-being (אדמ), which is the root of the Hebrew word for “soil” (אדמה) – a metaphor for humility. The Hebrew word for Adam is, also, an acronym of Abraham, David and Moses, who were role model of humility.
The Hebrew word Rosh (ראש) means first/head/beginning and Hashanah (השנה) means the year. Rosh (ראש) constitutes the root of the Hebrew word for Genesis (בראשית), which is the first word in the Book of Genesis.
Rosh Hashanah is celebrated on the first day of the Jewish month of Tishrei – “the month of the Strong Ones” (Book of Kings A, 8:2) – when the three Jewish Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) and the Prophet Samuel were born.
Tishrei means beginning/Genesis in ancient Acadian. The Hebrew letters of Tishrei (תשרי) are included in the spelling of Genesis (בראשית). Furthermore, the Hebrew spelling of Genesis (בראשית) includes the first two letters in the Hebrew alphabet (אב), a middle letter (י) and the last three letters (רשת) – representing the totality of the Creation.
2. Self-examination. Rosh Hashanah initiates a wake-up call of ten days of self-examination and repentance, which are concluded on Yom Kippur (the Day of Repentance). Thus, one should never underestimate one’s capabilities to enhance one’s fortunes, when guided by morality-driven tenacity, determination, humility and faith.
The root of the Hebrew word Shanah (שנה) is both “repeat” and “change.” Rosh Hashanah (ראש השנה) constitutes an annual reminder of the need to enhance one’s behavior through systematic self-examination, re-studying moral values and avoiding past errors.
The New Jewish (lunar) Year is the only Jewish holiday, which is celebrated upon the (monthly) appearance of a new moon, proceeding in an optimistic manner: from relative-darkness to a fully-illuminated moon in the middle of the month.
3. Responsibility. The late Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, the iconic Talmudic scholar, compared the calendar year to a human body, consisting of the head/brain (the epicenter of the thought process), the heart (the intersection of blood supply) and the liver (the crux of the digestion process). Thus, on Rosh Hashanah (head/brain) one contemplates the vision, strategy, tactics and norms/values of the coming year. The rest of the year (the other parts of the body) facilitate the implementation of the vision. An effective implementation requires responsible and balanced coordination between the head/brain, heart and liver of the year.
4. The Shofar (a ritual ram’s horn). Rosh Hashanah is announced and celebrated by the blowing of the (bent, thus humble) Shofar, the horn of the humble and determined non-predator ram. The roots of blowing the Shofar are in the book of Leviticus 23:23-25 and the book of Numbers 29:1-6: “a day of blowing the shofar” and “the day of commemorating the blowing of the shofar.”
The Hebrew spelling for Shofar שופר)) is a derivative of the verb to enhance and improve שפר)), enticing people to persist in the eternal voyage of improved behavior.
The sound of the Shofar was used to alert people to physical challenges (e.g., facing military challenges). On Rosh Hashanah, the Shofar alarms people to spiritual challenges and enhancement. It serves as a wakeup call for the necessity of cleansing one’s behavior.
The Shofar represents “peace-through-strength,” as demonstrated by the peaceful ram, which is equipped with powerful and deterring horns.
In ancient times, the blowing of the Shofar was employed to announce the (50th) year of the Jubilee – the Biblical role model of liberty: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land and unto all the inhabitants thereof (Leviticus 25:10).”
The Jubilee inspired the US Founding Fathers’ concept of liberty as inscribed on the Liberty Bell, as it inspired the US Abolitionist, anti-slavery movement.
The English word Jubilee is derived from the Hebrew word Yovel, a synonym for horn-Shofar.
5. Commemoration. The 100 blows of the Shofar commemorate:
*The creation of Adam, the first human-being;
*The almost-sacrifice of Isaac, which was prevented by a ram and an angel;
*The receipt of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai;
*The tumbling of the walls of Jericho upon re-entering the Land of Israel, which was facilitated by the blowing of the Shofar;
*Judge Gideon’s war against the Midianites featured the blowing of the Shofar;
*The reaffirmation of faith in God, the Creator (“In God We Trust”).
*From despondency (the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem and the resulting exiles) to fulfilled optimism (the ingathering to the Land of Israel);
The 100 blows of the Shofar are divided into three series, honoring the three Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), the three parts of the Old Testament (the Torah, Prophets, Writings) and the three types of human beings (pious, mediocre, evil).
6. Pomegranate. On Rosh Hashanah, it is customary to eat seeds of pomegranate, which is one of the seven Biblical species of the Land of Israel (wheat, barley, grapes, dates, figs, olives, pomegranates), representing health (high in iron, anti-oxidants, anti-cancer, enhances cardiac and digestion systems), righteousness, fruitfulness, fertility, knowledge, learning and wisdom.
7. Honey. Rosh Hashanah meals include honey, in order to sweeten the coming year. The bee is the only insect which produces essential food. It is a community-oriented, constructive and a diligent creature. The Hebrew spelling of bee (דבורה) is identical to “the word of God” (דבור-ה’), and Deborah דבורה)) was one of the seven Jewish prophetesses, as well as a military leader.
Wishing you a healthy, challenging and fulfilling year