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What is the deeper meaning of Rosh Hashanah?

by Rabbi Shais Taub

  

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Rosh Hashanah is popularly known as the Jewish New Year. It is true, the new year does begin on that day, but the translation is a bit misleading.

For one, literally, it doesn’t mean "new year" but rather "head of the year," which we’ll explain a little later. And secondly, Rosh Hashanah is not something of parochial significance just to Jews so that it should be classified as exclusively "Jewish." Actually, the day is relevant to every human being, and indeed, every created being in the entire universe, for Rosh Hashanah is the day that commemorates G-d’s creation of the world.

So if you’re looking for conceptual translation of the name, Rosh Hashanah should really be called the Anniversary of Creation. Indeed, the new calendar year that Rosh Hashanah ushers in is the number of years from the creation, the number value of the current Jewish year being the age of the universe.1

Until the sixth day of creation, G-d was only a Creator who had made many things. But on the sixth day... G-d became the actual King of the universe
Now, it should be noted that Rosh Hashanah is not the anniversary of the exact beginning of creation. It’s actually a few days off. But, in short order, this will make perfect sense, if you hang in there. You’re probably familiar with the idea that "In six days G-d created and on the seventh day He rested." Creation was a six day process. Rosh Hashanah is actually the exact anniversary of the sixth day. Why not the first?

You see, for the first five days, G-d created many things: the heavens, the earth, the sun, moon and stars, all types of vegetation and animals… But it wasn’t until the sixth and final day of creation that He created a human being2 . This first human being was named Adam (yes, the one who later sinned by eating from the tree of knowledge).

Adam, being human, was given intelligence and free will. Adam, unlike all of the other creations in the world, could choose – like all of us humans are able to choose – whether or not to recognize G-d’s sovereignty. Nothing else in creation can reject G-d, not a planet, blade of grass, a fish, or an animal. They were created to perform their functions, and that they do reliably and faithfully. It is only the human that was given license to reject the Creator. And thus, it is only the human that can truly accept G-d.

Until the sixth day of creation, G-d was only a Creator who had made many things. But on the sixth day, when there existed a being with free choice who willingly submitted to G-d of his own accord, it was then that G-d became the actual King of the universe. On the day that Adam was created, he crowned G-d as King and proclaimed the words later recorded in Psalm 93, "G-d has reigned. He has enclothed Himself in grandeur."

Footnotes

  • 1. See http://www.askmoses.com/en/article/238,162/How-does-Judaisms-claim-that-the-world-is-about-5-700-years-old-coincide-with-science.html
  • 2. Tractate Rosh Hashanah 10b-11a and 27a; Medrash VaYikrah Rabah beginning Parshah 29 (on Emor)

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Rosh Hashanah
The Jewish New Year. An early autumn two day holiday marking the creation of Adam and Eve. On this day we hear the blasts of the ram's horn and accept G-d's sovereignty upon ourselves and the world. On Rosh Hashanah we pray that G-d should grant us all a sweet New Year.
Adam
The first man, created by G-d on the sixth day of creation. He was banished from the Garden of Eden after eating from the forbidden fruit of the forbidden knowledge. Died in 2830 BCE.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.