DAYS: A Spiritual Guide to the High Holidays
The simple, literal meaning of Rosh Hashana
is head of the year, an appropriate name for the
day which begins the Jewish New Year. However, this simple
meaning belies the deeper, more profound content of this great
It is a holiday when we celebrate the birthday of the worldthe
day that humanity came into existence. We set out lavish feasts, dipping
apples in honey, for a sweet new year.
It is a holiday when the earth trembles as the shofar is blown,
its heart-rending sounds vibrating through us. It reminds
us that this is the day when G-d sits in judgment of us.
It is a holiday when, after a month in the field,
the King returns to His palace, and we come to Him to pay
homage and to acknowledge Him as our King.
It is a holiday when we ask G-d to remember us for life and
to inscribe us in the Book of Life.
Regardless of background or affiliation, it
is a holiday when people feel compelled to attend a synagogue,
any synagogue, in order to fulfill some obligation, even though
they are not even sure what it might be.
And yet when they get there, many inevitably
get lost in the hundreds of pages of prayers, which are moving
at a brisk pace in Hebrew, a language which many dont
understand well enough to truly connect to the meaning of
If you feel like this on Rosh Hashana, the key
thing is not to be intimidated. Its definitely good
to follow along with the cantor and to pray with the group.
But even when you are able to do that, youll find that
there are times when the cantor falls silent and you are on
your own before G-d. Ultimately, this is what counts.
Rosh Hashana is the day when G-d judges you,
and only younot the cantor, not the rabbi, not anyone
elsecan know how to answer Him.
Rosh Hashana is called the day of judgment.
But what this mean exactly? Many people believe that it means
we should be trembling before G-d. If we sinned (and who hasnt?),
G-ds wrath and punishment are imminent.
But that kind of thinking is a religious distortion.
It is a perpetuation of the negative stereotype that G-d is
angry and vengeful, filled with rage
and determined to get even with us.
Yes, Rosh Hashana is a day of judgment, but
not the kind of judgment we imagine. It is the ultimate insultand
nothing more than anthropomorphic projection imposed by human
beings upon G-dto think that G-d judges us the way we
judge each other.
Instead of imposing our ideas of judgment upon
G-d, we should be seeking to discover how does G-d judge us.
In fact, the better question might be: Does G-d
G-d created a universe of mortal, imperfect
human beings. Does He now demand to know why we are not perfect?
Clearly that cant be it.
The truth is that the relationship between us
and G-d is a partnership. Partners are accountable to each
other. In the month of Elul, we do our accounting.
Rosh Hashana is audit day. G-d checks the books to see how
we took care of His investment in us.
This is the true meaning of Divine judgment.
Thus Rosh Hashana is actually a day of compassiona
holiday and cause for celebration. On this day G-d gives us
the opportunity to face Him and report on our progress in
fulfilling the Divine mission we were charged with. And we
are given the power to renew our contract with
Even if we feel uncomfortable with how little
we have accomplished, there is nothing to fear. G-ds
judgment is filled with wisdom and mercy. He doesnt
look for perfection. He knows that He created imperfect human
beings. He doesnt ask, Why werent you perfect?
He asks us only, Why arent you as much as you
could have been?
The judgment of Rosh Hashana is thus really
a great gift: G-ds vote of confidence in us that we
can live up to our greatest potential.
This is what we should keep in focus on Rosh
Hashana as we open our hearts to G-d in prayer.
THE DAY THE WORLD TREMBLES,
THE DAY THE WORLD IS BORN
The two meanings of the Rosh Hashana prayer,
Hayom harat olam, communicate succinctly the essence
of the day: Today the world trembles/ Today the world
We feel this message most acutely when the shofar
is blown. On the anniversary of the day on which the first
human being possessing a Divine soul was created, we blow
the shofar which mirrors the cry of that soulour soul.
On this day G-d breathed the soul of life into
man. And now every Rosh Hashana man blows his breaththe
breath that G-d breathed into himthrough a rams
horn in order to hear the sound of his soul reverberate.
The ram, a male sheep (the animal that Abraham
offered in sacrifice in place of his son Isaac), is the most
gentle and innocent of creatures, untainted by the aggressive
nature of other animals. The ram reminds us that our soul
is that part of ourselves that is gentle and innocent, untainted
by the aggressive, manipulative world we inhabit. And the
rams horn is the simplest of instrumentsnot carved,
molded or strung like other instruments which testify to the
ingenuity of manand it produces the haunting, resonating,
piercing cry that most closely approximates the pure sound
of the soul.
The prayer that we recite before the blowing
of the shofar further unlocks its secret: From my narrow
place, from my depths and constraints, I call to You, and
You respond to me from Your expansive place.
The pressures and challenges of life that force
us into a narrow placea place of difficulty,
pain, frustration, regret, or sorroware meant to be
catalysts that compel us to cry out to G-d for something more
than our earthbound materialistic reality.
This prayer assures us that when we cry from
our narrow place, the response flows from G-ds
most expansive generosity. In fact, the shape of the shofarnarrow
at one end and wide at the othermirrors this experience.
The purest cry that is emitted from the constraints
of our lives reaches the purest place in heaven and opens
up the channel of all blessings.
Rosh Hashana Day 1 Tishrei 1
First of the Ten Days of Teshuvah which
end on Yom Kippur. In these ten days we rebuild malchut
(kingship) in all its Ten Sefirotthe
ten spheres or channels of Divine energy with which G-d created
the world and which permeate all forms of existence.
According to Ramak, this day corresponds to
malchut (kingship or nobility).
According to the Ari, this day corresponds to
Every year there descends and radiates
a new and renewed light which has never yet shone. For the
light of every year withdraws to its source in the Essence
of the Ein Sof on the eve of Rosh Hashana, when
the moon is covered. Afterwards, by means of the sounding
of the shofar and by means of the prayers, a new and superior
light is elicited
a new and more sublime light that
has never yet shone since the beginning of the world. Its
manifestation, however, depends on the actions of those below,
and on their merits and penitence during the Ten Days of Teshuvah
(Tanya Igeret HaKodesh ch. 14).
3760 BCE: Creation of the first human beingsAdam
and Eve. On the same day they are created, Adam and Eve
commit the first sin of history: Eating from the "Tree
of Knowledge of Good and Evil." They are then judged
and banished from Eden. On that day they repent and are pardoned.
2084 (1677 BCE): Akeidat YitzchakAbraham's
supreme test of faith, his binding of Isaac in preparation
to sacrifice him as per G-d's command. On the same day, when
news of this event reaches Isaacs mother, Sarah, she
passes away at age 127, and is subsequently buried in the
Cave of the Machpelah in Hebron.
5683 (1923): Launch of the Daf Yomi (daily
page) daily regimen of Talmud study (in which the participant
studies one folio a day to complete the entire Talmud in seven
years), initiated by Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Lublin.
Laws & Customs:
Rosh Hashana morning and special Musaf
prayers, Torah readings and shofar blowing (except on Shabbat)
Following the prayers, we go home for lunch
and make a special Kiddush, prefacing with the verse
Tiku Bachodosh shofar bkeseh lyom
chageinu. Ki chok lYisroel hu, mishpat lElokei
Yaakov (Psalms 81:45). [On Shabbat, add references to Shabbat].
Following Mincha service, the Tashlich
ceremony is performed
Tonight, the second eve of Rosh Hashana, before
sunset, light candles, transferring the fire from a pre-existing
flame. If the first day of Rosh Hashana falls on Shabbat,
candle lighting must be done after nightfall.
Evening service and Kiddush: same as
the first night.
A new garment is worn and/or a new fruit (i.e.,
one that has not yet been tasted this season) is placed on
the table and eaten after Kiddush, in order to enable
us to make the Shehecheyanu blessing.
[When the second eve of Rosh Hashana is on Saturday night,
we add in Kiddush a special Havdalah prayer.]
 The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 10b-11a) documents a debate
between two sages: "Rabbi Eliezer says: The world was
created in Tishrei... Rabbi Joshua says: The world was created
in Nissan." Tosafot (Rosh Hashana 27a) reconciles between
them by saying that the creation happened in two stages:
First it was conceived in G-ds mind, and then it was
actualized. The Arizal explains that Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi
Joshua are not debating the date of G-d's actual creation
of the universe, which, after all, is a matter of historical
fact. Rather, Rabbi Eliezer is discussing the physical (outer)
world which was created in Tishrei, and Rabbi Joshua is
addressing the inner (spiritual) dimension of
creation which was created in the month of Nissan. They
differ on the question of priority and emphasis: is the
primary anniversary of creation the day when the universe
was physically created, or is the world's true date of birth
the day when it was spiritually created?
Note as well, that Nissan is known to be the
new year of the miraculous order, while Tishrei
is the new year of the natural order. See also Tishrei xxx.
The human being, the central force in the universe, has the power
to tap the deepest potential in the universe and cause it
to realize its purpose by transforming it into a home for
 Rosh Hashana 8a. 16a-b. See Zohar III 100b. Zohar
 When someone does teshuvah on Rosh Hashana
G-d considers it as if he was just created anew, because
through teshuvah a person is considered a new creation
and G-d calls him with a new name (Midrash, cited in Avudraham
 The Ramak begins this count from the last sefirah,
malchut (See Siddur Shaloh); the Ari begins this
count from the first sefirah, keter (Siddur
 The Tzemach Tzedek however rejects this, arguing that we cannot
say that Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are lower levels than
the other days of teshuvah (Oh HaTorah Shabbat Shuva p.
1461).Instead, he orders the days as follows: The two day
of Rosh Hashana are chochma and binah, the next seven days
of teshuvah are the seven emotions (chesed through Malchut),
and Yom Kippur is keter.
 The Talmud delineates what took place on each of
the first 12 daytime hours of the day: The first hour, the
humans dust was gathered; The second hour, he was
made into a form; The third hour, his limbs were formed;
The fourth hour, a soul was put into him; The fifth hour,
he stood on his feet; The sixth hour, he named the animals;
The seventh hour, [man and woman were separated and] Eve
was created; The eighth hour, they had relations and two
children; The ninth hour, he was commanded not to eat from
Tree of Knowledge; The 10th hour, he transgressed; The 11th
hour, he was judged; The 12th hour, he was expelled ((Sanhedrin
 Because the two days of Rosh Hashana are regarded
as "one long day", the Shehecheyanu blessing,
recited on the festivals by the women when lighting the
candles and by the men in Kiddush, requires an additional
source of rejoicing
 The order of the kiddush is then called Yaknahaz, acronym
of the Hebrew words for "Wine, Sanctification, Candle,
Separation, Season: Blessing on the wine, blessing
on the sanctity of the day, blessing on fire, "separation"
blessing marking the close of the Shabbat, and the Shehecheyanu