Jewish Holiday: Rosh Hashanah

Religious Meaning
By: Amy J. Kramer

Rosh Hashanah, the first of the Jewish High Holy Days, is unlike other religious, ethnic or cultural New Year celebrations.

For example, the first of January, the most famous of all new year celebrations, is marked each year by elaborate parties, music, food, countdowns till midnight and toasting. And, while Jews around the world celebrate New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, there is an awareness that the celebration is not their own. It is, rather, something adopted, separate from the deeply personal and awesome meaning of Rosh Hashanah.

Rosh Hashanah is unique because it is both serious and festive. It is a time of spiritual renewal through prayer and deep personal reflection. It is also a time for families and friends to get together, make amends, ask each other's forgiveness and strive to make the next year better. Most important, it is the recognition of G-d as king and judge over all living things. It is also the realization that our behavior toward G-d and each other, is literally weighed and judged and ultimately sealed for life or death at the close of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Fortunately, according to our sages, there is a way to reverse a bad decree. An arduous, spiritual journey is undertaken requiring three key elements:

  • Teshuvah, repentance;
  • Tfiloh, prayer; and
  • Tzedakah, charity.

This journey, which is different and varies in difficulty for everyone, traditionally begins in Elul, (September in the English calendar) the Hebrew month preceding Rosh Hashanah.

Teshuvah, tfiloh, and tzedakah, may sound relatively easy, but they are not. The rabbis understood this, and to assist Jews everywhere, they designed a kind of road map, with the first of Elul as the starting gate, and the tenth of Tishri, Yom Kippur, as the finish line.

In between, there are many turns and twists and hurdles to jump. If you make it to the end with a pure heart and few false turns, you may cross the finish line and win the big prize: Divine forgiveness and inscription in the Book of Life.