Creation of the world… Re-creation of our selves… Re-creation of our relationships with each other and with G-d, creator and ruler.

Rosh HaShana, Hebrew for "head of the year", marks the anniversary of creation. We celebrate this Yom Harat Olam, or 'birthday of the world", on the first two days of the month of Tishrei. Unlike other festivals, this observance is for two days whether in Israel or not. 

Tishrei can be viewed as not only the first month of the year but also the seventh. So it may also be said that in the seventh month we are celebrating G-d's creation of the world- accomplished within six days and then a seventh to rest (the time span of course depending on your view as either figurative or literal). 

Alright, so how can this be both the start of a year and also a seventh month? It's because we have more than one designated "new year" – in fact, we have four. In particular, the two more major ones reflect different practices in various cultures in the past regarding whether one's new year started in the spring or the fall. In the Jewish case this generally meant a year starting in Nisan or Tishrei. The Talmud debated this as well and concluded that both were correct. This one in Tishrei, by the way, while mentioned in the Bible, was never specifically referred to as any "rosh hashana", and did not acquire that specific designation until the Talmudic period. 

So we mentioned having four "new years". The other two are in Elul and Shvat. The first of Elul would be akin to an ancient version of the income tax year - since this was a time to take a tithe from one's animals. Tu B' Shvat (the 15th) is the new year for the trees. So far, so relatively straightforward. 

But now get this: Nisan serves as the new year of months (!) and also to keep count of how long a king has ruled. Tishrei, as the time of creation, is used to keep track of the years. Or look at it as the new year of the years. Considering how we record a date numerically in the modern world (e.g. 1.1. in the secular calendar (e.g. 1.1.13), it's fortunate we don't try this with the Jewish calendar. 

In the Torah, we are told "In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you will observe a sacred occasion, you will not work at your occupations. You will commemorate it as a day when the horn is sounded" (Numbers 29:1). This reflects the centrality of the mitzva of the sounding of the shofar / שופר, and thus we also get the name Yom Teru-a / יום התרועה , "Day of Sounding of the Shofar". And if you have never yet heard the blast of the shofar, it is powerful and stirring, sounding indeed like a wake-up call for the soul. The obligation incumbent upon us here is not that you must blow the shofar yourself- it is that you should hear it being blown. (See more in our Info section. We should note that Learn Hebrew Pod follows a vegetarian policy, so we feel that one does not have to use a ram's horn - there are substitutes in this day and age that sound just fine). 

A time of Teshuva

This particular new year - Rosh HaShana – while also joyous, still contrasts in tone with those of most other cultures. It tends to the more momentous and solemn, conveying a sense of serious personal moral responsibility. In parallel one might think about what an enormous responsibility God had taken on in his creation of the world. We pray for life and peace for not just for our own loved ones, but for all God's world in the coming year. 

We turn back to this creation, and to more beginnings as well, to review and start again. Thus this is a time of teshuva. In Hebrew teshuva means both "return" and "answer". (It can also connote repentance). 

Return and answer to what? To our relationship with our self, with one another, and with God. 

We re-turn inward to review and evaluate, to reconcile ourselves with our past. In this process we hopefully find answers, prepare how to change failings, to make improvements and to re-create our relationships better. This is reflected in two other names for this chag - Yom Hadin / יום הדין , "Day of Judgment", and Yom Hazikron / יום הזכרון , "Day of Remembrance". Not only is God remembering and judging us, but we must reassess ourselves and our interactions.

The build-up in introspection actually starts an entire month before, in Elul. It picks up steam with Selichot, or penitential prayers. One starts on the Saturday night - motza-ey Shabbat / מוצאי שנת - before Rosh HaShana. But since Selichot would need to be recited for a minimum of four days, if the new year starts on a Tuesday, for example, one must start a week earlier. The first Selichot is said around midnight, and thereafter may be said daily right before sunrise or late at night.

The ten days starting with Rosh HaShana and culminating with Yom Kippur are altogether known as Aseret Yemey Teshuva / עשרת ימי תשובה , Ten Days of Returning, as well as Yamim Noraim or Days of Awe. The latter name apparently dates back to the Middle Ages. It may be due to the persecutions in those times, as nora can also mean "terrible". This is, afterall, a time of God's judgment. While Yom Kippur is an issue of making amends in one's relationship with God, before reaching this level one is expected to work on making amends with other people. And while sometimes difficult, one must confront the person directly whom you are asking forgiveness of. Often no less difficult is to forgive another. This must be done first, as one could not make a genuine spiritual teshuva when still held back with animosities, lapses or guilt that have remain unsettled with others. Teshuva is a process of time, attention and effort, no instant fait accompli. Going through the motions is not satisfactory either. The feeling and effort must be genuine in order to sway any judgment come Yom Kippur. 

Rosh HaShana Greetings

It is customary starting in Elul to wish people shana tova / שנה טובה , a good year, by greetings, cards and messages. We extend to you, from all of us at Learn Hebrew Pod, this heartfelt wish: 

leshana tova tikatevu vetechatemu
לשנה טובה תכתבו ותחתמו
"May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year". 

May your year be one of enjoyable learning challenges, sweet fulfillment, health and peace.