Happy Rosh Hashana 5774

Posted on September 5, 2013

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The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of Sabbath rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts. Do no regular work, but present a food offering to the Lord.’”

shofar

A shofar, traditionally blown during Rosh Hashanah.

Shana tovah u’metukah to all my Jewish friends out there!  A good and sweet New Year!  Today marks the first day of Tishrei, the seventh month of the Jewish calendar.

Wait, what?  The seventh month?  Why not the first month?  As it turns out, the Jewish tradition has four New Years on the calendar, not just one.  It’s not so different from our concept of having a new Fiscal Year and a new School Year on separate dates from our new Calendar Year; each of the Jewish “New Years” has a different purpose.  I was struck by how practical the purposes of those dates are, clearly tied to harvest times and the management of livestock, a reflection of the deep roots of the Jewish people in a pastoral and agricultural tradition.

The website Judaism 101 has the shortest, simplest explanation of the four New Years:

In Judaism, Nissan 1 is the new year for the purpose of counting the reign of kings and months on the calendar, Elul 1 (in August) is the new year for the tithing of animals, Shevat 15 (in February) is the new year for trees (determining when first fruits can be eaten, etc.), and Tishri 1 (Rosh Hashanah) is the new year for years (when we increase the year number. Sabbatical and Jubilee years begin at this time).

For a much more detailed explanation of the Jewish calendar, including the four New Years, check out John J. Parsons’ excellent article, “The Jewish Calendar: Mindfulness of the Divine Rhythm.”

I appreciated Rabbi Jeremy Rosen’s explanation of the Rosh Hashanah holiday, which veers from sweet and joyous to serious and reflective, as it marks the arrival of the Days of Awe and the contrition and atonement of Yom Kippur.

We can be happy one moment and reflective the next. That, according to the Talmud, is why we break glasses at weddings. It is why we thank God for the bad as well as the good, and vice versa. It is why we celebrate life and we record death. It is why we work but also rest, why we eat but also refrain. The more we do, the richer our lives. But the more we overindulge the less rewarding and enjoyable they become. Unless you add salt, the chocolate cloys. Unless you enjoy life and look on its bright side and remember your good fortune, however modest, the less significant each moment becomes.

Rosh Hashana has no Biblical name because it is sandwiched between the extremes of the delightful pleasures of harvests and the self-denial of Yom Kipur. It stands for the golden mean between them, the best of both harvest festivals and serious self-analysis.

It’s a good tradition.  At some point, whether religious or not, whether Jewish or not, we all would benefit from periodically taking stock of our blessings, and taking stock of ourselves, our place in society, and our place on this planet.  So once again, Happy New Year to my Jewish friends.

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