Rosh Hashanah is the first of the annual High Holy Days. It is observed on the first and second day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei at the beginning of the Yamim Noraim (the Ten Days of Awe). Tishrei has the distinction of being the month of the High Holy Days. During this month our religious services are longer, more frequent, and often quite intense. Following as it does the month of Elul, the month of actively seeking forgiveness, Tishrei challenges us, did we take full advantage of the King's willingness to settle all debts and bring restoration? For those who have failed to do so, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, may bring a sense of dread and even fear as Yamim Noraim draws to a close. But first comes the joy of Rosh Hashanah.
Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe, a 10-day period of introspection and repentance. Those who failed to make proper teshuvah during Elul are offered ten more days to do so before the divine books are sealed for the year. These ten days culminate in the Yom Kippur observances which will be discussed in another study.
The name means "Head of the Year." In the Scriptures Rosh Hashana is also referred to as Yom HaZikkaron (the Day of Remembrance) and Yom Teruah (the Day of Sounding the Shofar). Although we sound the shofar each weekday morning during Elul, on Rosh Hashanah they are sounded with more intensity as detailed in our Tradition. The observance of the day is instituted at Leviticus 23:23-25The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:
24 Speak to the Israelite people thus: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts.
25 You shall not work at your occupations; and you shall bring an offering by fire to the LORD (sefaria.org).
Happy Birthday Adam Rishon and Chavah!
There are many reasons for all Jewish observances. Among these is the belief that Rosh Hashanah is a global birthday party for Adam Rishon, the first man and his wife Chavah, the "life giver." As such it is a day of gratitude to HaShem, our Creator.
On the first of Tishrei in 3761 BCE, which is to say, on 1 HH (Ha'luach Ha'ivri according to the Hebrew Calendar), the Holy One created Adam Rishon from the soil of Har HaBayit, the Holy Jerusalem Temple Mount, at Mount Moriah. Tradition has it that Adam's creation took place on Even ha-Shetiyah, "the Foundation Stone," which is now located within the Muslim Dome of the Rock shrine. Of this place we are told:"As the navel is set in the center of the human body, so is the land of Israel the navel of the world... it is situated in the center of the world, and Jerusalem in the center of the land of Israel, and the sanctuary in the center of Jerusalem, and the holy place in the center of the sanctuary, and the ark in the center of the holy place, and the foundation stone [Even ha-Shetiyah] before the holy place, because from it the world was founded." –Midrash Tanchuma, Qedoshim.How was this accomplished? According to the Holy Zohar:"When the Holy One, blessed be He, was about to create world, He detached one precious stone from underneath His throne of glory and plunged it into the abyss; one end of it remained fastened therein, whilst the other end stood above...out of which the world started, spreading itself to the right and left and into all directions."
This "precious stone" was Even ha-Shetiyah. It was the first place seen by Noach as the great flood waters receded. This was also the Rock where G-d told Avraham to sacrifice his son Isaac (and where Isaac, no mere child, agreed). Furthermore, King David placed the Ark of the Covenant on this Rock and declared that in the future it would be the site of the Holy Temple. For Jews this Sacred Rock is second only to the Holy of Holies itself in sacredness. It is a disgrace that the secular nation of Israel continues to allow the Jordanian Authority to control this area where Adam Rishon was created and so many of the other major events of our history took place. This needs to be remedied.
Later Adam was taken from the Sacred Jerusalem Rock to Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden), located south of modern Baghdad.
Most of Iraq is located within our eternal homeland. The entire land of Eretz Y'israel will be liberated and restored to us once Mashiach ben Yosef completes his task and Mashiach ben David is seated on his throne. May this day come soon and in our lifetimes.
In Gan Eden Adam's soul mate Chavah was created from his body and became the mother of all humanity. Even as the name Adam is appended to the first man, Adam Rishon, it also applies to Chava (Eve) and to all of their descendants. We are all "Adam!" We remember this history on Rosh Hashanah with joy sand thanksgiving to our Creator.
Not only is Rosh Hashanah their birthday, it is the birthday of the planet itself! Our sages disagree about the literalness afforded to the seven days of creation account, whether these should be considered as 24 hour days or time periods of uncertain duration, however when we take the Bereshit (Genesis) accounts literally, we conclude based on the testimony of HaTorah that the world was created in 3761 BCE, which is to say, 1 HH (Ha'luach Ha'ivri according to the Hebrew Calendar). As I write these words the year 5779 is about to dawn. So, Happy Birthday to us all!
How To Observe
Candles are lit in the evenings just before sunset. Festive meals including sweet delicacies of various sorts are enjoyed with a spirit of celebration. Prayer services are attended on both days by the majority of Jews. Even those seldom seen in shul during the rest of the year typically attend the High Holy Days services. On Rosh Hashanah (and Yom Kippur) synagogues are usually filled to capacity and beyond. In the shul the sounding of the shofar ("ram's horn" are heard on both mornings. The shofar reminds us, among other things, of the ram supplied by HaShem to deliver Isaac and us all. Both days are observed as Shabbatot and so we desist from all creative work accordingly. Many Jews remain in shul all day on both days.
If you are a Breslov Chassid or an admirer of Rebbe Nachman, and have the means to do so, you may wish to join the twenty five thousand or more Breslover Jews and others in pilgrimage to Uman, Ukraine. Breslovers travel there from the far reaches of the planet to visit the grave site of our Rebbe, the great grandson of the Baal Shem Tov (aka the BESHT). Like the BESHT, Rebbe Nachman devoted his short life to breathing fresh air into the musty tombs and shuls of the rabbis. He was completely orthodox in his views and practices, however he realized that something significant was missing from Judaism, something his great grandfather had identified earlier when he began Chassidut Judaism.
Rebbe Nachman realized that too many of his fellow Jews lacked joy and meaningful experiences in their Jewish lives. Our Rebbe therefore merged the inner mysteries of Kabbalah, the intellectualism of amazing Torah scholarship, inspiring folk tales and parables, with practical instructions on attaining personal, experiential spirituality and devekut (attachment to G-d). His was an orthodox religious philosophy centered on speaking to God directly in ones own native language without the need of any mediators, including the rabbinic establishment. He proclaimed that the common Jew is as precious in HaShem's sight as the most prestigious Torah scholar, sometimes more so! He stressed the importance of hitbodedut, secluded personal prayer, as the way for common people to ascend to the heights of holiness and divine communion through emunah, active faith. Not surprisingly his egalitarianism brought him into conflict with the highly intellectualized Rabbinate of his day. Of this controversy he once said: "The Mitnagdim [opponents of the Chassidim] say that the main thing is to study Torah. The Chassidim say the main thing is prayer. But I say: Pray and study and pray (Siach Sarfey Kodesh 1-87).
It was Rebbe Nachman's desire that each Rosh Hashanah his talmidim (students) should come and visit him in Uman. As Breslovers we accept that the Rebbe completed his tikkun (soul correction) and remained alive solely out of love for his students. In his vast humility he said, "There is nothing I need to do for myself in this world at all. I came into the world only to bring Jewish souls closer to G-d. But I can only help someone who comes to me and tells me what he needs (Chayey Moharan #307). And they did by the thousands! These fortunate talmidim received magnificent blessings and spiritual direction that led to many of these becoming tzadikim ("pious ones," saints).
Before the Rebbe's passing he said: "I want to remain among you. You should come to my grave" (Chayey Moharan #197). He also made a promise that no other Tzaddik in the whole of Jewish history had ever made. Taking as his witnesses Rabbi Aaron, Rav of the town of Breslov, and Reb Naftali, his second closest disciple after Reb Nosson, Rabbi Nachman said:Bear witness to my words. When my days are over and I leave this world, I will still intercede for anyone who comes to my grave, says these Ten Psalms and gives a penny to charity. No matter how great his sins, I will do everything in my power, spanning the length and breadth of creation, to save him and cleanse him."
A few months after Rebbe Nachman's passing, Reb Nosson led the first pilgrimage to his grave. The Rebbe's widow arranged for the construction of a small structure over the grave, which became a focal point for regular visits by Breslover Chassidim and many others for over 130 years.
During the Nazi invasion of Russia in 1941 a hand grenade exploded at the grave site, completely destroying the structure built over it. After World War II the devastated cemetery and surrounding area were designated for suburban housing. However, the plot of land containing the grave was acquired by a Breslover chassid, who designed a house with an exterior wall and window alongside the grave in order to discourage anyone from building over it later. The grave was covered by an unmarked slab and enclosed in the private yard attached to the house, which later passed into the hands of gentiles.
The Breslover Chassidim who remained in Russia after the war knew the location of the grave and continued to visit it even in the darkest periods of communist repression. From the 1960's and particularly in the late 1970's and '80's Rebbe Nachman's grave in Uman became a magnet for steadily increasing numbers of visitors from Israel, Europe, North America and other parts of the world.
After the breakup of the Soviet Union and the establishment of Ukraine as an independent republic in 1991, control of the grave site was acquired by the Breslover Chassidim, who replaced the old house with a new Beit Midrash and facilities for the tens of thousands who visit annually and particularly for Rosh Hashanah. (Portions of this section are from Azamra.com)
It is therefore part of Breslov minhag to recite the tikkun Haklali especially on both days of Rosh Hashanah.
Greetings:On the first night of Rosh Hashanah, wish a male, "Leshanah tovah tikatev vetichatem;" for a female say, "Leshanah tovah tikatevee vetichatemee." In both cases you are saying: "May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year." At other times wish them a "Gemar chatimah tovah" ("A good inscription and sealing [in the Book of Life]"). This refers to the upcoming judgments of Yom Kippur. It says, in effect, may you receive HaShem's mercy and may next year be even better than the current one.
Tashlich:On the first afternoon of Rosh Hashanah (provided it is not Shabbat), it is customary to go to a body of water (an ocean, river, pond, etc.) and perform the Tashlich ceremony, in which we ceremonially cast our sins into the water with pieces of bread . With this tradition we symbolically evoke the verse, "And You [HaShem] shall cast their sins into the depths of the sea." The short prayer based on the 13 Attributes of G-d used in this service can be found in your machzor ("holiday prayer book").
All day Services:Depending on local minhag (custom) there will likely be services most of both days. The Torah is read on both mornings of Rosh Hashanah and everyone rises as the Shofar is sounded. The blowing of the shofar or ram's horn reminds us both of the ram which was sacrificed in Issac's place as well as the sacrifices HaShem calls upon each of us to make in our lives. We recall the antisemitism our people must endure for the sake of Torah throughout our generations and we recommit ourselves to the vows we made at Mount Sinai. We should also recommit ourselves to the declaration our people made in 1948: "Never Again!" This means "Not Now Either!" From now on we will stand!
On the first day, the topic is Isaac’s birth and the subsequent banishment of Hagar and Ishmael. The Torah reading is followed by a haftarah reading about the birth of Samuel the Prophet. The theme being answered prayers. Our Tradition says that both of these births took place on a Rosh Hashanah.
On the second morning we read about Avraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac, who also consented to his own death. The haftarah for the second day assures us of G-d's eternal love for His people. If we maintain our emunah or active faith in HaShem we will see His Hand at work in every aspect of our lives.
The most important two aspects of Rosh Hashanna are hearing the Shofar blasts and heartfelt gratitude to HaShem
These are Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe.
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