The holiday of Rosh HaShanah, the New Year of the Hebrew calendar, is celebrated on the first two days of Tishrei. Due to the significance of the start of a new calendar year, Tishrei is not regarded as an ordinary month and thus the Birkat HaChodesh, the Blessing of the Month, is not recited. Rosh Chodesh – the new month – is overshadowed by Rosh HaShanah – the New Year and its blessings.
5781 ~ SHANA TOVAH VE’TIKATEVU!
May you be inscribed [in the Book of Life] for a good and healthy year!
At Rosh HaSahanah we acknowledge our Creator as the Source of all life and light. This festival, therefore, is more a reflection of the light of the sun, which eclipses that of the moon. As the moon is hidden in the sunlight, so Rosh Chodesh is hidden at Rosh HaShanah.
Time can be seen chronologically and historically as a linear sequence of events; yet, in a natural and spiritual sense, time really moves forward in reoccurring cycles (picture a circle in a spiral – a pulled out Slinky). This dual nature of time is echoed in the Hebrew word for year – shanah which is a derivative of shoneh – change. Time repeats itself but in a new form. We pass through the same set appointments in time each year, yet each year offers a new experience. Our journey from Egypt toward Mt. Sinai happened, is happening and will happen again in a constant ebb and flow of darkness and light, resting and growing.
In general, the focus of every new month, and every new year, is one of community; we celebrate that the Lord has brought us through the past month/year and together we now can go forward with hope and trust into the one before us.
At this season, with the intense reflective nature of the preceding month of Elul, of Rosh HaShanah and the subsequent ten Days of Awe culminating on Yom Kippur, each individual is engaged in a deep and thorough accounting of one’s life before God. This causes the emphasis to shift to the individual and the start of the new year is a more deeply personal beginning.
The letters of the month, Tishrei, can be rearranged as Reishit, meaning ‘beginning’ as in the first word of the Bible, B’reishit – In the beginning. Therefore, we focus again on the Creation of the world and the dawning of life, and God’s creation of the first man and woman. We celebrate the birthday of Adam and Eve and the year which is numbered from Creation – this new year being 5781.
Another name for Rosh HaShanah is Yom HaKeseh, “the day of the hiding.” Unlike the happy hester panim (hiding of the face – presence of God) on Purim, when we realize God’s hidden provision for the people of Israel, the hester panim of the Days of Awe has to do with Divine absence and teshuvah. If we hide our face from God, he hides his face from us.
To quote Abraham Joshua Heschel from God in Search of Man,
The extreme hiddenness of God is a fact of constant awareness…God is a mystery, but the mystery is not God. He is a revealer of mysteries.
“He reveals deep and mysterious things; He knows what is in the darkness and the light dwells with Him”
In the words of the liturgy of the Days of Awe:
“Thou knowest eternal mysteries and the ultimate secrets of all living.” The certainty that there is meaning beyond the mystery is the reason for rejoicing.
THE TRIBE OF EPHRAIM
Tishrei is the seventh Hebrew month, therefore Tishrei corresponds to Ephraim, the seventh tribe to travel when moving camp in the wilderness. The singular characteristics of a tribe are often reflected in an outstanding leader who represented the tribe during the course of biblical history.
The first, and foremost, leader who emerged from Ephraim was Yehoshua ben Nun. Joshua – the servant and closest disciple of Moses. He was a beautiful example of a moon to Moses’ sun. The Sages of Israel describe how “Moshe’s countenance was like the sun, and Yehoshua’s was like the moon… he only reflected what he received from Moshe” (Bava Batra 75a).
In turn, as we lift our lives before the Throne of Mercy on Rosh HaShanah, we remember that God has brought us from darkness into the light of His Kingdom, and we now are enabled to carry that light into the darkness… for the Father’s glory.