Almost every culture celebrates the beginning of the year. Each tradition has its own customs, meals, gifts, and inner meaning. For Jews, celebrating Rosh Hashanah (the beginning of the year) comes with symbolic foods and a day of judgment. This judgment is the heart of Rosh Hashanah.
We can think of the spiritual significance of Rosh Hashanah as an operating system, like Microsoft Windows or Apple IOS. The human race did not come out of nowhere. Evolution has a purpose, and the operating system leads it toward it.
The operating system runs throughout nature, and all creations but humanity follow it instinctively. We, on the other hand, can study it and manipulate parts of it for our benefit.
On Rosh Hashanah, before we taste from the fish’s head, we say a blessing: “May we be the head and not the tail.” These words express our wish not to remain oblivious to the operating system and governed by it unconsciously, but to become aware of it and able to steer our development in a positive direction.
The operating system invariably leads toward a state of harmony and balance among all the elements in reality. It is aiming to bring all of humanity into a state of unity and closeness as though we are all a single warm and loving family. The system does not strive for sameness, to make us all the same, but for complementarity, to make us complement each other so that each of us contributes our unique skills and talents for the common good, and enjoys the contributions of everyone else, just like a loving family where everyone helps everyone else because they care about them.
As we study the system, we gradually realize how opposite we are from the state of closeness and care. These realizations precede Rosh Hashanah, and they are called selichot (asking forgiveness). Selichot are prayers we say when we feel how opposite we are from the state of balance and mutual care.
The Hebrew word for “prayer,” by the way, is tefilla, which comes from the word haflala, namely criminalization. During a prayer, we “criminalize” ourselves, namely discover that we are criminals, and therefore ask for forgiveness. The crime we realize we have committed pertains to the operating system, namely that we have been selfish, thinking of ourselves and loving only ourselves rather than embracing all of creation and working for its favor. In spirituality, selfishness is always the only sin, since every wrong we do comes from thinking only of ourselves.
The physical Rosh Hashanah happens once a year. However, the process of reflection, regret, asking forgiveness, and praying to become more loving is not limited by anything. It can, and should be a constant cycle that we do internally. Each time we complete a cycle of requests for forgiveness, we reach another Rosh Hashanah, until the next realization of selfishness emerges in us through our efforts to correct our egoism and become more caring.
When the cycle of Selichot is over and we reach Rosh Hashanah, we not only wish to be the head and not the tail, we also celebrate the correction of our corrupt qualities. We symbolize this by dipping an apple in honey. The apple represents the heart, and the honey stands for sweetening (correcting) it from selfishness to caring for others.
Another custom is to eat a rimon (pomegranate). A pomegranate has many seeds in it. Each of them stands for one selfish desire. Eating them stands for correcting them from selfishness to giving, which gives us a feeling of romemut (elation, note the similarity to the word rimon).
Finally, on Rosh Hashanah, we blow the Shofar—a festive horn. The blowing of the horn stands for our yearning for correction from carelessness and hatred of others into being loving, connected, and united as one with all the people in the world. The word shofar comes from the Aramaic word shufra (the best of the best). This is the state we achieve once all our desires have been corrected and we become united as one loving, global family.