Joseph Frenkel

Rosh Hashanah – The Beginning, Middle and End

It always struck me as curious that the Jewish New Year occurs in the seventh month of the Jewish calendar Tishrei. In the Northern Hemisphere, the High Holidays are celebrated in Autumn at the end of summer, when many are looking forward to cooling off. As such, the spirit of renewal isn’t as palpable as it is in Spring when Pesach and first month in the Jewish calendar Nissan falls.

However, the long tradition of counting our years from Rosh Hashanah (The New {lit. Head of the} Year) is found in Biblical and Talmudic sources. Perhaps the reason for this is Rosh Hashanah being the birthday of mankind as we have a tradition that Adam and Eve were born on this day. Therefore, their physical birth gave us the concept of commencement and accordingly we count the year from then.

Another unique feature of Rosh Hashanah is the name itself, as unlike other Festivals, the words Rosh Hashanah aren’t found anywhere in the Bible. It is referred to simply as Yom Teruah – “A Day of Loud Sound” in the Torah. Drawing on our earlier example, the loud sound may be a reference to the “Big Bang” of Creation, when the almighty brought human intellect and consciousness into existence as well as the physical world itself. Thus, the trumpeting commemoration of loud sounds through prayer and blowing the Shofar is a fitting way of connecting with our early human history.

Aside from the commencement concept, the significance of Tishrei being the 7th month is more than coincidental. Seven is very significant number in Judaism, as it is the number of days of the week, as well as the amount of years in the Sabbatical cycles. So too we find the number 7 in Marriage (Sheva Brachot), Death (Shiva), other Festivals like Shavuot (7 weeks from Passover), Succot (7 Hoshana Circuits) and Simchat Torah (7 Hakafot). Seven appears to be a number of completion and strength which it why it is fitting that the New Year fall in the seventh month. But perhaps a broader look at both ideas of commencement and completion, can give us insight into what Rosh Hashanah is.

When viewing events of life, we can take two possible views – linearity and circularity. The former concept sees occurrences as sequential and coincidental. A linear life is one where we are born, grow both physically and intellectually, experience a great many things and then pass from our existence. Things happen because they do – without any particularly deep and considerable meaning and what happens beyond our time on this Earth is typically of little contribution to those that come after us. A linear existence, like cars on a freeway, is a series of parallel lines; independent and unintersected.

Contrastingly, the circular view, which is quintessentially Jewish, sees life and ultimately death as being part of a cycle. Day and night, weeks and years, our time and contribution are part of phases of change and series of growth. Our movements are both individual and collective, as experiences interconnect like a tapestry in a spiral winding both up and down toward our next phase. Things happen for a reason and are connected to through time and space to our past, present and future. Although the beginning, middle and end aren’t always clear, continuity is a constant as we are in a perpetual state of flux with the ability to propel forward and upward through our thoughts and actions.

Rosh Hashanah is our opportunity to choose how we see our existence. As a point of reference, we can see how things have been, are and will be. We can choose to end things that are holding us back and begin things that we’ve wanted to do. We can view our lives as important and purposeful or we can see things as “stuff happens”. Much like the round challah we dip in honey throughout Rosh Hashanah and the month of Tishrei, we can see the circularity of life to give us hope for change, sweetness and meaning. Perhaps that is the greatest blessing of Rosh Hashanah – knowing that our no matter how bitter or regretful our past was, it can also be our rebirth and renewal – as loudly and as sweetly as we want it to be.

Wishing everyone a Shana Tova U’Metuka and K’Tiva Vechatima Tova!

About the Author
Joseph (Yossi) Frenkel is a Podiatrist, academic, freelance writer and (very) amateur basketballer from Melbourne, Australia. His busy family and community life never ceases to be a source of inspiration, frustration and comedy!