Rosh Hashanah: Marking the world’s birthday

We must recognize that life itself is a gift from the Almighty and that it has a sacred purpose.

DIPPING APPLES in honey for a sweet new year (photo credit: MENDY HECHTMAN/FLASH90)
DIPPING APPLES in honey for a sweet new year
(photo credit: MENDY HECHTMAN/FLASH90)
One of the many names of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is “yom harat olam” – the birthday of the world. It is the day on which we believe the world was created.
Before we can begin to celebrate this “birthday,” something is required of us. During the 10 days that begin with Rosh Hashanah and end with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, we are meant to ask forgiveness of anyone we may have hurt during the year – even unintentionally. We are required to atone for wrongs between man and man, in contrast to the sins that arise between man and God. To extend forgiveness to others is harder than to humble ourselves and ask for it from family, friends or rivals. We cannot make a spiritual “return” as we are required to do if we are still shackled with unresolved guilt and resentments.
More Jews attend the synagogue on these two days than at any other time. Many of the prayers praise the mighty and wondrous works of the Creator, in keeping with the theme of “the birthday of the world.” We must recognize that life itself is a gift from the Almighty and that it has a sacred purpose.
According to our tradition, everything we do is recorded in the Book of Life. No deed, word, thought of good or evil, goes unrecorded. The record is supposedly kept in heaven. One belief accords this job to Elijah the Prophet, keeper of the records of man’s deeds. On Rosh Hashanah, the Book of Life is examined, our acts for the preceding year weighed and judged. On this basis, it is decided “who shall live and who shall die... who shall be brought low and who shall be exalted.” For this reason, we send each other greetings worded “May you be inscribed for a good year.” We are taught that the only way to avert a severe decree is by “penitence, prayer and charity.”
According to Rabbi Kruspedai, in the name of Rabbi Yohanan, three books are opened on Rosh Hashanah – one for the wholly righteous; one for the wholly wicked; and one for most of us, those in between.
The wholly righteous are inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life, the wicked in the Book of Death, and the rest of us are held suspended until Yom Kippur, when we are judged worthy or unworthy. The zodiacal symbol for the Hebrew month of Tishrei is, fittingly, a balance – the scales of justice. Many people accompany all meals at this time with apples and honey. The apple also symbolizes the Shechinah – the Divine Presence – which Kabbalists refer to as an apple orchard.
With the emphasis on Creation at this time, it is customary to eat an apple dipped in honey on the first night of Rosh Hashanah, after the blessing on the wine and bread, and say: “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who created the fruit of the tree,” followed by: “May it be Your will, our God and God of our fathers, to renew unto us a good and sweet year.”
On the second day we eat a new fruit – one not tasted that season – and we recite a blessing over it.
How do we know on what day of the year the world was created? We know that the first word of the Torah is “Bereshit.” When the letters are transposed, they read: “alef b’Tishri” – the first of Tishrei, when God began to create the heaven and the earth.
May we all be inscribed for a good year.
The writer is the author of 14 books. Her latest novel is Searching for Sarah. [email protected]