by Daniel R. Weiss
Daniel R. Weiss is the Head of School at Bornblum Jewish Community School in Memphis, Tennessee.
Why do we call the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah instead of the more literal translation Shana Chadasha? What is it about the word Rosh that is so central in our upcoming holiday? The word Rosh means head, Hashanah means the year. Our holiday is therefore called Head of the Year. The same is true of each new month, Rosh Hodesh, Head of the Month (the word for month is the same as the word “new” which would make a literal translation read Chodesh Chadash).
The answer may have its roots in the story of creation. The opening word of our Torah is B’reisheet בראשית. Imbedded in the word is the word Rosh ראש. The letter “bet” at the beginning signifies the word “in”. Our Torah teaches that “in the beginning,” quite literally may mean “in our head.” Creation begins with a thought.
This means that each of us is part of the creation process every time we have a thought. Dr. Mel Levine, in his book, A Mind at a Time, explains that “Each of us is endowed with a highly complex, inborn circuitry – creating innumerable branching pathways of options and obstacles. While some of us have brains that are wired to handle a lot of information at once, others have brains that can absorb and process only a little information at a time (often with greater accuracy). While some of us have brains that store and retrieve from memory with precision and speed, others possess brains that access facts more slowly or with less precision. Some kinds of minds prefer to dream up their own thoughts rather than drawing upon the ideas of others, and vice versa.”
We are wired to become an ongoing part of creation. It is interesting to note that in an edited work by Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins, entitled, Rosh Hashanah Readings: Inspiration, Information and Contemplation, one reads that though we are celebrating the birthday of the world on Rosh Hashanah, rabbinic literature does not refer to it as such. Instead we say the words, Hayom Harat Olam, “Today the world is being created” (rather than “Today the world WAS created”). Elkins points out that creation began on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Elul. Rosh Hashanah is the sixth day of creation, the day upon which man and woman were created. It was the day upon which thought came into being. Finally, Elkins teaches that “birth formation, rebellion, judgement, repentance and redemption, all of life’s transformational moments took place on Rosh Hashanah.” The entirety of existence is taught in the sixth day of creation.
As our new year begins this coming Sunday night, it is important for us to not focus on the how or why the world was created, but rather in how and why we are active participants in its continued creation. While we might stop and focus on the past year and spend time asking for forgiveness for those we may have wronged, we cannot simply dwell on the past. Instead, we must look to the future and find ways to continue to participate in creation. It is why we spend so much time and effort teaching our students the importance of character education. Our job is to create and build rather than to destroy.
I look forward to each of us using our heads to continue creating a better world.
Below you will find a special Rosh Hashanah video from our students and an explanation of the Rosh Hashanah symbols.
From my family to yours, Shana Tova U’Metukah.
Rosh Hashanah Symbols and Blessings
Pomegranates, Fish and Carrots
It is customary on Rosh Hashanah during the evening meals to eat foods symbolizing sweetness, blessings, and abundance. These foods are eaten as “simanim,” “good omens.” of success and happiness for the coming year.
The roundness of the challah shows us that we should have a smooth year, without a rough transition.
Apples and Honey
The apples remind us that we have come full circle to the beginning of a new year. The honey allows us to make it a sweet new year.
Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech haOlam, Boreh Pri Ha’eytz.
Yehi ratzon milfanecha, Adonai Eloheinu velohei avoteinu, shetchadesh aleinu shana tovah u’metukah
.בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הָעֵץ
.יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶֽיךָ, ה׳ אֱלֹקינוּ וֵאלֹקֵי אֲבוֹתֵֽינוּ,שֶׁתְּחַדֵּשׁ עָלֵֽינוּ שָׁנָה טוֹבָה וּמְתוּקָה
The symbolism of this fruit is based on the “fact” that it contains as many seeds as there are Mitzvot (Torah Obligations), namely 613. We want to be as full of Mitzvot as the Pomegranate is full of seeds.
Yehi ratzon milfanecha, Adonai Eloheinu velohei avoteinu, sh’yirbu z’chuyoteinu k’rimon
.יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְפָנֶיךָ, ה’ אֱלקֵינוּ וְאלקֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ,שֶיִרְבּוּ זְכֻיוֹתֵינוּ כְּרִמוֹן
In Yiddish, the word for carrots is “merren“, having the additional connotation of “more”. We want to have more children, have more wealth, gain more Torah knowledge, give more charity and performmore good deeds.
Yehi ratzon milfanecha, Adonai Eloheinu velohei avoteinu, sh’tigzor aleinu gzerot tovot
.יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְפָנֶיךָ, ה’ אֱלקֵינוּ וְאלקֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ,שֶתִּגְזוֹר עָלֵינוּ גְזֵירוֹת טוֹבוֹת
Spinach or Beets
Eating spinach or beets reminds us of a green year with abundant produce.
Yehi ratzon milfanecha, Adonai Eloheinu velohei avoteinu, sh’yistalku oy-vey-nu u’mastinenu.
.יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְפָנֶיךָ, ה’ אֱלקֵינוּ וְאלקֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ,שֶיִסְתַלְקוּ אוֹיְבֵינוּ וּמַשְטִינֵנוּ
A gourd is a vegetable with a tough exterior. This teaches us that God will protect us and give us strength during the coming year.
Yehi ratzon milfanecha, Adonai Eloheinu velohei avoteinu, shtikra roah g’zar di’neynu v’yikre’u l’fanecha z’chuyoteinu.
יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְפָנֶיךָ, ה’ אֱלקֵינוּ וְאלקֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ,שֶתִּקְרַע רוֹעַ גְזַר דִינֵנוּ וְיִקָרְאוּ לְפָנֶיךָ זְכֻיותֵינוּ
Leeks remind us that our enemies should be cut off (the Hebrew word is kartee, which also means to cut off).
Yehi ratzon milfanecha, Adonai Eloheinu velohei avoteinu, sh’yikartu sone-einu.
.יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְפָנֶיךָ, ה’ אֱלקֵינוּ וְאלקֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ,שֶיִכָּרְתוּ שׂוֹנְאֵינוּ
Head of a Fish
The symbolism of the head is that we should be “on top” and not “on the bottom”. The symbolism of the fish is based on the fact that they are very fertile creatures, but their reproductive activity is hidden from view, and therefore one could say that they embody the very desirable characteristic of“tzniut,” “modesty.”
Yehi ratzon milfanecha, Adonai Eloheinu velohei avoteinu, sh’nihehei l’rosh v’lo l’zanav.
Yehi ratzon milfanecha, Adonai Eloheinu velohei avoteinu, sh’nifra v’nirbe kadagim.
.יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְפָנֶיךָ, ה’ אֱלקֵינוּ וְאלקֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ,שֶנִהְיֶה לְרֹאש וְלֹא לְזָנָב