Rosh Hashannah falls during the Hebrew month of Tishrei, but what many people don’t realize is that Rosh Hashannah is one of four new years on the Hebrew calendar. However, Tishrei is thought to be the month that God created the world. In the children’s services at my own synagogue, Temple Sinai of Roslyn, New York, Rosh Hashannah was often referred to as “the birthday of the world.” Yom Kippur, “the day of atonement,” occurs ten days later. The ten-day period between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur are known as the “Days of Awe.”
It is believed that God opens the Book of Life on Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashanah is the day of judgment as God begins to decide who shall live and who shall die. The days between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur are thought to be an opportunity for Jews to repent. This process of repentance is called “teshuvah.” During this period Jews are encouraged to make amends with those they have wronged and to plan ways of improving in the year to come.
Upon hearing that the theme of Rosh Hashannah is life and death, some might think that it is a sad holiday, but actually that is not the case. Most people are neither completely righteous nor totally wicked on a day-to-day basis and this time can be looked at as a gift from God who is allowing us to pull our lives together, so to speak. The "Shofar" (Ram's Horn) is blown on Rosh Hashannah and is special to this time of the year. The commandment to hear the shofar is both a literal and spiritual wake-up call. Rosh Hashannah is a holiday filled with hope for the New Year. Jews believe in a just and compassionate God who will accept their prayers for forgiveness. Consequently, Rosh Hashannah is about striving to be a better person and helping to create a better, more peaceful world.