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The Meaning of Rosh HaShana, the Jewish New Year, the Renewal of the World

09/11/2023 03:02:57 PM


Rabbi Rudin

Rosh HaShana is just another day, right? It’s not an equinox or a solstice. It has no astronomical significance. No eclipse, no magnetic flux, no bells and whistles. It’s not even the first month of the year - it’s the seventh. It’s not even the anniversary of the Creation.

So… what is it?

The Torah says: “And Elohim breathed into the human ruach chaim, the divine life breath”.

Rosh HaShana is the anniversary of the moment when G-d breathed a Neshama, a soul, into a being of earth. It’s the milestone of the revelation that to be human is more than to be merely mortal.  It’s the day when humanity became aware of itself and of the Divine Image in which we were fashioned. A clod of earth with a dream of eternity. A drop of divine awareness in the sea of infinity.

Theoretical physicist Mikio Kaku called the human brain the most complicated object in the known universe. The cathedral of the soul, this collection of neurons and synapses, born of the elements of earth; of earth, water, air and fire can somehow contain and encompass, can somehow envision, somehow reflect the cosmos. The image of the divine indeed.

And that is why on this day, we sing praises into the void, why we sound the most ancient sound created by the human breath, the shofar blast. Because when we send out the call with all of our longing and strength and need, we encounter not emptiness but Presence.

This world, this life, is no flash in the dark. It’s a beachhead of being, of existence, order, reality in the Unformed and Void of primordial chaos.  Every human act of kindness and love and patience, hope and faith, of giving life a little dignity, of showing gentleness and respect is an act of renewed, extended creation. Maybe that’s why we were given souls: to move life forward against inert nothingness one step, one Mitzvah, one moment at a time.

On the day of Rosh HaShana we use our immense human power not to take in but to put forth, to impose meaning, to create a space for the Divine Presence. The G-d of Israel told us that His name is Ehyeh:“I am becoming what I am becoming” Israel is the people that is always becoming and each human being’s purpose and essence to the freedom to become. 

Once a year, we stand on the mountain cliff overlooking the abyss and with imagination, vision and love commit once again to transforming it into the Kingdom of G-d’s Creation, into Ma’aseh Beresheet, where the intimation of immortality, the sense of the Presence, is revealed.  And how? With the sound of hope embodied, the call of the Shofar.


Sat, May 25 2024 17 Iyyar 5784