Rosh HaShanah

In a few days we will see the old year 5768 pass and the New Year of 5769 begin. But wait a minute I thought that the New Year in Judaism began in the spring and not in the fall? What is going on?

The Torah makes it very clear that the beginning of the year is on the first day of the month of Aviv (the meaning of the Hebrew word Aviv is spring) also called Nisan. For the Scripture declares,

“And the L-rd spoke to Moses and to Aaron in the land of Egypt saying, ‘this month is for you the beginning of the months, it is for you the first of the months of the year.'”

Exodus 12:1-2

If the month of Aviv (a.k.a Nisan) is the first month then why is it that Judaism celebrates the New Year in the month of Tishre which according to the Bible is the seventh month? I have been asked this question many times. First of all, no one is saying that there has been a change in the way time is reckoned by the rabbis. The Rabbis are very much aware that Nisan is the first month and Tishre is the seventh. The tradition of counting years in the month of Tishre has a purpose attached to it. This purpose will be discussed at the close of this article. First one needs to remember that the actual name of the holiday that occurs on the first day of the seventh month is “Zickrohn T’ruah” a day for remembering the sounding of the Shofar.

The main idea behind the sounding of the shofar is found in Genesis 22: 14. This verse speaks of the L-rd seeing the need of a sacrifice and providing the ram to be offered up in place of Isaac. Remember that the ram was caught in the thicket by his horn. It is this ram’s horn that is used in making the shofar –a trumpet of sort which is sounded. Therefore when one hears the sounding of the ram’s horn, he should think of the faithfulness of G-d in providing what Abraham needed for his son and for that matter what all the sons of Abraham need to escape G-d’s judgment of death. Remember that G-d commanded Abraham to take his son to Mount Moriah to slay him there. The question that must be asked is what is it that Abraham and his offspring (those offspring by faith) need to escape G-d’s judgment? To answer this question one needs to understand the main theme of this festival. Rosh HaShanah is seen as a Judgment Day of sorts. Therefore the sounding of the shofar should cause one to think of what G-d provided for His people, so that we can pass through the Day of Judgment. What is this? This is the Messiah, Who is our substitute, in the same manner that the ram was Isaac’s.

Now let us return to the question that was previously raised, “what is the purpose of counting years in the seventh month, the month of Tishre and not at the beginning of the year in Nisan?” First of all one needs to know that much of Judaism is based not on what you and I would say is Scripture, but on the writings of the sages of old. I am referring to the Talmud. In the section of the Talmud called “Meseket Rosh HaShanah” we read in the first mishnah that there are four New years in Judaism.

They are:

1.) Years and the reckoning the Holidays
2.) Kings- when to ascribe another year to the amount of time the king has reigned
3.) Tithing and agricultural issues
4.) Trees

There are debates concerning when to ascribe the New Year for some of these matters. In regard to the issue at hand, the New Year for years, the Torah is clear that it is the first day of Nisan. So why do we say the Jewish New Year is the first day of the seventh month-Tishre? Because the Rabbis wanted to teach the people an important matter about the Holiday called “Zickrohn T’ruah” a day for remembering the sounding of the shofar, which the Torah commands to be observed on this date.

There was a tradition among the people that G-d created mankind on this day and that man would be judged on this same date. In order to prepare the people for judgment and the world to come they reminded the people of the lesson from Genesis 22. In regard to the New Year for kings, there was a debate on when to ascribe an additional year to a king; on the first day of Nisan or of Tishre. Some tried to solve this debate by saying if one was referring to a Jewish King it was Nisan and a Gentile King it was Tishre. As the sages pondered this, they said that Messiah would be not only be Israel’s King, but the world’s. Therefore more and more, the ideas of judgment, the world to come, and Messiah, became associated with “Zickrohn T’ruah”. It was taught that King Messiah would judge the world and redeem His people and establish a New Kingdom. This Kingdom would be holy and this is why it was associated with the seventh month-Tishre (the number “seven” reflects holiness).

Because the first day of Tishre is seen as the creation of man, in essence it is humanity’s birthday. Therefore the beginning of the year is the first day of Nisan, but the year 5769 reflects the age of humanity. More and more the holiday became thought of as another year, hence a new year.

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