The Hebrew phrase "Rosh HaShanah" means the beginning of the year, or New
Year’s Day. Indeed, on Rosh HaShanah
the year count of the Jewish calendar moves up by one. This is when the new year starts.
The Torah commands: "In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, a day of rest shall be for you, a memorial with shofar blowing" (Leviticus ). Later, the Torah commands us about Yom Kippur: "You shall sound a shofar in the seventh month, on the tenth of the month, on the Day of Atonement" (Lev. 25:9). Does the new year start with the seventh month? Or, are we celebrating the High Holy Days and Sukkot in the wrong month?
According to the Torah, the first month of the year is the month of Passover, about which it says: "This month shall be for you the beginning of the months, the first of the months of the year" (Exodus 12:2). Moreover, the phrase "Rosh HaShanah" does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Even the relatively late books of Esther, Ezra and Nehemiah follow the same method of numbering the months.
Is it then possible that the first day of the year is not in the first month of the year? The unique and creative Jewish answer to this apparently strange question is: Yes! The Oral Torah (Talmud), in a chapter named Rosh HaShanah, teaches us that there are four (!) New Year’s Days. For example, Tu biShvat (the 15th day of the month of Shvat) is the New Year’s Day for trees.
A year is a cycle, which, like a circle, may start at any arbitrary place. The choice of the first day depends on the occasion that is celebrated. On a birthday the age count moves up by one. On an anniversary the marriage count moves up by one. Nissan, the month of Exodus, is the month of the first festival (Passover) and it is, therefore, counted in the Torah as the first month. The count of the Jewish calendar years starts from the first human husband and wife, representing the beginning of moral humanity, and our tradition is that this started in Tishrei, the month of the High Holy Days.
Following this example we may choose new beginnings, initiate and commit to a good deed that will become part of our life. We may then celebrate and commemorate its New Year’s Day for many years to come.
Shanah Tova -- Happy New Year.
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