Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), begins Sunday night. The liturgy connects the holiday to the creation of the world: the phrase “Hayom harat olam, today the world is conceived/born,” is recited each time the shofar is blown in the musaf (additional) service. It is one reason we call Rosh Hashanah the birthday of the world.
However, there is a rabbinic opinion that the world is created on the 25th of Elul and Rosh Hashanah is the sixth day of creation, the day Adam and Eve are created (P’sikta d’Rav Kahana 23:1). This equates the birth of human life with the birth of the world and affirms the importance of our role as partners with God as stewards of that world. This explains why the Torah portion we read on the first day of Rosh Hashanah deals not with creation, but with Sarah’s birth of Isaac. The Haftarah (prophetic reading) describes Hannah’s birth of Samuel. Both are long-awaited births by barren women.
Conception and birth embody potential. They are the starting line; everything is in the future, and anything is possible. Isaac represents the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham and is both an individual and a national beginning. But God tells Abraham, “ki b’yitzchak yikarei l’cha zara, for through Isaac will your offspring be continued” (Gen. 21:12). Isaac isn’t the end of the process, only the beginning (Babylonian Talmud Nedarim 31a). So, too, Rosh Hashanah offers each of us a starting line for fulfilling our promises to ourselves and to those around us. It will take the rest of the year to find out if we really mean them.
Please feel free to use our Rosh Hashanah blessings with Hebrew as well as English translation and transliteration to help you celebrate Rosh Hashanah 5783.