A Chag by Any Other Name Would Taste As Sweet

by Zach Pekarsky

Rosh haShana is known by many different names, each reflecting different aspects of its history, meaning, and traditions. I’d like to take the time to reflect briefly on many of them.

Yom haDin (Day of Judgment): On this day, Jewish tradition teaches that all of creation is judged by the divine. So, too, leading up to the chag, we are expected to do “cheshbon ha’nefesh” – an accounting of the soul. Before entering the Day of Judgment, we must first honestly evaluate ourselves, our lives, our actions, and our choices – in other words, our dugma.

Yom Truah (Day of Blowing [the shofar]): This is the biblical name for the chag. In the Torah, Rosh haShana receives little attention and in fact is seemingly inexplicable. It is only briefly mentioned that there should be a celebration of trumpeting on the first day of the seventh month. I find it interesting to contrast the historic priority of the chagim with the modern. Our modern “High Holidays” were once an afterthought compared to the agricultural pilgrimages – Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot.

Yom haZikaron (Day of Remembrance):  This is primarily the liturgical name of the holiday and the one I most struggle to connect with.  It evokes for me a similarly challenging section of Rosh haShana prayer in which we go through tanach (bible) verses in which God remembers and has compassion for Noah, Abraham, Joseph, and Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel, or the Jewish People). A God who remembers us individually is both difficult for me to comprehend and very tied to the idea of the Day of Judgment above.  As I suggested above that we must prepare by judging ourselves, we similarly must prepare to remember others with compassion – to forgive graciously not only our friends, but especially those who have deeply wronged us.

Rosh haShana: The term Rosh haShana originates in the Talmud, where four new years are listed: the first of Nisan, the first of Elul, the first of Tishrei, and either the first or fifteenth of Shevat (Hillel and Shammai, two prominent rabbis, disagree). Each serves as the marker of a new year for different aspects of society. Rosh haShana is the new year associated with shmita and yovel — two Jewish laws that mandate things like freeing slaves, forgiving debts, and property redistribution.

Posted in Rosh haShana 5775.