Rosh Hashana – A General Guide

Rosh Hashana – A General Guide 1
Rosh Hashana, Jewish New Year Holiday, Honey, apple, pomegranate, hala on a wooden table

Rosh HaShana is the day in which the creation of the world is celebrated. In actuality, however, it is the day that mankind was created (See Talmud Rosh haShana 10b). The world was created six days earlier on the 25th of Elul.

It was on this day that Adam HaRishon, the first man, was created. On this day he also sinned. And on this day he was granted amnesty, or forgiveness. Because of this, the day of Rosh haShana became the day in which all mankind is judged.

Rosh HaShana is referred to in the Torah only as Yom HaZikaron, or as Yom Teruah – the name Rosh HaShana is not found in the Torah. Yom HaZikaron means the Day of Remembrance and Yom Teruah means the day of Sounding the Shofar.

Rosh HaShana plays a central role in our lives as well as that of the entire world. It is a day that we mark with intense prayer. What do we pray for? We long for the time when the entire world will recognize Hashem, and his Divine Plan for the world. This longing helps change our perspectives.

In the evening, right after the Maariv prayers and after we extend greetings to friends and family, we come home and eat the Seudah. However, it is the custom to recite the special Yehi Ratzons found in the siddur as a good omen and sign for the upcoming year. This is based upon the Talmud that states, “Simana Milsa – omens are significant” (Horios 12a). Another Gemorah (Krisus) tells us to eat certain foods on Rosh haShana in order to have these good signs.

Some also have the Minhag not to eat walnuts (Egoz) on Rosh haShana. There are three reasons cited for this 1] Because it increases phlegm 2] Because it has the same Gematria as the word Chait – sin. Egoz is 17 and ches tes is 17. 3] The Chsam Sofer writes that the word Egoz alludes to the exiles of Israel.

The two days of Rosh HaShana are also called a Yoma Arichta – one long day – a single period of time and holiness. This was an enactment of the sages out of a concern as to when the witnesses testifying to the new moon would arrive. Because of this status, there is a debate as to whether we recite a Shehecheyanu on the second night of Rosh haShana. To avoid doubt, we try to purchase a new fruit or garment that would require a Shehecheyanu to be recited regardless. In the past decade the availability of new fruit in this country as expanded rapidly. It is thus rare to be able to recite a Shehecheyanu on a new fruit. One should therefore rely on the clothing option. If neither are available a Shehecheyanu is still recited.

One should arise on time to Davening on Rosh haShana. There is a Talmud Yerushalmi that states, “One who sleeps on Rosh haShana – his Mazal will also sleep.”

The main special Mitzvah of this day is the sounding of the Shofar. The Rambam writes that the shofar tells us:

“Awaken from your sleep, you sleeper! Think about your deeds. Remember Hashem and go back to Him in Teshuvah. Don’t be like those who miss everything that is real and important and instead chase after things that are just a shadow. Don’t waste your years chasing after vain things that won’t help you. Look to your souls and consider your actions. “

It is a positive Mitzvah in the Torah to hear the blast of the Shofar on account of the verse, “Yom Truah yiheheh Lachem.” We also learn from this verse that the Mitzvah is during the day. The earliest time one may fulfill this Mitzvah is after alos haShachar – dawn. Ideally, however, it should be done after sunrise.

Nowadays, we blow shofar after Shacharis. Originally, we blew it during Shacharis because of the principal of Zrizim makdimim l’Mitzvos. Why then did we change? According to the Gemorah (Rosh HaShana 32b), we changed during Roman times because of a decree. According to the Yerushalmi the enemies thought that the Shofar was a battle cry – a call for a rebellion and they killed Jews. Even though this is no longer applicable – the Gemorah states that we do not change back.

The sages enacted that when Rosh haShana falls on Shabbos the Shofar is not to be blown. They ruled in this manner so that someone will not come to carry a Shofar by accident. This is a lesson in how seriously we should be concerned about the issues of carrying on Shabbos – the sages were so concerned that they repealed a Torah Mitzvah!

The Gemorah tells us that any year in which the Shofar is not blown ends up as a calamitous year. What about Shabbos then? Rabbi Aharon Kotler explains that the merit of Shabbos observance – in having given up the item that will silence the Satan – will serve to silence him.

The Gemorah tells us that one set of Shofar blasts is to fulfill the Mitzvah, while the other set of shofar blasts is to confound or confuse the Satan. Rashi explains that the Satan will be unable to prosecute us when he sees us lovingly perform Hashem’s Mitzvah again. Tosfos explains that the Satan is afraid that he will lose his job, thinking that this shofar blast is the one that hails the arrival of the Messianic era. One may ask how it is that the Satan can be confounded and confused so easily? The Taamei haMinhagim explains that the Satan is concerned that the Jewish people are not just doing Teshuvah. He is worried that they are doing Teshuva m”Ahavah – repentance out of Love of Hashem. When that happens all the Aveiros that the Jewish people performed are turned into Mitzvos. This is what worries and confuses him!

Some shuls have the custom to break for Kiddush and a snack before the blowing of the shofar. This is controversial because many authorities forbid eating before any Mitzvah of the day. Because Mussaf ends late, however, many shuls are lenient. Nonetheless, a full meal should not be eaten – they should only eat enough to help them focus on the Mitzvah further.

Women are technically exempt from the Mitzvah of Shofar because it is a time-bound Mitzvah. Nonetheless, if they hear the Shofar it is counted as the fulfillment of a Mitzvah. For this reason Ashkenazic women may recite the blessing. A child is obligated in hearing the Shofar by Rabbinic decree.

Two blessings are recited on the Shofar. “Asher kid’shanu b’mitzvosav v’tzivanu lishmoah kol shofar,” and the Shehecheyanu. The brachos should be said while standing.

A shofar may only be made from a Tahor or pure animal. Ideally, a ram’s horn should be used, alluding both to the merit of Akeidas Yitzchok and to the eventual ram’s horn of Moshiach. The word Shofar means “hollowed tube.” Therefore a horn which is not naturally hollow but was hollowed by man is not called a Shofar. A deerhorn or oxhorn is called a Keren by the Torah and therefore are also invalid – even though they are hollow.

If a shofar has a hole or a crack it may have become invalid. The shofar should be presented to a Rav who is proficient in these laws to rule upon it.
The shofar blasts are divided into two types – the sitting blasts Tekios d’meyushav (although our custom now is to stand for them too) which are blown before Mussaf
And the standing blasts – T’kiyos d’meumad which are blown during and after Mussaf.

There should not be any talking from the time the blessing is recited until the last blast of the Shofar. If one did speak and at least one set of blasts was heard – the blessing does not have to be recited again.

The Shofar is blown from the Shulchan and not the Amud. The reason is to remind the heavenly court of the merit of our Torah study.

The Shofar is blown from the right side of the mouth. If this is difficult for the blower, the baal tokeah, then may switch sides.

The Torah mentions the word Truah three times. The Chachomim derive from here that three truahs must be sounded on Rosh HaShana. We also have a tradition that each Truah must be preceded and followed by a Tkiyah. We must therefore hear at least 9 different blasts. However, our sages were unsure as to whether Truah means wailing, sobbing, or both. Therefore we make all types of sounds to ensure that we have fulfilled the Mitzvah.

Rav Saadya Gaon lists ten reasons why the Shofar is blown – other than the fact that it is a Mitzvah in the Torah.

1] Kings are enthroned with trumpet blasts. We are enthroning Hashem as King of the Universe.

2] The Shofar sound is a call for us to do teshuvah.

3] It reminds us of Har Sinai – where a Shofar blast was heard throughout the camp. We commited ourselves then to Naaseh v’nishmah – which we should do now too.

4] It reminds us of the mussar, the chastisement, of the prophets which is described as like a Shofar in Sefer Yeshaya chapter 58 and Sefer Yechezkel chapter 33 as “like a Shofar.”

5] It reminds us of the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash and arouses us to pray for its rebuilding.

6] It reminds us of Akeidas Yitzchok – and arouses within us thoughts of commitment and self-sacrifice to Hashem – something that will help us in judgment.

7] The sobbing instills Yiras Shamayim into us.

8] It reminds us of the final Day of Judgement.

9] It reminds us of Kibutz Galios – when all exiled Jews will return.

10] It reminds us of Tchias HaMaisim.

The daytime Kiddush of Rosh haShana is the recitation of the verse, Tiku bachodesh shofar bakeseh leyom chageinu etc. Then a Borei Pri haGafen is recited on wine. As in all Kiddush a mezonos must be eaten or one is not permitted to taste anything.


When the Shliach Tzibbur begins Shacharis after Psukei D’Zimra, he sings a long traditional tune while he is still standing at his regular seat. Then he recites the word “HaMelech” aloud and walks up to the Amud, where he will continue leading the prayers. The Sefer HaChaim explains that, just as a robbery victim overcome by robbers will shout out to police when he sees them, so too do we shout out to the king when we are overcome by accusers.

After Shacharis, as mentioned earlier, we recite the Avinu Malkeinu that was composed by Rabbi Akiva. The Gemorah tells us that Rabbi Akiva’s prayer was effective when other prayers were not only because of a remarkable quality that Rabbi Akiva possessed – He was maavir al midosav – forgiving toward others. One of the reasons why this prayer should be said is to remind us to emulate the qualities of its author.


The Zohar tells us that when we open the Aron in preparation for the reading of the Torah – it is a special Ais Ratzon – a time of remarkable receptivity for prayers. Normally we say the prayer Brich Shmay during this time. On Rosh haShana we add the 13 midos of compassion as well. We also add the word VeNorah in the middle of Echad Elokainu, Gadol Adonainu, Kadosh _____ shmo.”
The reading of the first day on Rosh haShana is the story of the birth of Yitzchok. One of the reasons that we read this section is to highlight the idea that Hashem pays particular attention to answer prayers said in deep anguish and said in earnest. Sarah Imeinu’s Tefilos were recited in this manner. Yitzchok was also conceived on Rosh haShana. On the second day we read of the Akeidah.


The Mussaf Tefillah contains three main sections called, “Malchios, Zichronos and Shofros. Each section contains ten psukim – 3 from the Torah, 3 from the neviim, 3 from ksuvim and 1 more from the Torah. The Malchios section contains verses that declare hashem’s Kingship. The Zichronos section contains psukim that describe how hashem remembers all of our deeds. The Shofros section contains Psukim that proclaim Hashem’s glory, the removal of wickedness and the merits of Klal Yisroel.
We also have the custom to blast the Shofar 100 times over Rosh haShana. We do three series of thirty and one last one of ten.


Ideally one should not sleep on Rosh HaShana afternoon on account of the aforementioned Yerushalmi. If need be, however, one can rely on those authorities who understand the Yerushalmi as referring to times of prayer and the time to hear the shofar.

On the afternoon of the first day of Rosh haShana many people have the custom to recite the Tashlich service at a body of water. Ideally the body of water should contain fish. If the first day of Rosh haShana comes out on a Shabbos, Tashlich is delayed until the afternoon of the second day of Rosh haShana. If one is unable to do it the Tashlich may be said until Hoshana Rabbah.

Rosh Hashana – A General Guide 2

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