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Learn Hebrew: Rosh Hashana

September 10, 2009 | by

Beautiful symbols for the Jewish new year.

The feeling of renewal is in the air as the Jewish new year is about to begin. It is a time to make resolutions, and to formulate a realistic plan to keep them!

The name "Rosh Hashana" is not mentioned in the Torah, but the names "Day of Remembrance" ( Yom Ha'zikaron) and "Day of Shofar Blowing" ( Yom Tru'ah) refer to this holiday. Rosh () means "head," Rishon () means "first," and Shana means "year" -- hence, Rosh Hashana () means the beginning or the head of the year.

Rosh Hashana falls on the first day of Tishrei (), the first Hebrew month, and lasts for two days. As we wish to enter the New Year clean in our body and soul, we ask for forgiveness (- slicha) from anyone whom we might have hurt (purposely or unintentionally). We also ask for the absolution of our vows ( - hatarat nedarim) which enables us to enter the new year with a clean slate.

Rosh Hashana is full of customs and prayers. Here are a few:

• Apple dipped in honey (- tapu'ach bid'vash) - We dip an apple in honey to symbolize our wish for a sweet year.

• Round Challah (- chala agula) - The challah is not braided as usual, but instead baked in a circle -- a wish that the coming year will be complete, and will roll smoothly. We also dip the challah in honey (- dvash) as a wish for a sweet year.

• Head of a fish (- rosh shel dag) - We eat from the head of a fish and ask to be like the head (leaders) and not like the tail (followers) -. Also, fish is a symbol of abundant increase.

• Pomegranate (- rimon) - This fruit, which ripens at this season, is full of seeds -- as legend has it, 613 seeds, like the number of mitzvot in the Torah. We eat the pomegranate and ask that our merits increase like the seeds of the pomegranate.

Related Vocabulary Words

1) Shofar is a ram's horn blown on Rosh Hashana. It is an important mitzvah to hear the shofar in the synagogue each day of Rosh Hashana (except on Shabbat). The Torah calls this Yom Tru'ah (- a day of Shofar blowing) and Maimonides suggests that it is a "wake-up call" to take stock of what we can do to become better people. The shofar is also mindful of the biblical story of Abraham binding his son Isaac, when a ram was caught in the thicket and sacrificed in Isaac's stead -- an event that occurred on the day of Rosh Hashana. Click here to listen to the different sounds of the Shofar blowing.

Translation: ram's horn
Transliteration: Shofar
Part of speech: Noun, Masculine

2) Tashlich - On Rosh Hashana day, it is a custom to walk to a body of flowing water, preferably one containing live fish, say a special prayer, and symbolically empty our pockets to cast off our sins.

Translation: casting off
Transliteration: Tashlich
Part of speech: Noun, Masculine

3) Greeting #1 - On Rosh Hashana, we greet each other with "shana tova u'metuka" -- a Good and Sweet Year. Since everything that God does is by definition "good," why do we add the sweetness to the greeting? We add "sweetness" to mean that God's good should be clearly appreciated by us as well.

Translation: Good and Sweet Year
Transliteration: Shana tova u'metuka

4) Greeting #2 - On Rosh Hashana, the destiny of all mankind is recorded by God in the "books" of who will live and who will die, who will have prosperity, etc. Though these "books" are written on Rosh Hashana, our actions until Yom Kippur (10 days later) may change the verdict, when the "books" are closed and sealed.

Translation: May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year!
Transliteration: Leshana tova tika’teivu vete’chatemu

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