The Significance of Yom Teruah - Rosh Chodesh

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IV. Rosh Chodesh background

Now, lets look at some background to help us understand the new moon:

The renewal of the moon represents good tidings. It represents the renewal of man; renewal of the individual and of the community, "For they are destined to renew themselves like her", the renewal of the kingship of Israel and of the Kingship of heaven, which is the crux of Rosh HaShanah.

Judah and Tamar had twins: Zerach and Peretz. Zerach (shining) was so called on account of the sun which always shines, and Peretz (breach) on account of the moon which is sometimes breached [i.e. its light is sometimes hidden (at the end of the month) and sometimes completely intact.] But Peretz [symbolizing the moon] was the first born, although the sun is greater than the moon? [i.e. why should the firstborn be symbolized by the smaller orb?]. In a sense Zerach, who stuck out his hand first, was to be the firstborn; but Peretz, the ancestor of the House of David, was given the Divine privilege of actually being the first born. The Davidic dynasty is likened to the moon because it underwent various stages of ascendancy and descendancy.

Since the Davidic dynasty evolved from Peretz who was likened to the moon, Chazal [see Rosh HaShanah 25a], when wishing to inform the Jews in other countries that the New Moon had appeared and been sanctified, would use the message 'David King of Israel lives and exists'[23]

The Hakhamim (Rabbis) taught that the heavenly court does not assemble for judgment until the court on earth has sanctified the month. HaShem waits for men! (Rosh Hashanah 8a-b)

Yom Teruah falls on the first day of the seventh month. By arrangement of the calendar it cannot fall on Sunday, Wednesday, or Friday. This is to prevent Yom HaKippurim from falling on the first or the sixth day.

The first day begins a period of penitence lasting for ten days, ending with Yom HaKippurim (Day of the Atonements). Yom Teruah is the only festival which has an uncertain beginning, since the first day of the month, Rosh Chodesh, depends on sighting of witnesses to the new moon. For this reason, even in Israel this festival is celebrated for two days. The month preceding Tishri, Elul, can be either "defective", that is twenty-nine days long, or "full", that is thirty days long.

Notice that even Ezra observed two days:

Nehemiah 8:2-3 So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.

Nehemiah 8:13 On the second day of the month, the heads of all the families, along with the priests and the Levites, gathered around Ezra the scribe to give attention to the words of the Law.

Both days of Yom Teruah are considered as one long day possessing equal sanctity. ("The Rosh HaShanah Anthology", Philip Goodman, JPS)

Just as judgment is executed by day, so also must the sanctification of the month take place by day. All legal judgments are announced by day.

The name of the seventh month is "Tishri". This name has two possible meanings:

1. To loosen, to untie, or to dissolve. Thus the theme of Yom Teruah - "Dissolve and pardon our iniquities".

2. "You shall begin" from:

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 16:9 Count off seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain.

The names of the months are all Babylonian. Chazal have ruled that the names remain Babylonian, even though idolatrous, because of what Yiremyahu (Jeremiah) said in:

Yiremyahu (Jeremiah) 16:14-15 "However, the days are coming," declares HaShem, "when men will no longer say, 'As surely as HaShem lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,' But they will say, 'As surely as HaShem lives, who brought the Israelites up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.' For I will restore them to the land I gave their forefathers.

Chazal have ruled that we should return to biblical, that is numbered, names when ALL Israel is restored to the land. In the mean time, the names of the months are a reminder. The Sages have also stated that there is deep meaning to these Babylonian names that speak to HaShem's people today.

The Yom Teruah is a "moed", an appointment, with HaShem, like an appointment with a doctor, it involves meeting at a particular place for a specific purpose.

Vayikra (Leviticus) 23:1-2 HaShem said to Moses, "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'These are my appointed feasts (moed), the appointed feasts (moed) of HaShem, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies (mikra)...

This feast is also a rehearsal meeting, a "mikra". Like any rehearsal, this involves particular costumes, words, and props:

Vayikra (Leviticus) 23:23-25 HaShem said to Moses, "Say to the Israelites: 'On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of rest, a sacred assembly (mikra) commemorated with shofar blasts. Do no regular work, but present an offering made to HaShem by fire.'"

The clothing, the prayers, the props (the shofar) are all spelled out in the oral law. The way we celebrate is nearly always spelled out in the oral Torah rather than in the written Torah. Those who eschew the oral Torah have never tried to fulfill the written Torah's commands.