Rosh Hashana

"And in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a holy convocation: you shall do no manner of servile work; it is a day of blowing the horn unto you. And you shall prepare a burnt-offering for a sweet savour unto HaShem: one young bullock, one ram, seven he-lambs of the first year without blemish; and their meal-offering, fine flour mingled with oil, three tenth parts for the bullock, two tenth part for the ram, and one tenth part for every lamb of the seven lambs; and one he-goat for a sin-offering, to make atonement for you; beside the burnt-offering of the new moon, and the meal-offering thereof, and the continual burnt-offering and the meal-offering thereof, and their drink-offerings, according unto their ordinance, for a sweet savour, an offering made by fire unto HaShem." (Numbers 29:1-6)

Our sages teach us that Rosh Hashana marks the sixth day of creation, the day that adam harishon - the first man - was created. The particular place was none other than what would come to be known as Mount Moriah. We further learn that it was on this very spot that Adam first sinned and repented. Here he built an altar and presented an offering. Some twenty generations later it was here that the angel stayed the hand of Avraham at the binding of Yitzchak. It was here that the ram appeared, providing Avraham with the means through which to express his love for G-d.

Rosh Hashana is the day that we recognize the sovereignty of G-d the King, Creator of the universe and Judge of all mankind. The day on which "all beings pass before Him like tender sheep," Rosh Hashana's message is truly universal: it is incumbent upon all mankind to accept upon ourselves G-d's sovereignty, and to take account of our thoughts and actions, in light of this awesome recognition.

The trumpets sounded before the entrance to the Kodesh - the Sanctuary - of the Holy Temple on Rosh Hashana are reminders of G-d's dominion. The sound of the shofar - likewise blown on the Sanctuary steps, emanates from breath itself, the breath that comes from deep within us, where it was placed, for the first time, by G-d, in Adam, on the sixth day.

"G-d has ascended with a blast, HaShem with the voice of the shofar."
(Psalms 47:6)

"Blow the shofar at the new moon, at the time appointed for our festive day."
(Psalms 81:4-5)

"Praise Him with the blast of the shofar" (Psalms 150:3)

"And on the third day, while morning, that there were voices and lightning, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the shofar was very loud; and all the people in the camp trembled." (Exodus 19:16)

"And when the voice of the shofar grew very strong, Moshe spoke, and G-d answered him by a voice." (Exodus 19:19)

"And all the people saw the voices and the flames, and the voice of the shofar, and the mountain was smoking, and the people saw, and trembled, and stood from afar." (Exodus 20:15)

As previously noted, the shofar, which lies still until the breath is projected through it, brings us back to our own origin - the breathing of life by G-d into Adam - the first man. The shofar would later be sounded on joyous occasions at the Holy Temple, as seen by the citations above from the book of Psalms. It was at the very onset of the Divine revelation at Mount Sinai, when G-d presented His people with the Torah, that the sound of the shofar was heard, marking the covenant between G-d and His people. So too is the blowing of the shofar on Rosh Hashana reminiscent of the binding of Yitzchak, where G-d provided a ram, who was caught in the thicket by his horn - the shofar - as a sign of G-d's promise to Avraham that "I will establish My covenant with him (Isaac) for an everlasting covenant for his seed after him." (Genesis 17:19)

Shofar

"With trumpets and shofar blasts sound off before the King, G-d." (Psalms 98:6)

Rosh Hashana is known as the "Day of Sounding." In the Holy Temple this was marked by the blowing of a gold plated shofar and silver trumpets. The picture above shows a priest standing on the steps leading up to the Kodesh - the Sanctuary - of the Holy Temple, and blasting the shofar. Flanking him on either side are two kohanim (Temple priests), each one blowing on a silver trumpet. The blast of the shofar will outlast that of the trumpets, as the chief commandment of the day is to hear the shofar.

Special status was granted by the sages to Jerusalem on Rosh HaShana: When Rosh Hashana fell on Shabbat, the blowing of the shofar was still permitted within the Holy City. This ruling applied not only to the Temple and the Temple Mount, but included the entire city of Jerusalem. Even inhabitants living within villages on the outskirts of Jerusalem, within walking distance from, and from which the Holy Temple could be seen, were allowed to blow the shofar on Shabbat.

Following the daily, (tamid), offerings, and the bringing of the Rosh Chodesh offerings, the Rosh Hashana offerings were then brought. These included ten animals: one young bull, a ram, seven yearling sheep, and a goat.

Bringing Offerings

Rosh Hashana marked not only the new year, but also the new month. On Rosh Hashana, the Rosh Chodesh, (new moon), offerings were performed in the Holy Temple first, followed by the Rosh Hashana offerings. Presenting the offerings began the moment the new moon was proclaimed by the Great Sanhedrin. Rosh Chodesh offerings consisted of eleven animals: two young bulls, one ram, seven yearling sheep, and one goat. The bringing of the goat for a sin offering was the focal point of the day.

Bringing Offerings

During the time of the Holy Temple, the drama of Rosh Hashana began even before the onset of the holy day. This drama involved the sanctification of the new moon. Rosh Hashana occurs on the first day of the month of Tishrei, and therefore, it can't begin until the appearance of the new moon has been established. The commandment to declare the new moon and establish its appearance for all the children of Israel was the first commandment received by the Israelites, even before they emerged from their bondage in Egypt, (Exodus 12:2) It may seem ironic that G-d - the King of the universe - would call upon His people to determine, as it were, on what day He Himself created the universe! But this is, in fact, what G-d, in His love for His people did: he entrusted the children of Israel as "partners" in maintaining and perfecting His creation. Two witnesses who had seen the appearance of the new moon were required to testify before the Great Sanhedrin, which convened in the Chamber of Hewn Stone, which was located on the northern wall of the Inner Courtyard of the Holy Temple. There they would be questioned and cross examined to verify their fitness as witnesses, and the truth of their words. Only when this had been done to the satisfaction of the sages of the Great Sanhedrin, would the Rosh Hashana service in the Holy Temple begin. Great care and effort was invested by the sages to ensure the veracity and efficiency of the entire procedure of proclaiming the new moon. Ultimately, it all depended on the willingness of the common people to come forth as witnesses. One can only imagine the sense of obligation and privilege felt by each witness as he made his way to Jerusalem.

A special courtyard, by the name of Beit Ya'azek, was built in Jerusalem, for the purpose of accommodating arriving witnesses to the new moon. There they were provided with a large meal, and a place to rest as they waited to be called to testify at the Great Sanhedrin. The warm welcome received by the witnesses was intended to lighten the burden of their journey, as well as to encourage people to step forth and travel to Jerusalem when they had witnessed the new moon.

Beit Yaazek

Determining the appearance of the new moon through eyewitness testimony was always accompanied with anticipation and uncertainty. The new moon or new year offerings could not be commenced until two witnesses had arrived and testified before the Great Sanhedrin, to the satisfaction of the Great Sanhedrin. It was customary for people to begin observing the holiday as a precautionary measure, even before the testimony had been offered or accepted. It is told that on one occasion, witnesses arrived at dusk. In the rush and ensuing confusion, the Levites neglected to sing their daily psalm. In order to prevent a recurrence, the sages ruled that testimony would henceforth be accepted only up to the time of the daily afternoon offering. If witnesses failed to arrive by this time, the following day would nevertheless be observed as Rosh HaShana.

Daily Offering

During the time of the Great Sanhedrin, the new moon was sanctified through the testimony of two witnesses who had seen the new moon. This was in accordance with the biblical commandment. In order to insure that the new moon, (Rosh Chodesh), offerings were prepared in time at the Holy Temple, (as well as the Rosh HaShana offerings on the new month of Tishrei), witnesses were allowed to violate the Shabbat restriction against traveling order to expedite the new moon proclamation. This picture depicts an ailing witness traveling on Shabbat toward Jerusalem, being aided by armed escorts and companions.

Reporting the New Moon on Shabbat