Rosh Hashana appears twice in the Torah: first in Vayikra 23:24 – “…In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, shall you have a sabbath, a remembrance of blowing of horns [“zikhron teruah”], a holy gathering…”, and later in Bamidbar 29:1 – “…It is a day of blowing the horn [“yom teruah”] to you”. What is the significance of this “yom teruah”? On what basis do the Sages identify this day as the Day of Judgment (Yom HaDin)? Why do the Sages call this day ‘Rosh Hashana’ while the Torah makes no mention of this term?
Apparently we have only one source to guide us in understanding the biblical significance of the ‘Yom teruah’ – the ‘Parshat HaChatzotzrot’, the portion dealing with the trumpets. For our purposes the last two pesukim of this parsha are of particular note:
“And if you go to war in your land against the enemy that oppresses you, then you shall blow an alarm with the trumpets [“veharei’otem b’chatzotzrot”]; and you shall be remembered [“veniz’kartem”] before the Lord your God, and you shall be saved from your enemies. Also in the day of your gladness, and in your solemn days, and in the beginnings of your months, you shall blow with the trumpets [“ut’ka’tem b’hatzotzrot”] over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; that they may be to you for a remembrance [“l’zikaron”] before your God – I am the Lord your God.”[Bamidbar 10:9-10].
Once again the concepts of remembrance (zikaron) and blowing (teruah) are juxtaposed, and the connection between them begs explanation.
Firstly, we see that blowing horns is not particular to Rosh Hashana, but rather is characteristic of every Rosh Chodesh (new month) – in the form of the blowing of the trumpets. (As we know, in the Beit HaMikdash the trumpets were blown on Rosh Hashana as well – see Mishna Rosh Hashana 3:3.) Rosh Chodesh in biblical times was celebrated in a far more festive fashion than it is today (see Shmuel I 20; Melakhim II 4:24; Yeshayahu 1:13; Amos 8:5 – which emphasizes the prohibition of melacha on Rosh Chodesh; Hoshea 2:13, etc.) and the blowing on Rosh Chodesh is defined as “a statute for Israel, an ordinance of the God of Yaakov” (Tehillim 81:5 – according to ‘pshat’ the reference is not specifically to Rosh Hashana). What, then, is the meaning of “zikaron” on Rosh Chodesh? What is the significance of ‘zikaron’ specifically on festivals and days of rejoicing?
It seems that there is more to remembrance than simply the opposite of forgetting. Zikaron implies that there is special attention paid to the object of remembrance. The Torah says of God that He “remembered Noah” [Bereshit 8:1] as well as Avraham [ibid. 19:28] and Rachel [ibid. 30:22]. Surely this cannot mean that until that moment God had forgotten them, as it were. Rather, the Torah is teaching us that from that moment onwards special providence and close guidance [‘hashgacha’] was provided for those individuals. The meaning of remembrance is special attention. Following the period of Bnei Yisrael’s servitude in Egypt, the time comes for their salvation – “And God remembered his covenant… and God knew” [Shemot 2:24-25]. From that moment, Bnei Yisrael were under Hashem’s special ‘hashgacha’.
The opposite of this ‘zikaron’ is forgottenness – not the abyss of oblivion, but rather that of God “hiding His face” [‘hastarat panim’] and obliterating us, as it were, from His heart. “God has forsaken me, and God has forgotten me” – so laments Bat Tzion [Yeshayahu 49:14]; and an even clearer example is provided by the psalmist [Tehillim 10:11] – “…God has forgotten, He hides His face…”. The forgottenness means the hiding of God’s face, the removal of ‘hashgacha’, with its terrible consequences: “I will hide My face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall befall them…” [Devarim 31:17].
Now we can understand why at times of trouble and war we pray to God in the hope that “you shall be remembered before the Lord your God and you shall be saved from your enemies.” The Torah is teaching us that remembrance is achieved through the blowing of horns, as a symbol of the nation’s cry to God.
The purpose of the blowing is to renew God’s special guidance over the nation of Israel, thereby bringing about their salvation.
Additionally, on the occasion of each festival and joyous occasion the Torah promises God’s special guidance: “And in the day of your gladness… you shall blow on the trumpets… that they may be to you for a remembrance before your God.” The blowing of the trumpets is part of the festivity, part of the expression of the special hashgacha of God over the nation of Israel.
The above applies to every Rosh Chodesh. What, then, is the specific renewal of Rosh Chodesh of the seventh month, which is designated as an entire day of blowing horns: “Yom Teruah”?
It seems that the special nature of the day is derived from the special nature of the month. There are two cycles of festivals in the Torah – the Shalosh Regalim (three pilgrimage festivals), and the festivals of the seventh month. The seventh month is endowed with special holiness, in the same way that the seventh day and the seventh year have special kedusha. “Kol hashevi’in chavivin” [“All [events which are] seventh [in the cycle] are beloved”], says the Midrash [Midrash Tehillim 9:11]. During this month Yom Kippur occurs – the day upon which God forgives Israel for all their sins – as well as Sukkot, which has significance beyond being one of the three Regalim. (See Rav Breuer’s article entitled “Chag HaSukkot” in his book Pirkei Mo’adot) During this month God’s hashgacha over Am Yisrael is particularly evident. Therefore, Rosh Chodesh of this month has the same characteristic, and is referred to as “zichron teruah” – an expression which reflects the entire essence of the day.
Ramban comments on the connection between “teruah” and “zikaron” in his commentary on Vayikra 23:24: “But ‘zichron teruah’, like ‘yom teruah yihyeh lachem’, means that we should blow [the shofar] on that day, and it will be a remembrance for us before God, as it says further: ‘And you shall blow on the trumpets and they shall be to you for a remembrance before your God…’.” (And with regard to Rosh Hashana as Rosh Chodesh of the seventh month, Ibn Ezra’s comment is obscure but worthy of note; see the Mosad HaRav Kook edition, and Asher Weizer’s commentary).
Hence it seems that on this day the rejoicing should be greatly increased. And so indeed it appears from the description in Sefer Nechemiah of the Rosh Hashana that was celebrated after the Sefer Torah was found: “And Nechemiah… said… ‘Go your way, eat well and drink sweet drinks, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord, do not be grieved for the joy of the Lord is your strength… And all the people sent their way to eat and to drink and to send portions and to make great celebration…” [Nechemiah 8: 9-12].
It is also possible that blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashana has special significance beyond that of every Rosh Chodesh. The Sages learned that the ‘blowing’ referred to in the Torah means blowing of the shofar, from a ‘gezeirah shavah’ regarding Yovel: “Then you shall have the shofar blown on the seventh month… and you shall sanctify the fiftieth year…” [Vayikra 25:9-10]. The blowing of the shofar serves as the symbolic commencement of the Yovel year (which occurs after a cycle of 7 x 7 years), and on an annual basis, it seemingly also serves as the symbolic commencement of the seventh month.
From all of the above, the question arises – how did this day become Yom HaDin in the eyes of the Sages, the day on which “melakhim yehafezun ve-heil ur’adah yo’heizun” (angels are in trepidation – and all quaking with fear) – a day on which Hallel is not recited for fear of judgment?
The root of the answer can be understood from Rav Kook’s idea in his article “Le-Mahalakh HaIde’ot BeYisrael”. Rav Kook holds that with the disappearance of the Shechina (Divine Presence) after the destruction of the First Temple and the consequent exile, the glory of Israel was dashed to the ground. As a result, “all the practical individuality – of keeping Torah and mitzvot in their individual detail and conceptual individuality the beliefs concerning the individual’s personal connection with eternal life and the individual striving towards it – which had formerly revealed itself and existed as the manifestation of the Divine Idea… now, with the disappearance of the great light of the nation during the time of the Second Temple, was confined and manifest in its special individual character.” Israel lost its nationhood, and now each individual stood on his own merit.
From then on, God did not “remember” Am Yisrael as a whole, but rather “remembered” each individual separately. And when each person is judged individually, the Day of Remembrance obviously takes on a much more profound aspect of judgement, and fear replaces joy. The individual is no longer able to hide himself among the many – he stands alone before the King of Judgment.
Now we can understand why the Sages refer to the day as Rosh Hashana, even though the Torah emphasizes the beginning of the seventh month rather than the beginning of the year. There is no doubt that the month of Tishrei did serve as the New Year for certain purposes – parallel to the month of Nisan (see Mishna Rosh Hashana 11:1). Proof of this can be brought from the very necessity of defining the month of Nisan as “Rosh Chodashim” – this seems to indicate that until then a different month had served this purpose. According to Josephus Flavius and other historians, Tishrei indeed served as the beginning of the year, based on the tradition that the world was created in that month. So it seems, too, from the designation of Sukkot as ‘tekufat hashanah” [“the year’s end”] [Shmot 34:22], the blowing of the shofar on Yom Kippur of the Yovel year which sanctifies the Yovel [Vayikra 25:9-10], and, most importantly, from Yehezkel who says, “on Rosh Hashana on the tenth of the month” [40:1] – by ‘Rosh Hashana’ he refers not to a specific day, but rather to the beginning of the year.
But the Torah determined that “This month [i.e. Nisan] is for you the beginning of the months, it shall be the first month of the year to you.” All counting is to be in accordance with the Exodus from Egypt, since by counting thus, Israel is distinguished from the other nations; counting from Nisan marks the date on which God’s majesty was revealed to Am Yisrael. And specifically on “yom teruah”, the day on which Israel’s special character is manifest, we understand the idea
of counting the year starting from the month of Nisan making Tishrei seventh in that cycle.
But as mentioned above, with the destruction of the First Temple, the national dimension of Israel was diminished and the day became one of judgement, the day on which “kol ba’ei olam ov’rim lefanekha kiv’nei maron”. There is no longer an outstanding special quality pertaining to the nation of Israel, and the universal Rosh Hashana – the day on which the world was created – takes on a more practical character: now we may emphasize that the same day on which the world was created, is also the day on which the world is judged.
But ideally this day is special for Am Yisrael, and therefore we do not emphasize that it falls on the same day as the creation of the world, since the latter has a more universal significance.
We can understand why the Sages emphasize the Kingdom of God over the whole world – since at this time God’s majesty is manifest over the whole world – as opposed to Rosh Hashana as presented in the Bible, when this aspect pales next to the majesty of God over Israel specifically. Hence the Sages laid down the formula for the blessing in the Rosh Hashana prayer: “Rule over THE WHOLE WORLD in Your honor… and EVERY CREATURE will understand that You created him, and EVERY LIVING BEING will say, ‘The Lord God of Israel is King, and His majesty reigns over all.'”