Rosh Hashanah is traditionally thought of as the Jewish New Year and literally means "head of the year". However, the Torah specifically calls for the celebration to begin on the 1st day of the 7th month of the year, Tishrei.
If we dig a little deeper, the scholars agree that we are actually commemorating the birth of humanity that occurred on the 6th day of creation with Adam and Eve. This anniversary of creation allows us to connect to the original clean and virgin state, before there was sin or any negative energy to block us from the endless light, prosperity and blessings shared by the creator. Since the act of creation occurred prior to establishment of the three major religions - Judaism, Christianity or Islam, we can see that Rosh Hashanah is a cosmic window of time for all of humanity to experience.
Similar to the secular New Year, which features our personal resolutions for change, the purpose of the Rosh Hashanah holiday is to return to the clean and unblemished original state of creation, where we can likewise make a fresh start for a new and "sweet" year. By using a variety of ancient, yet high tech tools, we can erase any negativity accumulated from prior year's actions. The Zohar states that on Rosh Hashanah, the world goes back to the original state experienced on the day of creation. It is our job to prepare ourselves for this restart.
The connection between Rosh Hashanah and creation can be seen in the first word of the Torah, Bereshit. The word Bereshit, which means "beginning" can be rearranged to spell "B'Aleph Tishrei", the 1st day of Tishrei, the day on which we celebrate Rosh Hashanah.
While the holiday specifically falls on the 1st and 2nd day of Tishrei, we begin the preparation during the prior month of Elul (Virgo) when we begin a period of self-reflection, and a process known as Teshuvah or repentance. This process helps us return to our original state.
Tradition says that G-d judges us on Rosh Hashanah for our prior deeds and the day is also known as the "Day of Judgment". However, by using specific spiritual tools, we can prepare our vessel, eliminate any pending judgment and ask the creator to help us receive the totality of Light on the holiday. There is no "man in the sky" judging us, but rather, it is our own actions throughout the prior year, that lead to any judgmental effects we are to experience in our lives. Through proper preparation and connection on the holiday, we can literally remove the negativity caused by prior actions and eliminate any pending judgments for the coming year.
Teshuvah : meaning to return or come back , Teshuva is most often defined as repentance. The concept is that everybody sins and that we can stop or minimize those occasions and the effects those actions will have in the future by repenting for past transgressions. The period of Teshuvah, to return to the state of perfection on Rosh Hashanah, commences on the 1st day of Elul in the prior month and continues through the 10-day period following Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur, the day of atonement ("at one ment").
The concept of "returning or coming back", means coming back to ourselves and our clean and un-adultered state and going back in time to fix the actions and causes that gave rise to the negative energy in our lives. We have a chance during the period of Teshuvah to rewind our movie from the past year and meditate to inject Light into prior dark moments of anger, judgment or jealousy and take the power back from the negative energy we created.
In practice, Teshuvah has 3 stages: (1) feeling regret; (2) deciding to change; and (3) vocalizing or acting upon the transgression. Within these stages is the requirement of forgiveness. The Hebrew word for forgiveness is Seliha, spelled Samech Lamed, Het. The numerical value of the word is 98, the same numerical value of the word Tsah, which means to clean or purify. Words with identical numerical values have an affinity towards each other and we can see how forgiveness is an act which allows each of us to clean and purify our souls, releasing ourselves from the bounds of hatred, anger or jealousy we may be harboring.
Nullifying & Cancelling our Vows (Hatarat Nedarim) - During the year, each of us makes vows to do things which are not fulfilled. When we make a vow to do something, our words have energy and create an opening for that which we pledged - setting in motion a process for the pledge to take place. When we do not fulfill the vow or pledge, we create an opening into which negativity can enter and, G-d forbid, create problems in our lives. A vow can take the form of setting a meeting with a colleague, committing to call a friend or making a pledge to give money. The importance of keeping a vow is so important that on Erev Rosh Hashanah, there is a process by which we can cancel our unfulfilled vows from the prior year by reading an annulment of vows. Prior to the holiday starting we stand in front of a tribunal of 3 men that act as a spiritual court and we ask that our previously unfulfilled vows be released and annulled. Here is a link to the specific process: https://opensiddur.org/prayers/life-cycle/living/repenting-resetting-forgiveness/hatarat-nedarim-the-release-of-vows-by-reb-zalman-schachter-shalomi/
By becoming aware of and connecting to the inner or hidden meaning behind various Rosh Hashanah rituals, we can elevate our consciousness and return to the perfect unblemished state that each of us desires and deserves.
Festive Meal - while festive meals with friends, family and loved ones always connects us to a sense of unity and perfection that we are trying to achieve for the upcoming year, Rosh Hashanah also has a variety of specials foods and signs to help us connect. While the Rosh Hashanah meal typically features Brisket, Chicken, Potato Latkes, Noodle Kugel, Gefilte Fish and other Jewish recipes, the Kabbalists have identified certain other symbolic food items for the connection:
Dates - the Hebrew word for date is Tamar. 'Tam" means end and "Mar" means bitter. Connecting to delicious dates helps to end any bitterness from the prior year and convert it to a sweet year.
Leeks - the Hebrew word is Karti, the root of which means to "cut off". We connect to leeks to cutoff the forces of darkness in the new year.
Beets - the Hebrew word is Selek, the root of which is "to remove". We connect to beets to remove the enemies of Light from our lives.
Black-eyed Peas - the Aramaic word is Rubiya, the root of which means many or plenty. We connect to black-eyed peas for the many merits we look forward to receiving in the new year.
Gourd - the Aramaic word Kara, the root of which means "to tear". We connect to the gourd to tear away any of the bad decrees which have the potential to impact us.
Pomegranate - this fruit has ~ 613 seeds which connects us to the 613 Mitzvot or good deeds prescribed by the Torah in order to live a positive life.
Lamb / Fish Head - by connecting to the head, we become the creator and "cause" of our actions, opposed to being subject to and experiencing the "effects", represented by the tail.
Apples and Honey - One of the most widely recognized symbols for Rosh Hashanah are apples and honey. Apples represent wholeness and unity, the complete and perfected state we are trying to achieve. An apple typically has a red exterior associated with left-column energy of judgement, the white interior is associated with the right-column energy of mercy and the apple's potential to be green connects us to the central column energy of balance. We dip this perfected food into honey to connect our unity and wholeness to a sweet new year.
Prayer - the Rosh Hashanah prayer connections and Torah readings in synagogue on the two days of the holiday raise our consciousness to the upper worlds where the Light of the creator helps to purify us.
Shofar - another well known aspect of the Rosh Hashanah holiday is the blowing of the Shofar, a ram's horn. The original horn belonged to Isaac's ram that was sacrificed in his stead during the Akeida, the binding of Issac by his father Abraham in an act to demonstrate his steadfast belief and obedience to G-d. With the correct meditations, the blowing of the Shofar - 100 blasts during the prayers, serves to remove any judgement set to befall us and provide us with a clean slate for the new year. The three distinct sounds of the Shofar, Teruah, Tekiah and Shevarim, also connect us to the three-column energy of balance represented by Chesed (mercy), Gevurah (judgement) and Tiferet (balance), providing each of us with the removal of any negativity in our lives. The wordless melody of the shofar, goes beyond the limitations of words and language and serves as a type of high-tech laser knocking out any of the judgements coming our way as a result of our prior actions.
Tashlich - this ceremony, which means "casting off" is typically performed during the afternoon of the first day of the holiday. We perform Tashlich, the symbolic act of throwing away our sins and negative energy we've accumulated over the past year, by saying the proper prayers and throwing stones or pieces of bread into a body of flowing water.
Use these tools and deeper understanding about the holiday to have a great week and a powerful Rosh Hashanah connection!