What is Rosh Hashana About?

9 years ago Leighest 0

By Archie Weindruch



Rosh Hashanah is known to be one of the most important holidays. In my younger days, I learned that this Yom Tov is a time for repentance, begging for forgiveness, and is when we make our case for G-d to write and seal us in the Book of Good Life. I learned that during it G-d decides our lot for the coming year so we pray for a good one. Not only did I learn to ask for a good year, but for a sweet one too.


While my former understanding of the “Head of the Year” was based in the truth, I now know that there is so much more to this occasion.


New insights to Rosh Hashanah come to light with the Rebbe’s correction of three common and misrepresentative translations. Teshuvah, Tefilla, and Tzedakah in Hebrew are not synonymous to repentance, prayer, and charity in English. The following is based on the writings of Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.


“Repentance” is not teshuvah but charatah.

Not only are these two terms not synonymous. They are opposites. Charatah implies remorse or a feeling of guilt about the past and an intention to behave in a completely new way in the future. The person decides to become “a new man.” But teshuvah means “returning” to the old, to one’s original nature.

The essence of a Jew is good. We are here to bring out the G-dly spark hidden within every physical aspect of existence. Challenges which distract us from our mission and, G-d forbid, can entice us to do wrong, exist only to be overcome. On Rosh Hashanah, we do not reinvent ourselves. Instead, we return to our G-d given purpose of elevating our surroundings. With the true perspective that teshuvah brings, we take the path illuminated by Torah to higher levels of G-d consciousness.


“Prayer” is not tefillah but bakashah.

Again these terms are opposites. Bakashah means to pray, request, beseech. But tefillah means to attach oneself. Bakashah is asking G-d to provide for our needs. We pray to G-d for what we lack, but when when our desires are met, bakashah becomes redundant.

Every Jew is a soul, a part of G-d, within a body. While our mission is to elevate the physical, simply interacting with this world can strain our bond with G-d. The importance of tefillah, that we reinforce our connection with G-d, is emphasized and necessary during Rosh Hashanah. In order to return to our purpose, we must become close to our Creator and Sustainer.

“Charity” is not tzedakah but chessed.

And again these two words have opposite meanings. Chessed, charity, implies that the recipient has no right to the gift and that the donor is under no obligation to give it. He gives it gratuitously, from the goodness of his heart. His act is a virtue rather than a duty. Tzedakah, quite contrarily, means “righteousness” and “justice”.

The implication of tzedakah is that it is our duty. Our possessions are entrusted to us from G-d. Under the terms of our contract, Torah, we are to share that which we have with people in need. That being said, we are still encouraged to give generously. We act toward others as we would have G-d act toward us. By our giving freely, G-d gives to us freely. This understanding is apt considering the important rulings G-d is considering during Rosh Hashanah and until Yom Kippur. In giving beyond what is required, we not only ensure a good year, but a sweet one too.

Now I know that Rosh Hashanah is not simply begging from G-d and avoiding past mistakes.

This Rosh Hashanah, let us all return to G-d – teshuvah, strengthen our bond with Him – tefillah, and righteously distribute our possessions – tzedakah in order to bring to fruition the potential ofRosh Hashanah for the coming year.

May you be inscribed and sealed for a good, sweet year!


link to Lord Rabbi Sack’s article