Rosh Hashanah Theology and Themes
Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) is simultaneously a time of great celebration and subtle trepidation. We celebrate the completion of one year and the beginning of the next--the reassuring, endless cycle of time.
There is a view put forth by the rabbis in the Talmud that the day of Rosh Hashanah coincides with the sixth day of creation, when humanity was created. According to this view, Rosh Hashanah becomes the birthday of all peoples, and of course, one celebrates a birthday.
Nonetheless, according to this interpretation, the day on which humanity was created is the same day on which it sinned and was judged. Adam and Eve were formed, given life, ate of the forbidden fruit, called to account for this act, and consequently exiled from the Garden of Eden, all on the same day. These events can be thought of as the model upon which we learn many of the themes and theology for Rosh Hashanah. It is a day to celebrate our creation, but also a day of accounting and judgment for our actions. One of the consequences of Adam and Eve's sin was the introduction of death or mortality into the world. The stakes are quite high in the original model and they remain equally high in the Jewish world's approach to the day.
On Rosh Hashanah, we relate to God as the Ultimate Judge. The Book of Life is opened before the Divine Being and we become advocates for our personal inscription into this book. We review the choices we have made over the past year, our actions and our intentions, as we attempt to honestly evaluate ourselves. Ultimately we hope our names are inscribed in the Book of Life, an image that speaks clearly of securing our destinies in a positive way for the coming year. It is traditional to greet each other with the wish that the person be inscribed in the Book of Life for the coming year. It is significant that God's decisions are influenced by each person's actions and intentions.
Repentance is a key theme of Rosh Hashanah. While evaluating the past year, each person engages in avenues of repentant behavior that can affect the Divine decree. True repentance can take several forms, including recognition of error, intent to correct ourselves, and, if possible, acts of repentance to follow. These actions allow us to participate in and influence our own destinies.