Why do we celebrate Rosh Hashana? We often say, “it’s the birthday of the world!” and it is, but… turns out, it’s a bit more complicated than that. According to Rav Uri Sherki, every Jewish holiday is connected to a historical event. If the event is creation, we already have a holiday to celebrate that (Shabbat!). Further, we don’t celebrate events we don’t attend. This is why although light was created first, it only got a holiday when we encounter the historical events of Hanukkah. So what it is that happened on Rosh Hashana?
Rabbi Eliezer and rabbi Yehoshua debate that too, and the Talmud tells us (Masechet Rosh Hashana 10:2) that these two esteemed sages actually disagreed on whether the world was created in Tishrei because Rabbi Yehoshua holds that the world was created in Nisan, in the spring, and there is no way that not only do we celebrate an event which we did not attend, but an event over which there is a machloket (unresolved debate)! But there are a few things they agree on, and one national event: בטלה העבדות במצרים – Slavery in Egypt was canceled.
Wait, what?? What about the charoset, maror, matza baked in haste?? Prince of Egypt?? Anything??
Yes, all of it and yet, according to our sages, it is really Rosh Hashana that celebrates the beginning of freedom!
And what about Yom Kippur? What historical, national event does Yom Kippur celebrate?
Our tradition teaches that the day Moses comes back with the second set of tablets is – Yom Kippur, the day of reconciliation, forgiveness and second chances. If so, what we’re about the celebrate is a fall variation of Pesach and of Shavuot!
What is the time span between this first event and the second?
If slavery was canceled in a sort of emancipation on Rosh Hashana, then the Exodus itself in the spring, then Shavuot, first set of tablets, followed by the golden calf, and more days on Sinai leading to getting the second set on the next Yom Kippur, it means that it’s been one whole year between them; well, if to be precise, one year and 10 days; ten days that don’t quite “belong” to either year. Those are the ten days we’re beginning tonight, the ten days of teshuva, repentance, a time of recalibrating and starting over.
May it be a good beginning to a good New Year! Shana Tova!!