Rosh Hashanah Sources

Rabbi Ronald H. Isaacs, Every Person's Guide to the High Holy Days (1998)

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, are known in Jewish tradition as the Yamim Noraim - the Days of Awe. Rosh Hashanah is the beginning and Yom Kippur is the culmination of the ten special awe-inspiring days within which Jews are afforded the opportunity of a spiritual recovery by strenuous personal effort. Whereas most Jewish holidays celebrate national events in Jewish history, on these holy days Jews are instructed to scrupulously examine their deeds and more significantly their misdeeds during the preceding year. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur's goal is nothing less than an ethical and religious reassessment of one's life. On the Days of Awe, Jewish tradition teaches, God decides who shall live and who shall die during the coming year. The liturgical prayers attempt to influence God's decision.

(כג) וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְהוָ֖ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר׃ (כד) דַּבֵּ֛ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל לֵאמֹ֑ר בַּחֹ֨דֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֜י בְּאֶחָ֣ד לַחֹ֗דֶשׁ יִהְיֶ֤ה לָכֶם֙ שַׁבָּת֔וֹן זִכְר֥וֹן תְּרוּעָ֖ה מִקְרָא־קֹֽדֶשׁ׃ (כה) כָּל־מְלֶ֥אכֶת עֲבֹדָ֖ה לֹ֣א תַעֲשׂ֑וּ וְהִקְרַבְתֶּ֥ם אִשֶּׁ֖ה לַיהוָֽה׃ (ס)
(23) The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: (24) Speak to the Israelite people thus: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts. (25) You shall not work at your occupations; and you shall bring an offering by fire to the LORD.

(ד) אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁתְּקִיעַת שׁוֹפָר בְּרֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה גְּזֵרַת הַכָּתוּב רֶמֶז יֵשׁ בּוֹ כְּלוֹמַר עוּרוּ יְשֵׁנִים מִשְּׁנַתְכֶם וְנִרְדָּמִים הָקִיצוּ מִתַּרְדֵּמַתְכֶם וְחַפְּשׂוּ בְּמַעֲשֵׂיכֶם וְחִזְרוּ בִּתְשׁוּבָה וְזִכְרוּ בּוֹרַאֲכֶם. אֵלּוּ הַשּׁוֹכְחִים אֶת הָאֱמֶת בְּהַבְלֵי הַזְּמַן וְשׁוֹגִים כָּל שְׁנָתָם בְּהֶבֶל וָרִיק אֲשֶׁר לֹא יוֹעִיל וְלֹא יַצִּיל, הַבִּיטוּ לְנַפְשׁוֹתֵיכֶם וְהֵיטִיבוּ דַּרְכֵיכֶם וּמַעַלְלֵיכֶם וְיַעֲזֹב כָּל אֶחָד מִכֶּם דַּרְכּוֹ הָרָעָה וּמַחֲשַׁבְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר לֹא טוֹבָה. לְפִיכָךְ צָרִיךְ כָּל אָדָם שֶׁיִּרְאֶה עַצְמוֹ כָּל הַשָּׁנָה כֻּלָּהּ כְּאִלּוּ חֶצְיוֹ זַכַּאי וְחֶצְיוֹ חַיָּב. וְכֵן כָּל הָעוֹלָם חֶצְיוֹ זַכַּאי וְחֶצְיוֹ חַיָּב. חָטָא חֵטְא אֶחָד הֲרֵי הִכְרִיעַ אֶת עַצְמוֹ וְאֶת כָּל הָעוֹלָם כֻּלּוֹ לְכַף חוֹבָה וְגָרַם לוֹ הַשְׁחָתָה. עָשָׂה מִצְוָה אַחַת הֲרֵי הִכְרִיעַ אֶת עַצְמוֹ וְאֶת כָּל הָעוֹלָם כֻּלּוֹ לְכַף זְכוּת וְגָרַם לוֹ וְלָהֶם תְּשׁוּעָה וְהַצָּלָה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (משלי י כה) "וְצַדִּיק יְסוֹד עוֹלָם" זֶה שֶׁצָּדַק הִכְרִיעַ אֶת כָּל הָעוֹלָם לִזְכוּת וְהִצִּילוֹ (ראה קידושין מ:). וּמִפְּנֵי עִנְיָן זֶה נָהֲגוּ כָּל בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל לְהַרְבּוֹת בִּצְדָקָה וּבְמַעֲשִׂים טוֹבִים וְלַעֲסֹק בְּמִצְוֹת מֵרֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה וְעַד יוֹם הַכִּפּוּרִים יֶתֶר מִכָּל הַשָּׁנָה. וְנָהֲגוּ כֻּלָּם לָקוּם בַּלַּיְלָה בַּעֲשָׂרָה יָמִים אֵלּוּ וּלְהִתְפַּלֵּל בְּבָתֵּי כְּנֵסִיּוֹת בְּדִבְרֵי תַּחֲנוּנִים וּבְכִבּוּשִׁין עַד שֶׁיֵּאוֹר הַיּוֹם:

(4) Notwithstanding that the blowing of the ram's horn trumpet on Rosh Hashanah is a Scriptural statute, its blast is symbolic, as if saying: "Ye that sleep, bestir yourselves from your sleep, and ye slumbering, emerge from your slumber, examine your conduct, turn in repentance, and remember your Creator! They that forget the truth because of the vanities of the times, who err all of their years by pursuing vanity and idleness, which are of neither benefit nor of salvation, care for your souls, improve your ways and your tendencies, let each one of you abandon his evil path and his thought which is not pure! It is, therefore, necessary for every man to behold himself throughout the whole year in a light of being evenly balanced between innocence and guilt, and look upon the entire world as if evenly balanced between innocence and guilt; thus, if he commit one sin, he will overbalance himself and the whole world to the side of guilt, and be a cause of its destruction; but if he perform one duty, behold, he will overbalance himself and the whole world to the side of virtue, and bring about his own and their salvation and escape, even as it is said: "But the righteous is an everlasting foundation" (Prov. 10:25), it is he, by whose righteousness he overbalanced the whole world to virtue and saved it (cf. b. Kiddushin 40b). And, because of this matter, it became the custom of the whole house of Israel to excel in alms-giving, in good conduct and in the performance of duties during the intervening days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Hakippurim above what they do during the whole year. It also became a universal custom to rise early during those ten days, to deliver in the synagogues prayers of supplication and ardor till the dawn of the day.

...תָּנֵי בְּשֵׁם רַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר בְּעֶשְׂרִים וַחֲמִשָּׁה בֶּאֱלוּל נִבְרָא הָעוֹלָם...נִמְצֵאתָ אַתָּה אוֹמֵר בְּיוֹם רֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה בְּשָׁעָה רִאשׁוֹנָה עָלָה בַּמַּחֲשָׁבָה, בַּשְּׁנִיָּה נִתְיָעֵץ עִם מַלְאֲכֵי הַשָּׁרֵת, בַּשְּׁלִישִׁית כִּנֵּס עֲפָרוֹ, בָּרְבִיעִית גִּבְּלוֹ, בַּחֲמִישִׁית רִקְּמוֹ, בַּשִּׁשִּׁית עֲשָׂאוֹ גֹּלֶם, בַּשְּׁבִיעִית נָפַח בּוֹ נְשָׁמָה, בַּשְּׁמִינִית הִכְנִיסוֹ לַגָּן, בַּתְּשִׁיעִית נִצְטַוָּה, בָּעֲשִׂירִית עָבַר, בְּאַחַת עֶשְׂרֵה נִדּוֹן, בִּשְׁתֵּים עֶשְׂרֵה יָצָא בְּדִימוּס. אָמַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא לְאָדָם, זֶה סִימָן לְבָנֶיךָ כְּשֵׁם שֶׁעָמַדְתָּ לְפָנַי בַּדִּין הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה וְיָצָאתָ בְּדִימוּס, כָּךְ עֲתִידִין בָּנֶיךָ לַעֲמֹד לְפָנַי בַּדִּין בְּיוֹם זֶה וְיוֹצְאִין לְפָנַי בְּדִימוּס, אֵימָתַי בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי בְּאֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ.

It was taught in the name of Rabbi Elazar: on the 25th of Elul the world was created... We thus find to say: on Rosh Hashanah, at the first hour, God thought [to create humans]...at the third hour, he gathered the dust [used to create Adam]; at the fourth hour, He molded this dirt [to the shape of Adam]...at the seventh hour, He blew into his soul. At the eighth hour, he brought [Adam and Eve] into the Garden of Eden. At the ninth hour, He commended them concerning the fruit of the tree of good and evil. At the tenth hour, [Adam and Eve] violated God's command [and ate from the prohibited fruit. At the eleventh hour, he was judged. At the twelfth hour, he was pardoned. Said the Holy One, blessed be He to Adam: this is a sign for your sons--just like you come before me in judgment and I have given you a pardon, so too will your sons come before Me in judgment and I will give them a pardon.

ואמר רבי חייא בר אבא אמר רבי יוחנן כל הנביאים כולן לא נתנבאו אלא לבעלי תשובה אבל צדיקים גמורים עין לא ראתה אלהים זולתך ופליגא דרבי אבהו דאמר רבי אבהו מקום שבעלי תשובה עומדין צדיקים גמורים אינם עומדין שנאמר שלום שלום לרחוק ולקרוב לרחוק ברישא והדר לקרוב.

And Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: All of the prophets only prophesied their prophecies of consolation with regard to penitents but with regard to the full-fledged righteous it is stated: “No eye has seen it, God, aside from You.” And the Gemara notes that this statement disagrees with the opinion of Rabbi Abbahu who holds that penitents are superior to the righteous. As Rabbi Abbahu said: In the place where penitents stand, even the full-fledged righteous do not stand, as it is stated: “Peace, peace upon him who is far and him who is near.” Peace and greeting is extended first to him who is far, the penitent, and only thereafter is peace extended to him who is near, the full-fledged righteous.

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, Teshuvah: A Guide for the Newly Observant Jew (1987)

"Broadly defined, teshuvah is more than just repentance from sin; it is a spiritual reawakening, a desire to strengthen the connection between oneself and the sacred. The effectiveness of teshuvah is thus frequently a function of one's sense of distance from the sacred. The greater the distance, the greater the potential movement towards renewed connectedness. As one Jewish sage put it, A rope that is cut and retied is doubly strong at the point where it was severed.... All forms of teshuvah, however diverse and complex, have a common core: the belief that human beings have it in their power to effect inward change.