Rosh Hashanah as Birthday and Judgment (worksheet)

Question: Can/should a birthday be a source of self-reflection? If so, why and how?

Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter (1847-1905) was a leader of the Gerrer sect of hasidim. He is best known for his commentary to the Torah, Sefat Emet (literally, The Language of Truth).

Here is a selection from one of his teachings on Rosh Hashanah that discusses the dimension of renewal that we may feel on Rosh Hashanah:

"The people of Israel must celebrate Rosh Hashanah because the world is renewed....This is a kindness of the Creator, may He be blessed, that He renews life every Rosh Hashanah...Similarly, God renews creation...And on Rosh Hashanah, there is an even greater degree of renewal of the days of the year."

The idea that God constantly renews the world may be difficult to take literally for a number of reasons.

Question: Do you think there anything from this teaching that we can use to give us greater insight into Rosh Hashanah. If so, what message(s) regarding Rosh Hashanah can we gain from this teaching?

תניא רבי אליעזר אומר בתשרי נברא העולם בתשרי נולדו אבות בתשרי מתו אבות... בראש השנה נפקדה שרה רחל וחנה בראש השנה יצא יוסף מבית האסורין

It was taught that Rabbi Eliezer said: "In Tishrei the world was created. In Tishrei the forefathers were born. In Tishrei the forefathers died.... During Rosh Hashanah Sarah, Rachel, and Hannah were remembered. During Rosh Hashanah Joseph left the dungeon."

Background: Sarah, conceived Isaac at the age of 90. Rachel, Jacob's wife, went many years without any children. She finally gave birth to Joseph (she later died while giving birth to Benjamin). Hannah lived later, at the end of the period of judges. She was childless for many years before giving birth to the prophet Samuel. Joseph was sold by his brothers into servitude and wound up in Egypt where he was eventually falsely accused and sent to Pharaoh's prison. According to this passage, Joseph was released from prison on Rosh Hashanah.

Background: Rabbi Yehoshua disagrees with Rabbi Eliezer and believes that the world was created in Nissan, the month during which Passover falls. (The medieval commentators who create the commentary Tosafot believe that, according to Rabbi Yehoshua, God decided to create the world on Rosh Hashanah but didn't do so until the month of Nissan.)

Question: What would Sarah, Rachel, Hannah, and Joseph being answered on Rosh Hashanah suggest about this day?

תני, בשם ר' אלעזר: בכ"ה באלול נברא העולם... נמצאת אתה אומר: ביום ר"ה, בשעה ראשונה, עלה במחשבה. בשניה, נתייעץ עם מלאכי השרת. בשלישי, כנס עפרו. ברביעי, גבלו. בחמישי, רקמו בששי, עשאו גולם. בשביעי, נפח בו נשמה. בשמיני, הכניסו לגן. בתשיעי, נצטוה. בעשירי, עבר. באחד עשר, נידון. בשנים עשר, יצא בדימוס. אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא לאדם: זה סימן לבניך מה אתה נכנסת לפני בדין ונתתי לך דימיס, אף בניך נכנסין לפני בדין ואני נותן להם דימיס.

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] the third hour, he gathered the dust [used to create Adam]; at the fourth hour, He molded this dirt [to the shape of Adam] 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.

Background: Genesis 2:7 states that God gives life to Adam by breathing into his mouth.


1. According to the Midrash, what exactly was created on Rosh Hashanah? What would this suggest about the meaning and significance of Rosh Hashanah?

2. How does the Midrash connect creation and judgment on Rosh Hashanah?

3. The Hasidic leader Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter of Ger (1847-1905) in his Sefat Emet (The Language of Truth) writes: "On Rosh Hashanah, the power through which God creates Adam is renewed--'And He blew the breath of life into [Adam]' (Genesis 2:7).

In what way does this teaching build on the themes of the Midrash above?

(ב) בארבעה פרקים העולם נידון... בראש השנה כל באי העולם עוברין לפניו כבני מרון. שנאמר (תהלים לג, טו) היוצר יחד לבם המבין אל כל מעשיהם. ובחג. נידונין על המים:

(2) At four times the world is judged: ...On Rosh Hashnah, all the world passes before Him like sheep, as it says, "He that fashions the hearts of them all, that considers [understands?] all their doings." (Psalms 33:15) And on Sukkot, they are judged for the water.

1. What does the image of us passing before God like sheep suggest about Rosh Hashanah?

2. How is the Mishnah using the prooftext from Psalms 33:15 to suggest this idea about Rosh Hashanah? Do you think it has anything to do with the idea of the world being created on Rosh Hashanah?

3. What would it mean for God to consider (or understand) all of our actions?