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Rosh HaShanah (ראש השנה) is the Jewish New Year. It falls once a year during the month of Tishrei and occurs ten days before Yom Kippur. Together, Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are known as the Yamim Nora’im, which means the Days of Awe in Hebrew. In English they are often referred to as the High Holy Days.
Rosh HaShanah literally means “Head of the Year” in Hebrew. the month of Tishrei is believed to be the month in which God created the world. Hence, another way to think about Rosh HaShanah is as the birthday of the world.
Rosh HaShanah is observed on the first two days of Tishrei. Jewish tradition teaches that during the High Holy Days God decides who will live and who will die during the coming year. As a result, during Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur (and in the days leading up to them) Jews embark upon the serious task of examining their lives and repenting for any wrongs they have committed during the previous year. This process of repentance is called teshuvah. Jews are encouraged to make amends with anyone they have wronged and to make plans for improving during the coming year. In this way, Rosh HaShanah is all about making peace in the community and striving to be a better person.
This day is deeply spiritual because on judgment day, not unlike what happens when a person is waiting to hear a court sentence, we are forced to reflect on ourselves. Did I live up to God's expectation of me? Is God pleased with me? What are my faults? Because of the intense mood of the moment this day presents the most powerful spiritual opportunity available -- the opportunity for us to reflect on how we can elevate ourselves to a higher plane. What does God want from me? He wants me to be on His team. How am I judged? Have I lived my year pursuing self-gratification, or have I grown closer to God in thought and deed? Am I making this world a better place to live in?
Even though the theme of Rosh HaShanah is life and death, it is a holiday filled with hope for the New Year. Jews believe that God is compassionate and just, and that God will accept their prayers for forgiveness.