[Par-reg] for Rosh ha'Shana - shiur
tsc at bezeqint.net
Sat Oct 1 17:45:59 EDT 2005
THE TANACH STUDY CENTER [http://www.tanach.org]
In Memory of Rabbi Abraham Leibtag
Shiurim in Chumash & Navi by Menachem Leibtag
for ROSH HASHANA - shiur
To our surprise, the holiday that we call Rosh Hashana is
never referred to as such in Chumash! In fact, Chumash tells
us very little about this holiday that we are told to
celebrate on the 'first day of the seventh month' (see Vayikra
So how do we know that this day is indeed a 'day of
And why should this day mark the beginning of a 'new
In the following shiur, we attempt to answer these
fundamental questions from within Chumash itself.
The laws of Rosh Hashana are discussed only twice in
Chumash, once in Parshat Emor (Vayikra 23:23-25), and once in
Parshat Pinchas (Bamidbar 29:1-6). Therefore, we must begin
our shiur by taking a quick look at these two sources, noting
how scant the Torah's detail of this holiday appears to be:
1) In Parshat Emor -
"On the seventh month, on the first day of that month,
you shall have a shabbaton [a day of rest], zichron
tru'a, mikra kodesh [a day set aside for gathering], do
not work, and you shall bring an offering to God"
2) In Parshat Pinchas -
"On the seventh month, on the first day of that month,
observe a 'mikra kodesh', do no work, it shall be for you
a yom tru'a..." (Bamidbar 29:1-6).
Note that Chumash never refers to this holiday as Rosh
Hashana! Instead, we are told to make a holiday on the first
day of the seventh month [that's closer to 'mid-year' than
Furthermore, the Torah never tells us why this day is
chosen. Instead, we are instructed to sound a tru'a [yom
tru'a], or to remember a tru'a [zichron tru'a], but it is not
clear at all precisely what these phrases - yom tru'a and
zichron tru'a - imply.
[Note that the Torah provides reasons for all of the
other holidays, either explicitly: chag ha-matzot is to
remember Yetziat Mitzrayim, shavuot for the grain harvest
('chag ha-katzir') and Sukkot for the fruit harvest
('chag ha-asif'); or implicitly - Yom Kippur for it marks
the day on which Moshe Rabbeinu came down from Har Sinai
with the second Luchot & God's midot ha-rachamim" (based
on the three groups of 40 days in the account of those
events in Sefer Devarim chapter 9).]
Finally, nowhere in these psukim in Parshat Emor or in
Parshat Pinchas do we find even a hint that this day should be
considered a 'day of judgment'.
So what's going on? How does this enigmatic biblical
holiday become the Rosh Hashana that we are all so familiar
To answer this question, we must explore other sources in
the Bible where these very same topics are mentioned, namely:
A) the cycle of the agricultural year in Chumash, and
B) the biblical meaning of the phrases:
"yom tru'a" & "zicharon"
TISHREI - NOT THE 'JEWISH' NEW YEAR
To understand what is special about the seventh month, we
must return to the two parshiot of the chagim in Chumash, i.e.
Parshat Emor (Vayikra chapter 23) and Parshat Pinchas
(Bamidbar chapters 28->29).
First, quickly review the internal progression of each of
these two units, noting how they both list the entire set of
holidays - in an order that begins in the spring. Most
likely, this 'spring start' is based on God's earlier command
in Parshat Ha'Chodesh to count the months from the first month
of spring - corresponding to our redemption from Egypt. [See
Shmot 12:1-2; 13:2-3 & 23:15.]
Hence, there seems to be every reason in Chumash to
consider Nissan as the Jewish New Year, and not Tishrei! What
then is special about the seventh month, and why do we refer
to it as Rosh Hashana?
[Even though it is commonly assumed that the first of
Tishrei marks the anniversary of the creation of the
world, this specific point is a controversy in the Talmud
between R. Eliezer (created in Tishrei) and R. Yehoshua
(created in Nissan). [See Mesechet Rosh Hashana 11a]
According to R. Yehoshua who claims that the world was
created in Nissan and not in Tishrei, could it be that
there is nothing special about this day? Furthermore,
even according to R. Eliezer, why should the anniversary
of the Creation provoke a yearly 'Day of Judgment'? In
any case, Chumash never states explicitly that the
Creation began in Tishrei.]
To answer this question, we must take into consideration
the basic cycle of the agricultural year in the Land of
THE END OF THE AGRICULTURAL YEAR
In addition to the biblical year that begins in Nissan
(see Shmot 12:1-2), we find another 'calendar' in Chumash,
which relates to the agricultural cycle of the year. Take for
example the Torah's first mention of the holiday of Sukkot,
noting how it explicitly states that Sukkot falls out at the
end of the year:
"Three times a year celebrate for Me... and the
'gathering holiday' [chag ha-asif], when the year goes
out [be-tzeit ha-shana], when you gather your produce
from the Land..." (see Shmot 23:14-17).
From this pasuk we can infer that Chumash takes for
granted that we are aware of a 'year' that 'goes out' when we
gather our fruits. If this 'agricultural' year 'goes out'
when the produce is harvested, then it must begin when the
fields are first sown (in the autumn).
When Sukkot is described in greater detail (in Parshat
Emor), we find the precise 'lunar' date for this 'gathering'
"On the 15th day of the seventh month, when you gather
the produce of your Land, you shall observe a holiday for
seven days..." (see Vayikra 23:39).
From these two sources it becomes clear that Chumash
assumes that there is an 'agricultural year' that ends in
This assumption is confirmed when we examine yet another
agricultural mitzva that requires a defined yearly cycle - the
laws of shmitta [the sabbatical year].
In Parshat Behar the Torah describes a cycle of six years
when we work the land, and the seventh year of rest (see
Clearly, this implies that there must be a certain date
when the year of this shmitta cycle begins. And sure enough,
the Torah informs us of this date when it describes
immediately afterward the laws of the yovel [Jubilee] year,
celebrated after each seven shmitta cycles:
"And you shall count seven weeks of years, seven times
seven years, and then you shall sound a shofar tru'a on
the seventh month, on the tenth of the month..." (see
Here we are told explicitly that the years of the shmitta
cycle begin in the seventh month.
[One could assume that the year actually begins on the first
of Tishrei, but on the yovel year we wait until Yom Kippur
to make the 'official declaration'. This may be for a
thematic reason as well, for on yovel land returns to its
original owners & we annul all debts, etc. [like starting
over with a clean slate]. Therefore, we pronounce yovel on
Yom Kippur, at the same time when we ask God to annul our
Finally, the mitzva of hakhel (see Devarim 31:10-12)
provides conclusive proof that the year of the shmitta cycle
begins in Tishrei. We are commanded to conduct the hakhel
ceremony 'be-mo'ed shnat ha-shmitta be-chag ha-Sukkot' - at
the appointed [or gathering] time of shmitta (i.e. the time of
year when cycle increments) on Sukkot. This clearly implies
that the shmitta cycle increments in Tishrei.
THE BEGINNING OF THE AGRICULTURAL YEAR
In addition to the above sources that assume the
existence of an 'agricultural year' that ends in Tishrei,
another source in Chumash informs us more precisely when this
agricultural year begins. In fact, this source is the only
time in Chumash where we find an explicit mention of the word
'rosh' in relation to the beginning of a year!
In Parshat Ekev, the Torah explains how farming in the
'land of Israel' differs from farming in the 'land of Egypt'
(see Devarim 11:10-12). Unlike Egypt, which enjoys a constant
supply of water from the Nile River, the Land of Israel is
dependent on 'matar' (rain) for its water supply. Hence, the
farmer in the land of Israel must depend one the rainfall for
his prosperity. But that rainfall itself, Chumash explains,
is a direct function of God's 'hashgacha' [providence]. In
this context (i.e. in relation to the rainfall in the land of
Israel), we learn that:
"It is a Land which your Lord looks after, God's 'eyes'
constantly look after it - mi-reishit shana - from the
beginning of the year - until the end of the year"
[Recall that in the land of Israel it only rains
between Sukkot and Pesach, hence the cycle begins in
Here, God assures Am Yisrael that He will look after the
'agricultural' needs of our Land by making sure that it will
receive the necessary rainfall. To prove this interpretation
we simply need to read the following parshia (which just so
happens to be the second parsha of daily 'kriyat shma'):
"[Hence,] should you keep the mitzvot... then I will give
the rain to your land at the proper time... [but] be
careful, should you transgress... then I hold back the
heavens, and there will be no rain... (see Devarim 11:13-
In this context, the phrase 'reishit shana' in 11:12
implies the beginning of the rainy season. Hence, the
biblical agricultural year begins with the rainy season in the
fall - reishit ha-shana - i.e. the new (agricultural) year.
A CRITICAL TIME
But specifically in the land of Israel this time of year
is quite significant, for in Israel it only rains during the
autumn and winter months. Therefore, farmers must plow and
sow their fields during those months in order to catch the
winter rain. In fact, the rainfall during the months of
Cheshvan & Kislev is most critical, for the newly sown fields
require large amounts of water. If it doesn't rain in the
late autumn / early winter, there will be nothing to harvest
in the spring or summer.
[Note that in Masechet Ta'anit (see chapters 1 and 2) we
learn that if the rain is not sufficient by mid-Kislev, a
series of 'fast-days' are proclaimed when special prayers
for rain are added, including a set of tefillot almost
identical to those of Rosh Hashana (see II.2-3). This
may explain why Seder Moed places Masechet Rosh Hashana
before Masechet Ta'anit, rather than placing it before
Yoma (where it would seem to belong)!]
From this perspective, the fate of the produce of the
forthcoming agricultural year is primarily dependent on the
rainfall during the early winter months. Should the rainfall
be insufficient, not only will there not be enough water to
drink, the crops will not grow! [See Masechet Rosh Hashana
16a!] A shortage of rain can lead not only to drought, but
also to famine, and disease throughout the months of the
spring and summer. Furthermore, a food shortage is likely to
lead to an outbreak of war between nations fighting over the
meager available resources.
Consequently, it may appear to man as though nature
itself, i.e. via the early rainy season, determines 'who will
live' and 'who will die', who by thirst and who by famine, who
by war and who by disease...'. [from the 'netaneh tokef'
tefilla on Rosh Hashana]
NATURE OR GOD?
Even though it may appear to man that nature, or more
specifically - the rain - will determine the fate of the
forthcoming agricultural year, Chumash obviously cannot accept
this conclusion. As we discussed (or will discuss) in our
shiur on Parshat Breishit, a primary theme in Chumash is that
the creation of nature was a willful act of God, and He
continues to oversee it. Although it may appear to man as
though nature works independently, it is incumbent upon him to
recognize that it is God, and not nature, who determines his
Therefore, in anticipation of the rainy season (which
begins in the autumn) and its effect on the fate of the entire
year, the Torah commands Bnei Yisrael to set aside a 'mikra
kodesh' - a special gathering - in the seventh month in order
that we gather to declare God's kingdom over all Creation. In
doing so, we remind ourselves that it is He who determines our
fate, based on our deeds, as explained in Parshat Ekev (see
Now that we have established why the seventh month should
be considered the beginning of a new year, i.e. the new
agricultural year, we must now explain why the Torah chooses
specifically the first day of this month to mark this
Based on the Torah's definition of Sukkot as 'be-tzeit
shana' (the end of the year / see Shmot 23:16), it would seem
more logical to consider Shmini Atzeret - which falls out
immediately after Sukkot - as the first day of the New Year.
After all, it is not by chance that Chazal instituted
'tefillat geshem' - the special prayer for rain - on this day.
Why does the Torah command us to gather specifically on the
first day of this seventh month, before the previous year is
One could suggest very simply that an overlap exists, as
the new agricultural year begins (on the first day of the
seventh month) before the previous year ends. However, if we
examine all of the holidays of the seventh month, a more
complex picture emerges.
A SPECIAL MONTH
Note that in Parshat Emor and Parshat Pinchas, we find
four different holidays that are to be observed in the seventh
On the first day - a Yom tru'a
On the 10th day - Yom Ha-kippurim
On the 15th day - 'Chag Sukkot for seven days
On the 22nd day - an 'Atzeret'
[Note how all these holidays are connected by the
Torah's conspicuous use of the word 'ach' in 23:27 &
Why are there so many holidays in the seventh month? For
Sukkot, the Torah provides an explicit reason: it marks the
end of the summer fruit harvest [chag ha-asif]. However, no
explicit reason is given for the celebration of any of the
others holidays on these specific dates. Nonetheless, based
on our above explanation concerning the biblical importance of
the forthcoming rainy season, one could suggest that all of
the Tishrei holidays relate in one manner or other to the
yearly agricultural cycle that begins in the seventh month.
More conclusive proof of an intrinsic connection between
these three holidays of the seventh month - Yom Tru'a, Yom
Kippurim, and Shmini Atzeret - can be deduced from their
identical and unique korban mussaf, as detailed in Parshat
Pinchas. Unlike any other holiday, on each of these holidays
we offer an additional ola of 'one bull, one ram, and seven
sheep' for the mussaf offering.
[See Bamidbar chapter 29, note that no other korban has
this same korban mussaf. See TSC shiur on Pinchas. See
also further iyun section in regard to the double nature
of the mussaf of Sukkot, which may actually include this
offering as well.]
But why are three holidays necessary to inaugurate the New
One could suggest that each holiday relates to a
different aspect of the anticipation of the forthcoming
agricultural year. In this week's shiur, we discuss the
meaning of yom tru'a, which we are commanded to observe on the
first day of this month. In the shiurim to follow, we will
discuss Yom Kippur and Shmini Atzeret.
As we explained in our introduction, according to Chumash
the only unique mitzva of this holiday is that we are
commanded to make a yom tru'a according to Parshat Pinchas
(Bamidbar 29:2), or a zichron tru'a according to Parshat Emor
Each of these two phrases requires explanation. Why
would 'sounding a tru'a' have any connection to the beginning
of the rainy season? Likewise, what does "zichron tru'a"
YOM TRU'A IN THE BIBLE
To understand these phrases, we must consider how a
shofar was used in biblical times.
Today, a shofar is considered a religious artifact. If
you are shopping for a shofar, you would inquire at your local
"seforim" store or possibly a Judaica shop [or search the
However, in Biblical times, its use was quite different.
Back then, if you were shopping for a shofar, you would have
most probably gone to your local 'arms dealer' - for the
shofar was used primarily in war, as a shofar was used by
military commanders and officers to communicate with their
[See for example the story of Gideon and his 300 men, each
one sounding a shofar to make the enemy think that there are
300 commanders, and hence thousands of soldiers / see
Similarly, civil defense personnel used the shofar to
warn civilians of enemy attack and to mobilize the army. [See
Amos 3:6 & Tzefania 1:16.]
Now, there are two basic types of 'notes' that the shofar
1) a teki'a - a long steady note (like DC current);
2) a tru'a - a oscillating short note (like AC current).
Usually, a teki'a long steady sound was used to signal an
'all clear' situation, while the oscillating tru'a signal
warned of imminent danger (like a siren sound today). This
distinction between a teki'a & tru'a is easily deduced from
the mitzva of the 'chatzotzrot' (trumpets) explained in
Parshat Beha'alotcha (see 10:1-10 / highly suggested that you
read these psukim inside). According to that parsha, the
teki'a was the signal for gathering the camp for happy
occasions (see 10:3-4,7,10), while the tru'a was used as a
signal to prepare for travel in military formation and war
[Note, both a 'shvarim' and 'tru'a' are examples of tru'a
(AC). The difference between them is simply an issue of
frequency / 3 per second, or 9 per second.]
Hence, in biblical times, if someone heard a shofar
sounding a tru'a, his instinctive reaction would have been
fear, preparation for war, and/or impending danger. [Sort of
like hearing sirens today.]
Elsewhere in Tanach, we find many examples. The prophet
Tzfania, for example, uses the phrase 'yom shofar u-tru'a' to
describe a day of terrible war and destruction. Tzfania's
opening prophecy speaks of the forthcoming 'yom Hashem', a day
in which God will punish all those who had left Him. Note how
the following psukim relate shofar & tru'a to God's providence
"At that time ('yom Hashem') I will search Yerushalayim
with candles and I will punish ('u-pakadeti') the men...
who say to themselves 'God does not reward nor does He
The great day of the Lord is approaching...
it is bitter, there a warrior shrieks.
That day shall be a day of wrath,
a day of trouble and distress ('tzara u-metzuka'),
a day of calamity and desolation....,
"yom shofar u-tru'a ..."
a day of blowing a shofar and tru'a..."
(see Tzfania 1:12-16).
Here, 'yom shofar u-tru'a' clearly implies a day of
imminent danger and war - a day in when God enacts judgment on
those who have sinned. [See also Yoel 2:1-3,11-14 & 2:15-17!]
The strongest proof that the sound of a shofar would
cause intuitive fear is from Amos:
"Should a shofar be sounded in the city, would the people
not become fearful?!" (see Amos 3:6).
With this background, we can return to Parshat Pinchas. The
Torah instructs us to make a yom tru'a on the first day of the
seventh month (29:1-2). Obviously, the Torah does not expect
us to go to war on this day; however, we are commanded on this
day to create an atmosphere that simulates the tension and
fear of war. By creating this atmosphere in anticipation of
the new agricultural year that is about to begin, we show God
our belief that its fate - and hence our fate, is in His hands
(and not nature's).
Therefore, to create this atmosphere of a 'day of judgment',
to help us feel that our lives are truly 'on the line' - in
God's Hands, the Torah commands us to sound a tru'a with the
Now we must explain the phrase zichron tru'a, which is
used to describe this holiday in Parshat Emor. The key to
understanding this phrase lies in the same psukim mentioned
above concerning the chatzrotrot. There, we find the link
between tru'a, war, and zika'ron:
"Ve-ki tavo'u milchama be-artzechem... va-harei'otem be-
chatzotzrot, ve-nizkartem lifnei Hashem Elokeichem..." -
When war takes place in your land... you should sound a
tru'a with your trumpets that you will be remembered by
(and/or that you will remember...) Hashem, and He will
save you from your enemies" (see Bamidbar 10:8-9).
Here we find a special mitzva to sound a tru'a prior to,
and in anticipation of, impending battle. To show our belief
that the outcome of that battle is in God's Hands, and not in
hands of our enemy, we are commanded to sound a tru'a.
Obviously, it was not the tru'a itself that saves Bnei
Yisrael, rather our recognition that the ultimate fate of the
battle is in God's Hands.
We can apply this same analogy from war to agriculture.
Just as the Torah commands us to sound a tru'a in anticipation
of war - to remember that its outcome is in God's Hand; so too
we are commanded to sound a tru'a on the first of Tishrei in
anticipation of the forthcoming agricultural year - to remind
ourselves that its outcome is in God's Hand as well.
Therefore, Rosh Hashana is not only a yom tru'a - a day
of awe on which our lives are judged, but Chumash defines it
as a day of zichron tru'a - a day on which we must sound the
tru'a so that we will remember our God, in order that He will
remember us. On this day, we must proclaim His kingdom over
all mankind in recognition of His mastery over nature and our
In summary, we have shown how the most basic aspects of
Rosh Hashana, which at first appeared to be totally missing
from Chumash, can be uncovered by undertaking a comprehensive
study of the biblical importance of the seventh month.
Obviously, our observance of Rosh Hashana is only complete
when we include all of its laws that have been passed down
through Torah she-ba'al peh (the Oral Law). However, we can
enhance our appreciation of this holiday by studying its
sources in Torah she-bichtav (the Written Law) as well.
In today's modern society, it is difficult to appreciate
the importance of an agricultural year. Rarely do we need to
worry about our water supply and other most basic needs.
Nevertheless, especially in the Land of Israel, we are faced
with other serious national dangers such as war and terror.
Even though we must take every precaution necessary against
these dangers, the basic principle of the above shiur still
applies, that we must recognize that the ultimate fate of the
forthcoming year is in God's Hands, and that He will judge us
based on our deeds.
Even though all the nations are judged on this awesome
day, Am Yisrael's custom is to sound the tru'a specifically
with the shofar of an ayil (a ram), a symbol of 'akeidat
Yitzchak' - a reminder to the Almighty of our devotion and
readiness to serve Him.
With this shofar, together with our tefillot, our heritage,
and our resolve to conduct our lives as an 'am kadosh' should,
we pray that God should not judge us like any other nation,
rather as His special Nation.
ve-ketiva ve-chatima tova,
FOR FURTHER IYUN
A. In Chodesh Tishrei, the 'seventh' month, we find many
chagim that relate to nature, especially the 'seven' days of
Sukkot marking the culmination of the harvest season of the
previous year. We also find three days of 'Judgement', Rosh
HaShana, Yom Kippur, and Shmini Atzeret.
1. Compare the korban mussaf of each of these three chagim.
(one par, one ayil, seven kvasim and one se'ir le-chatat).
2. In what way are these chagim connected?
3. According to Chazal, when are we judged for water?
How does this relate to the above shiur?
4. Relate this to the tefilla of the kohen gadol on Yom
(it's in your machzor at the end of seder avoda)
B. Why does Hashem need Am Yisrael to proclaim him king? The
one thing Hashem, ki-vyachol, can not do, is make Himself
king. A kingdom is meaningless if there are no subjects. A
king becomes king when and because he is accepted by his
subjects. Similarly, only when God is accepted and recognized
by man does He become Melech.
1. Relate this to our davening on Rosh Hashana.
2 Explain changing 'E-l HaKadosh' to 'Melech Hakadosh'
according to this concept.
C. The Jewish New Year, the New Year special and unique to Am
Yisrael is actually Nissan - Ha-chodesh ha-zeh lachem rosh
chodashim rishon hu lachem le-chodshei ha-shana (Shmot perek
12/v1-2). Yetziat Mitzrayim which took place in Nissan marks
the birth of the Jewish Nation.
1. What aspects of Pesach and Chag HaMatzot emphasize that we
are a special nation, different from other nations.
2. What aspect of the chagim in Tishrei relate to all
(Note 70 parim on Sukkot etc. - see also Zecharya chap 14)
D. In the shiur of the '13 midot' you may recall our
explanation that Hashem's hashgacha over Am Yisrael after brit
Sinai was broken due to chet ha-egel and defaulted to 'u-veyom
pokdi u-pukadti' (Shmot 32:34). As opposed to immediate
punishment, God will punish them from time to time, allowing
for good deeds to balance out the bad deeds. In the manner,
Bnei Yisrael would be judged no different from other nations.
Note the Ibn Ezra on that pasuk - there he explains - 'from
Rosh Hashana to Rosh Hashana'!
1. Relate this peirush by the Ibn Ezra to the above shiur!
E. Note that from the story of the flood in Parshat Noach, we
could also deduce the year begins in Tishrei, i.e. according
to the agricultural year. The heavy rains of the flood began
to fall on the 17th day of the second month, which would
correspond to Cheshvan. (See Breishit 7:11.) However, this
specific point is a controversy among the commentators.
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