By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
1. There are three main aspects to Rosh Hashanah. It is the time when we declare Hashem King. It is the time when we are all judged. It is the time when we have the special mitzvah of blowing shofar.
2. The Gaonim who lived after the time of the Gemara initiated certain additions to insert in Shemoneh Esrei during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, beyond the changes mentioned in the Gemara. They added the recitation of certain phrases. “Zachreinu L’Chaim” is inserted in the first berachah of Shemoneh Esrei. “Mi Chamocha” is inserted in the second berachah. “U’chsov l’chaim tovim kol bnei b’risecha” is said in the berachah of Modim, and “B’sefer chaim” is inserted at the end of the Shemoneh Esrei.
3. In the Kaddish that is recited during Rosh Hashanah and the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah the words “l’aiyla ul’aiyla mi’kol birchasa” are said instead of “L’aiyla min kol birchasa.” The number of words in the Kaddish must equal 28 words, according to the Zohar. Hashem’s Holy name also has 28 words. This is why we combine the two words min kol to mikol when we add the word “l’aiyla.”
4. The poskim have ruled that on the Yomim Nora’im we daven slightly louder than we do during the rest of the year. One must, nonetheless, be careful that this ruling not be a source of machlokes, argument. It is better to daven in a more quiet tone if it will cause someone to be disturbed or distressed, Heaven forbid.
5. We recite the Avinu Malkeinu on Rosh Hashanah and throughout the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, a tefillah that was composed by Rabbi Akiva. It is recited during Shacharis and Minchah, but it is not recited on Shabbos.
6. After Ma’ariv during Rosh Hashanah the chazzan recites each pasuk of “L’Dovid Mizmor.” The congregation repeats each verse after the chazzan.
7. After Ma’ariv, each person extends a greeting to friends and family. The general greeting as cited by the Chofetz Chaim is “L’shanah tovah tekaseiv v’seichaseim l’alter u’l’chaim tovim u’l’shalom.” This is not said during the daytime, however, because the tzaddikim are inscribed in the morning. We want to treat everyone as if they were already inscribed, a worthy action that helps both ourselves as well as others. This, too, when said with the proper intent, can be a fulfillment of “V’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha,” a biblical mitzvah.
8. Rosh Hashanah is the day in which the creation of the world is celebrated. In actuality, however, it is the day that mankind was created (See Talmud Rosh Hashanah 10b). The world was created six days earlier, on the 25th of Elul.
9. It was on this day that Adam HaRishon, the first man, was created. On this day he also sinned. And on this day he was granted amnesty, or forgiveness. Because of this, the day of Rosh Hashanah became the day on which all mankind is judged.
10. Rosh Hashanah is referred to in the Torah only as Yom HaZikaron, Day of Remembrance, or as Yom Teruah, Day of Sounding the Shofar; the name Rosh Hashanah is not found in the Torah.
11. Rosh Hashanah plays a central role in our lives as well as for the entire world. It is a day that we mark with intense prayer. What do we pray for? We long for the time when the entire world will recognize Hashem and His Divine Plan for the world. This longing helps change our perspectives.
12. In the evening, right after the Ma’ariv prayers and after we extend greetings to friends and family, we come home and eat the seudah. It is the custom to recite the special Yehi Ratzons found in the Machzor as a good omen for the upcoming year. This is based upon the Talmud that states, “Simana milsa—omens are significant” (Horayos 12a). Another Gemara (Kerisus) tells us to eat certain foods on Rosh Hashanah in order to have these good signs.
13. Some also have the minhag not to eat walnuts (egoz) on Rosh Hashanah. There are three reasons cited: (1) it increases phlegm; (2) it has the same gematria as the word cheit, sin. Egoz is 17 and ches tes is 17; (3) The Chasam Sofer writes that the word “egoz” alludes to the exiles of Israel.
14. The two days of Rosh Hashanah are also called Yoma Arichta, one long day, a single period of time and holiness. This was an enactment of the sages out of a concern as to when the witnesses testifying to the new moon would arrive. Because of this status, there is a debate as to whether we recite Shehecheyanu on the second night of Rosh Hashanah. To avoid doubt, we try to purchase a new fruit or garment that would require a Shehecheyanu to be recited regardless. In the past decade, the availability of new fruit in this country has expanded greatly. It is thus rare to be able to recite a Shehecheyanu on a new fruit. One should therefore rely on the clothing option. If neither is available, a Shehecheyanu is still recited.
15. One should arise on time to davening on Rosh Hashanah. There is a Talmud Yerushalmi that states, “One who sleeps on Rosh Hashanah, his mazal will also sleep.”
16. The main special mitzvah of this day is the sounding of the shofar. The Rambam writes that the shofar tells us:
“Awaken from your sleep, you sleeper! Think about your deeds. Remember Hashem and go back to Him in teshuvah. Don’t be like those who miss everything that is real and important and instead chase after things that are just a shadow. Don’t waste your years chasing after vain things that won’t help you. Look to your souls and consider your actions.”
It is a positive mitzvah in the Torah to hear the blast of the shofar on account of the verse, “Yom Teruah yihiyeh lachem.” We also learn from this verse that the mitzvah is during the day. The earliest time one may fulfill this mitzvah is after alos ha’shachar, dawn. Ideally, however, it should be done after sunrise.
Nowadays, we blow shofar after Shacharis. Originally, we blew it during Shacharis because of the principle of “zerizim makdimim l’mitzvos.” Why did we change? According to the Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 32b), we changed during Roman times because of a decree. According to the Yerushalmi, the enemies thought that the call of the shofar was a battle cry, a call for a rebellion, and they killed Jews. Even though this is no longer applicable, the Gemara states that we do not change back.
17. The sages enacted that when Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbos the shofar is not to be blown. They ruled in this manner so that someone will not come to carry a shofar by accident. This is a lesson in how seriously we should be concerned about the issues of carrying on Shabbos; the sages were so concerned that they repealed a Torah mitzvah! The Gemara tells us that any year in which the shofar is not blown ends up as a calamitous year. What about on Shabbos then? Rabbi Aharon Kotler explains that the merit of Shabbos observance—having given up the item that will silence the Satan—will serve to silence him.
18. The Gemara tells us that one set of shofar blasts is to fulfill the mitzvah, while the other set of shofar blasts is to confound the Satan. Rashi explains that the Satan will be unable to prosecute us when he sees us lovingly perform Hashem’s mitzvah again. Tosfos explains that the Satan is afraid that he will lose his job, thinking that this shofar blast is the one that hails the arrival of the Messianic era. One may ask how it is that the Satan can be confounded and confused so easily. The Ta’amei HaMinhagim explains that the Satan is concerned that the Jewish people are not just doing teshuvah but that they are doing teshuvah m’ahavah—repentance out of love of Hashem. When that happens all the aveiros that the Jewish people performed are turned into mitzvos. This is what worries and confuses him!
19. Some shuls have the custom to break for Kiddush and a snack before the blowing of the shofar. This is controversial because many authorities forbid eating before any mitzvah of the day. Because Mussaf ends late, however, many shuls are lenient. Nonetheless, a full meal should not be eaten; one should only eat enough to help him focus on the mitzvah further.
20. Women are technically exempt from the mitzvah of shofar because it is a time-bound mitzvah. Nonetheless, if they hear the shofar it is counted as the fulfillment of a mitzvah. For this reason Ashkenazic women may recite the blessing. A child is obligated in hearing the shofar by rabbinic decree.
21. Two blessings are recited on the shofar, “Asher kid’shanu b’mitzvosav v’tzivanu l’shmoah kol shofar” and the Shehecheyanu. The berachos should be said while standing.
22. A shofar may only be made from a tahor animal. Ideally, a ram’s horn should be used, alluding both to the merit of Akeidas Yitzchak and to the ram’s horn heralding Mashiach. The word shofar means “hollowed tube.” Therefore, a horn that is not naturally hollow but was hollowed out by man is not called a shofar. A deer-horn or ox-horn is called a keren by the Torah and therefore is also invalid, even though they are hollow. If a shofar has a hole or a crack it may have become invalid. The shofar should be presented to a rav who is proficient in these laws to rule upon it.
23. The shofar blasts are divided into two types: (a) the sitting blasts, tekios d’meyushav (although our custom now is to stand for them, too), which are blown before Mussaf; and (b) the standing blasts, tekiyos d’me’umad, which are blown during and after Mussaf.
There should not be any talking from the time the blessing is recited until the last blast of the shofar. If one did speak and at least one set of blasts was heard the blessing does not have to be recited again.
24. The shofar is blown from the shulchan and not the amud. The reason is to remind the heavenly court of the merit of our Torah study. The shofar is blown from the right side of the mouth. If this is difficult for the ba’al tokeiah, then one may switch sides.
25. The Torah mentions the word teruah three times. The chachamim derive from here that three teruahs must be sounded on Rosh Hashanah. We also have a tradition that each teruah must be preceded and followed by a tekiyah. We must therefore hear at least 9 different blasts. However, our sages were unsure as to whether teruah means wailing, sobbing, or both. Therefore we make all types of sounds to ensure that we have fulfilled the mitzvah.
26. Rav Saadya Gaon lists ten reasons why the shofar is blown, other than the fact that it is a mitzvah in the Torah.
a. Kings are enthroned with trumpet blasts. We are enthroning Hashem as King of the Universe.
b. The shofar sound is a call for us to do teshuvah.
c. It reminds us of Har Sinai, where a shofar blast was heard throughout the camp. We committed ourselves then to “Na’aseh V’nishmah,” which we should do now, too.
d. It reminds us of the mussar, the chastisement, of the prophets which is described as “Like a shofar” in Sefer Yeshayahu (chapter 58) and Sefer Yechezkel (chapter 33).
e. It reminds us of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and arouses us to pray for its rebuilding.
f. It reminds us of Akeidas Yitzchak and arouses within us thoughts of commitment and self-sacrifice to Hashem, something that will help us in judgment.
g. The sobbing instills Yiras Shamayim in us.
h. It reminds us of the final Day of Judgement.
i. It reminds us of kibbutz galiyos, when all exiled Jews will return.
j. It reminds us of techiyas ha’meisim.
27. The daytime Kiddush of Rosh Hashanah is the recitation of the verse “Tik’u ba’chodesh shofar ba’keseh l’yom chageinu.” Then a borei pri ha’gafen is recited on wine. As in all Kiddush, a mezonos must be eaten or one is not permitted to taste anything.
28. When the shliach tzibbur begins Shacharis after Pesukei D’Zimrah, he sings a long traditional tune while he is still standing at his regular seat. Then he recites the word “HaMelech” aloud and walks up to the amud, where he will continue leading the prayers. The Sefer HaChaim explains that just as a robbery victim overcome by robbers will shout out to police when he sees them, so do we shout out to the king when we are overcome by accusers.
29. After Shacharis, as mentioned earlier, we recite the Avinu Malkeinu that was composed by Rabbi Akiva. The Gemara tells us that Rabbi Akiva’s prayer was effective when other prayers were not, only because of a remarkable quality that Rabbi Akiva possessed—he was ma’avir al midosav, forgiving toward others. One of the reasons why this prayer should be said is to remind us to emulate the qualities of its author.
30. The Zohar tells us that when we open the Aron in preparation for the reading of the Torah, it is a special eis ratzon, a time of remarkable receptivity for prayers. Normally we say the prayer “B’rich Shmei” during this time. On Rosh Hashanah we add the 13 Middos HaRachamim as well. We also add the word “V’Nora” in the middle of “Echad Elokeinu, Gadol Adoneinu, Kadosh _____ Shemo.”
31. The reading on the first day of Rosh Hashanah is the story of the birth of Yitzchak. One of the reasons that we read this section is to highlight the idea that Hashem pays particular attention to answer prayers said in deep anguish and in earnest. Sarah Imeinu’s tefillos were recited in this manner. Yitzchak was also conceived on Rosh Hashanah. On the second day we read of the Akeidah.
32. The Mussaf tefillah contains three main sections called Malchiyos, Zichronos, and Shofros. Each section contains ten pesukim: three from the Torah, three from the Nevi’im, three from Kesuvim, and one more from the Torah. The Malchiyos section contains verses that declare Hashem’s Kingship. The Zichronos section contains pesukim that describe how Hashem remembers all of our deeds. The Shofros section contains pesukim that proclaim Hashem’s glory, the removal of wickedness, and the merits of Klal Yisrael.
33. We have the custom to blast the shofar 100 times over Rosh Hashanah. We do three series of 30 and one last one of 10.
34. Ideally one should not sleep on Rosh Hashanah afternoon on account of the aforementioned Yerushalmi. If need be, however, one can rely on those authorities who understand the Yerushalmi as referring to times of prayer and the time to hear the shofar.
35. On the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah many people have the custom to recite the Tashlich service at a body of water. Ideally, the body of water should contain fish. If the first day of Rosh Hashanah comes out on a Shabbos, Tashlich is delayed until the afternoon of the second day of Rosh Hashanah. If one is unable to do it, Tashlich may be said until Hoshana Rabbah.
Rabbi Hoffman can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com.