1 Tishrei
Autumn Equinox
Rosh HaShanah

11 Cheshvan
Rachel's Death

1 Tevet
Winter Solstice

15 Shevat
Festival of Trees

1 Nisan
Spring Equinox

18 Iyar
Lag B'Omer
Torah and Manna

1 Tammuz
Summer Solstice
Mourning Jerusalem

15 Av
Tu B'Av
Harvest Dancing


It is autumn, the month of apples. The leaves fall, and the harvest is nearly over. It is time to put away what we can for the winter. Yet within the quiet world we feel the stirring of a seed of wisdom. We must look deep within to find it. The light is fading, but within us is the beginning of the world.

The first of Tishrei is called Rosh haShanah, the beginning of the year. It is a time for reflection and memory, a time to remember all that we have done and consider whether we have done it wisely. It is a time to commit to change. This new moon is the start of a year-long cycle2 in which we will awaken the Divine within our souls, minds, hearts, and bodies, honoring the sacred fire, air, water, and earth, and reminding ourselves, as the Hasidic masters teach, that there is no place where God is not.

Tishrei photo

“And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after its own kind, and trees yielding fruit with the seed in it, after its own kind, and God saw that it was good.” —Genesis 1:12

Element: Earth
Direction: West
Angel: Raphael
Sefirah: Malkhut (Sovereignty/Shekhinah)1
World: Assiyah (Body)


The Story of the Season


Rosh haShanah, in Jewish legend, is the anniversary of the day on which God created humans and animals—the beginning of the world.3 God creates humanity out of the dust of the earth, and out of God’s own spirit.4 Of humans, it says that “God created the human in God’s own image, in the image of God God created the human, male and female God created them.” Adam and Eve are born on Rosh Hashanah, as is the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. The first of the year falls on a day that reminds us that the Divine is within us and all beings. We blow the shofar, the ram’s horn, to signal the thunderous impact of this Presence on our lives, and we engage in memory—considering all that we have done during the year, seeking to make right where we have erred, seeking to become whole where we have been in turmoil, seeking to make ourselves new. It is a time of conception in all its forms.

Months and days and nights and solstices and equinoxes and seasons were before God, and God taught them to Adam in the garden of Eden, as it is written— This is the book of the generations of Adam….And Eve taught them to Enoch, and he entered into every limb of the year…. “There will never cease from the earth planting (zera) and harvest (katzir), heat (chom) and cold (kor), summer (kayitz) and winter (choref). “Seedtime” is the equinox of Tishrei. “Harvest” is the equinox of Nisan. “Cold” is the solstice of Tevet, and “heat” is the solstice of Tammuz. “Summer’ in its time and “winter” in its time. —Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer 7

There is a tradition that the Jewish year has a “mother”—Rosh haShanah, the 1st of Tishrei—and a “father,” the 1st of Nisan (both are new years according to the Jewish calendar).5 If Rosh haShanah is the mother, then the shofar is the womb through which our spirits pass on the way to redemption. The ram’s horn represents the power of the Shekhinah to be hollow, to be a vessel for creation. Yet the shofar also reminds us of the ayil (ram) who sounds like El (God)—the masculine forces of the Divine. The liturgy of Rosh haShanah focuses on avinu malkeinu—our father, our king, the stern but loving father of Jewish tradition. We cast bread into bodies of water in the ritual called tashlich (throwing away), to cast away those behaviors we no longer want or need. Yet we can balance this image with the phrase in the Rosh haShanah liturgy: “hayom harat olam”—today is the birthday of the world, or more accurately, today is the pregnancy of the world. On Rosh Hashanah our world becomes pregnant with God, and God is pregnant with us. It is a time of mutual awareness and understanding. It is the time when we enter the inner world, the world of the womb, in order to be reborn into change.

“How did the Holy one create His world? Said R. Yochanan: The Eternal took two balls, one of fire and the other of snow, and worked them into each other, and from these the world was created. R.Hanina said; he took four balls, for the four corners of the universe. R. Hama said: He took six: four for the four corners and one for above and one for below.” —Genesis Rabbah 10:3




A Plan for The Beginning

“Light out of darkness: you spoke, and it was.”
—Rosh haShanah liturgy

Begin with a spark:
an unseen wheel across the deep,
then a flash of wingtip in the dark.
Carve a crescent from the void.
Begin with a mark.

Begin with a thread:
a line of motion like a song
writing a moment with its tread.
Begin with a channel for birth
and let it spread.

Begin with a rite,
a rune of softness, fire and mind,
and call the net to catch it night.
Turn nothing into waiting for a word.
Begin with light.
—Jill Hammer

Rosh haShanah is the day, according to midrash (Jewish creative interpretation), that God intervened in the wombs of the matriarchs Sarah, Rachel, and Hannah and made them pregnant.6 On Rosh haShanah, we read the stories of Sarah, Hannah, and Rachel7 to remind us of the hope for new life. There is a legend that Sarah, the mother of the Jewish people, herself was born on this day. We also read the story of the Akedah, the binding of Isaac, when Isaac is nearly sacrificed by his father Abraham, to let us know that this time of year also signals radical change—a part of us must die in order to be reborn. By changing our actions and examining the paths we walk, we bring the Shekhinah into our bodies. We eat apples and honey to remember the creation of Adam and Eve, and Eve’s choice to swallow wisdom and mortality, the two gifts and griefs of human experience.

In the Zohar, the great work of Jewish mysticism, Rosh haShanah is a dangerous time, when the moon (the Shekhinah, the indwelling presence of God, or the Goddess) is hidden. We begin in darkness to find God in the world, and God is the dark sage, whose mind we do not know. We do not know if the changes in our lives will lead to good things or bad.

Let me tell you the story
about the Old Woman.

First: She weaves your body.
Second: She weaves your soul.

Third: She is hated and feared,
though not by those who know her…

—Margaret Atwood
Two-Headed Poems

Steps of the Season


The next step of the Tishrei season is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, a day of fasting and praying for the strength to change what we must change. Again, the liturgy is both tender and challenging, evoking both the serious consequences of our actions, good and bad, and the tremendous potential of our lives for goodness. It is ten days later, and the moon is bright, letting us know that it is possible to awaken ourselves. We fast on Yom Kippur as a kind of symbolic death, to remind ourselves that we must accept change for new life to become possible. On Yom Kippur, the part of God that is the hidden mother, the heavenly womb, Binah, descends to become one with the Shekhinah—the part of God that is the earthly mother, the dweller within all substance—so that heaven and earth are joined in perfect union, and we are reborn. On Yom Kippur, the heavenly mother prepares to send the earthly mother forth to nourish the world.8 There is a tradition that the day after Yom Kippur, the Israelites begin to build the mishkan, the Tabernacle that the Shekhinah will dwell in. So we begin to build the sukkah, the roofless house of the Shekhinah.9

A few days later comes Sukkot, the seven-day festival of the harvest.10 We feel the fullness and abundance of the Presence, and dwell beneath the skies in roofless booths (sukkot) that represent God’s glory. We celebrate the earth’s harvest, but we must be able to see the stars—the pinpoints of fire that teach us of the spirit. We wave a bundle of the palm branch, the willow, the myrtle, and the citron, as a reminder of the fruitfulness of the world. The Shekhinah gathers us into the sukkah as a mother bird gathers its nestlings under her wings.11

On the first of Tishrei [Rosh haShanah] the moon [the Shekhinah] is covered, and it does not shine until the tenth day [Yom Kippur], when Israel turn with a perfect repentance, so that the supernal Mother [Binah, the womb of souls and creator of the world] gives light to Her. Hence this day is called the day of atonements (kippurim).... For on this day the Moon receives illumination from the supernal Light [Binah]…. —Zohar III, 100b

A week later, Shemini Atzeret occurs—the festival of praying for rain. On this holiday we tend to the cyclical needs of the earth for moisture. We recite a special prayer reminding the Holy One of our ancestors’ deep connection to water, and asking the Divine, the Source of Living Waters, to grant us water for their sake.

Simchat Torah, the second day of the Shemini Atzeret festival, celebrates a different kind of cycle. On Simchat Torah, we finish the reading of the Torah and begin it again, asserting that we can find new meaning in the world, meaning w e never saw before. It is when the year is truly made new. We dance seven circles on Simchat Torah to celebrate the Torah, the sacred story that guides us on our path. The seven circles, like the seven days of Sukkot, also represent the many faces of God that we will meet throughout our year of seasons.

The rest of the month of Tishrei, and the beginning of the month of Cheshvan, is a quiet time, a time of recovery from the intensity of the holidays, a time to put into practice the teachings of the seasons. In ancient Israel, this period was the time of returning home from pilgrimage. The feeling of being home after a long journey—this is perhaps the right feeling for the season of honoring earth.

"Save, please, human and animal, flesh and spirit and soul, sinew and bone and muscle, image and likeness and body, this glory like a passing breath, and renew the face of the earth..." —from the Sukkot liturgy

Other Paths


Rosh haShanah is one of many holidays that falls near the autumn equinox. Mabon is the autumn harvest in the Celtic and modern Wiccan calendar, celebrating abundance and freedom.12 Michaelmas, a Catholic holiday on Sept. 29, represents harvest, abundance, and protection. In India, Hindu people celebrate the harvest by honoring Lakshmi, goddess of abundance and wealth. Autumn holidays rejoice in the harvest and also mark the transition into the darkening stages of the year. Unlike these festivals, Rosh haShanah is not only a harvest holiday but a creation holiday, reminding us that the work of creation occurs even at moments of stillness.


Ideas for Celebration


One way to celebrate Rosh haShanah and honor the earth is to go out and blow a shofar out in the fields or the woods to fill creation with the sacred Presence. I also like to say the Rosh haShanah prayers and meditate on the images of birth, so that I feel God’s birthing of the world and God’s birth within the world. It is also a good idea to bury any sacred texts in your possession that have become torn or ruined, and to visit the graves of those who have died, to remember that we come from the earth and will return to the earth. Also, fasting on Yom Kippur can be a moment to remind yourself of how important it is to nourish ourselves and others through the earth’s abundance by sharing the harvest.

On Sukkot, building and dwelling in a sukkah can allow you to get in touch with the harvest and the stars. Dancing under the full moon on Sukkot is an amazing experience. And on Simchat Torah, I meditate on what new Torah I need that year and seek out a new face of God that will teach me what I need to learn.

Rosh haShanah is a time to take an inventory of our body’s needs and desires. It is also time to remember what the earth’s needs are and recommit ourselves to caring for her. During the joy of the holiday season, we and the earth need to store up our reserves for the months of darkness that lie ahead.

Jill Hammer


Rosh haShanah Candlelighting Prayer

Yesh achat she’borah et ha’olam barega hazot.
Yiru lah.

Yesh achat she’shochenet ba’olam barega hazot.
Yiru lah.

Yesh achat she’mesayyemet et ha’olam barega hazot.
Yiru lah.

There is One who is creating the world right at this moment.
Reverence to Her.

There is One who is dwelling in the world right at this moment.
Reverence to Her.

There is One who is ending the world right at this moment.
Reverence to Her.

Brucha at shekhinah eloheinu ruach ha’olam asher kidshatnu bemitzvoteha vetzivatnu lehadlik ner shel yom hazikaron.

Brucha at shekhinah eloheinu ruach ha’olam shehecheyatnu vekiymatnu vehigiatnu lazman hazeh.

Blessed are You, Shekhinah, Spirit of the World, who has made us holy with Her commandments and has commanded us to kindle the light of the Day of Reminding.

Blessed are You, Shekhinah, Spirit of the World, who has given us life, and sustained us, and brought us to this time.

—Jill Hammer


[1] There are two Jewish mystical systems for assigning elements to aspects of the Divine. In both systems (the Zohar and Isaac Luria) the west and earth represent the Shekhinah and the embodied world. The new year celebrates not an unreachable spiritual ideal, but the reality of our lives. Back to [1]

[2] Some, like Arthur Waskow, think of the year as a human life cycle in which Rosh haShanah is birth, and the year cycles through growth, partnering, fulfillment, and death (Waskow sometimes also used the metaphor of a tree when imagining the year and the life cycle). This is a great way to look at the year. I also imagine the year as a tree, but I imagine half the year, from the autumn equinox to the spring equinox, as “outside” (that is, as primarily about growth and abundance) and half the year (from the spring equinox to the autumn equinox) as “inside” (that is, primarily about retreat and rebirth). 1 Tishrei is a moment of retreat and reflection, and also the point at which growth begins below ground, in the inner depths of the body and spirit. (The year can also be divided into dark and light—light from the winter solstice to the summer solstice, when the light is growing, and dark from the summer solstice to the winter solstice, when the light is waning.) Back to [2]

[3] Leviticus Rabbah 21:4, Babylonian Talmud, Rosh haShanah 8a, 10b, 11a, 27a. Back to [3]

[4] Genesis 1:256, 2:7. Back to [4]

[5] See inner.org. Back to [5]

[6] Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 64b, Rosh haShanah 10b; Genesis Rabbah 73:1. Back to [6]

[7] Genesis 12-23; I Sam. 1-2; Genesis 29-35. Back to [7]

[8] Zohar III,100b. Back to [8]

[9] Rashi on Exodus 35:5. Back to [9]

[10] Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 2a-10b etc. The Sukkot festival was said to be the time of the greatest rejoicing of the Jewish people. Back to [10]

[11] “We should invite the tabernacle to spread itself over us and to rest upon us and to shield us as a mother shields her children, so that we should feel secure on every side. When Israel by reciting this blessing invites this sukkat shalom to their homes as a holy guest, a divine sanctity comes down and spreads her wings over Israel like a mother encompassing her children.” (Zohar I, 48a). Back to [11]

[12] See, for example, Starhawk, Circle Round: Raising Children in Goddess Traditions (Bantam, 2000). Back to [12]

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