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.
“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
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
“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
—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.
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
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…
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
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
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
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
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.
Rosh haShanah Candlelighting Prayer
Yesh achat she’borah et ha’olam barega hazot.
Yesh achat she’shochenet ba’olam barega hazot.
Yesh achat she’mesayyemet et ha’olam barega hazot.
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.
 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
 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 
 Leviticus Rabbah 21:4, Babylonian Talmud, Rosh haShanah
8a, 10b, 11a, 27a. Back
 Genesis 1:256, 2:7. Back
 See inner.org.
Back to 
 Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 64b, Rosh haShanah 10b; Genesis
Rabbah 73:1. Back
 Genesis 12-23; I Sam. 1-2; Genesis 29-35. Back
 Zohar III,100b. Back
 Rashi on Exodus 35:5. Back
 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
 “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
 See, for example, Starhawk, Circle Round: Raising Children
in Goddess Traditions (Bantam, 2000). Back
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