Festivals in Genesis: Rosh HaShanah

There is a special connection with Rosh HaShanah not only for the Jewish people but all of humanity.


Rosh HashanahSep 19, 2017

Rosh HashanahSep 19, 2017


    Honey, apple and pomegranate. traditional food for the Jewish New Year Holiday of Rosh Hashanah (Image © Bigstock)

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One of the most important rituals of Torah life is the biblical calendar. God tells the children of Israel: “These are the appointed feasts of the LORD that you shall proclaim as holy convocations; they are my appointed feasts” (Leviticus 23:2).

The Jewish people are to join in with HaShem in sanctifying his holy days as they observe them in the manner he prescribed. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans, “The Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2). Included in “the oracles of God” that have been entrusted to the Jewish people is the Sabbath and the festivals. Indeed, as Israel stood at the base of Mount Sinai HaShem instructed the Jewish people in his calendar and gave the festivals for them to observe and pass on from generation to generation.

Moadim at Creation

However, before the instructions on the festivals are given to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai, we find the festivals mentioned in general at creation. Let’s turn to Genesis 1:14:

God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.”

On the fourth day of creation HaShem created the lights in the sky as markers for seasons, days, and years. However, we miss something in the Hebrew with almost all English translations. “Seasons” is the Hebrew word moadim (מעדים) and this is the first occurrence of the word. Moadim is the plural of mo’ed, which means, “a set time,” coming from the root ya’ad (“to set, designate,” יעד). David Rudolph points out that in every other instance where the plural moadim appears in the Hebrew of the Torah English Bibles translate it as “festivals “ and argues that it should be translated as such here in Genesis 1 as well. [1] In turn it would be rendered “And let them be for signs and for festivals, and for days and years.” This is how it is understood in Targum Pseudo-Jonathan:

And the Lord said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens, to distinguish between the day and the night; and let them be for signs and for festival times, and for the numbering by them the account of days, and for the sanctifying of the beginning of months, and the beginning of years, the passing away of months, and the passing away of years, the revolutions of the sun, the birth of the moon, and the revolving (of seasons).” (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan to Genesis 1:14)

This means that the festivals of Israel are first introduced and alluded to here in creation. Although the festivals were later committed and entrusted to the Jewish nation, they contain universal truths and applications for all mankind to celebrate. God set up these holy appointments with his people from the beginning of creation. It’s no wonder then that we find the festivals alluded to in the book of Genesis. Elsewhere I have addressed the phenomena regarding Passover, but in the spirit of the high holidays that are soon upon us, let’s do the same with Rosh HaShanah.

Creation of Man

Our first allusion comes in the creation story itself:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)

According to Jewish tradition, the creation of Adam and Eve on the sixth day of creation took place on Rosh HaShanah: “Rabbi Eliezer says: ‘The world was created in the month of Tishrei’” (b.Rosh HaShanah 10b). In turn, there is a special connection with Rosh HaShanah not only for the Jewish people but all of humanity.

This is why the petitions in the Rosh HaShanah Machzor are so universal. In fact, just as mankind was created on Rosh HaShanah, so they will be judged on that day as well:

Just as a person’s merits and sins are weighed at the time of his death, so, too, the sins of every inhabitant of the world together with his merits are weighed on the festival of Rosh HaShanah. If one is found righteous, his verdict is sealed for life. If one is found wicked, his verdict is sealed for death. The beinoni (intermediate one) verdict remains tentative until Yom Kippur. If he repents, his verdict is sealed for life. If not, his verdict is sealed for death. (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Teshuvah 3:3) [2]

The Midrash also states that Cain and Abel were both born on Rosh HaShanah (Genesis Rabbah 22:2).

Noah and the Ark

There is also a tradition in Seder Olam Radak that likewise Noah was born on this day. Additionally, right in the Torah itself, we read that on Rosh HaShanah the waters of the flood had dried up and Noah removed the ark’s cover:

In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried from off the earth. And Noah removed the covering of the ark and looked, and behold, the face of the ground was dry. (Genesis 8:13)

While there is some debate as to which calendar is referenced here, according to Rashi “the first month, the first day of the month” refers to Rosh HaShanah. Rashi also feels that Noah released the dove in 8:12 on the same day. Hence, we find Noah mentioned in the mussaf prayers for Rosh HaShanah:

For the remembrance of all your works comes before you and you analyze the deeds of them all. Moreover, you lovingly remembered Noah and you recalled him with words of salvation and mercy, when you brought the waters of the Flood to destroy all living flesh because of the evil of their deeds. Consequently, his remembrance comes before you, HaShem, our God, to make his offspring as abundant as the dust of the world and his descendants as the sand by the sea. As it is written in the Torah: God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark, and God caused a spirit to pass over the earth and the water subsided. [3]

Miraculous Conceptions

There are other traditions about events that happened in Genesis on Rosh HaShanah. For example, the sages say that Sarah, Rachel, and Hannah were visited on Rosh HaShanah and it was decreed that they would become pregnant. [4]

On Rosh HaShanah Sarah, Rachel, and Hannah were visited. How do we know this?—Rabbi Eliezer said: “We learn it from the two occurrences of the word ‘visiting’, and the two occurrences of the word ‘remembering’. It is written concerning Rachel: ‘And God remembered Rachel’ (Genesis 30:22), and it is written concerning Hannah: ‘And the Lord remembered her’ (1 Samuel 1:19), and there is an analogous mention of ‘remembering’ in connection with Rosh HaShanah, as it is written: ‘A solemn rest, a remembering of the blast of the trumpet” (Leviticus 23:24). The double mention of visiting [is as follows]. It is written concerning Hannah: ‘For the Lord had visited Hannah’ (1 Samuel 2:21), and it is written concerning Sarah, ‘And the Lord visited Sarah’ (Genesis 21:1).” (b.Rosh HaShanah 11ba)

The logic being that because “remembering” is used with Rachel and Hannah and with the mitzvah of Rosh HaShanah and then Sarah is tied in because “visited” is used with Hannah and Sarah. In turn, the sages argue that the three conceptions must have happened on the same day. Midrash Tanchuma (Vayeira 17) adds Leah to this list. Rashi feels that they did not conceive on Rosh HaShanah, rather, on Rosh HaShanah it was decreed that they would become pregnant.

Pharaoh’s Dreams

Probably the strongest connection to Rosh HaShanah in Genesis takes place when Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dreams.

After two whole years, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile, and behold, there came up out of the Nile seven cows attractive and plump, and they fed in the reed grass. (Genesis 41:1-2)

Here is an excerpt from the new Torah Club: Depths of the Torah case bound set Parashat Mikketz:

The Torah says that Pharaoh’s dream came “at the end (mikketz, מקץ) of two years of days.” The title of this week’s Torah portion is Mikketz, which literally means “from the end.” By Jewish reckoning, the end of the year, or New Year, occurs on the first day of the lunar month corresponding to late September and early October—the month of Tishrei. It is the festival of Rosh Hashanah. The sages identified the day of Pharaoh’s dream with Rosh Hashanah. They believed that Pharaoh’s dream came to him on the eve of Rosh Hashanah and that Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dream on the day of Rosh Hashanah. [5]

The opening words of the parashah can also be understood to indicate that Pharaoh’s dream occurred “exactly two years later, to the day” from the incident described in the previous verse:

Thus it came about on the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, that he made a feast for all his servants; and he lifted up the head of the chief cupbearer and the head of the chief baker among his servants…. Now it happened exactly two years later, to the day that Pharaoh had a dream. (Genesis 40:20, 41:1)

Based on these observations, the sages taught that Pharaoh’s dreams came to him on his birthday, two years after he released the cupbearer and beheaded the baker, and that his birthday coincided with the new-year festival of Rosh HaShanah. The biblical text itself does not suggest either the month or the season for Pharaoh’s dream, and the association with Rosh HaShanah comes purely by way rabbinic inferences from the text. Additional reasons for the association with Rosh HaShanah arise from the text.

  1. According to Jewish tradition, God judges the world for the year to come on Rosh HaShanah. On that day, He determines crop yields and income for the coming year. In Genesis 41, God issues the judgment over Egypt for the ensuing fourteen years.
  2. In Jewish practice, Jews observing Rosh HaShanah regarded the holiday as a day on which one remembers, repents from, and confesses sins committed against others. In Genesis 41, the cupbearer remembers, repents, and confesses his sin and his broken promise to Joseph.
  3. Jewish tradition celebrates Rosh HaShanah as a day of coronation. In Genesis 41, Pharaoh crowns Joseph as a ruler over Egypt, second only to Pharaoh.

The Talmud even cites a Psalm as further proof of this connection:

On Rosh HaShanah Joseph went forth from the prison. Whence do we know this?—Because it is written: “Blow the horn on the new moon, on the covering day for our festival . . . He appointed it for Joseph for a testimony when he went forth” (Psalm 81:4-5). (b.Rosh HaShanah 11a-11b)

Because of the commandment to blow the shofar on Rosh HaShanah, the rabbis find an allusion in these verses that Joseph’s release from prison took place on Rosh HaShanah. Furthermore, the Ozaim L’Torah commenting on the Talmud states that the chief cup-bearer and baker’s dream also took place on Rosh HaShanah. It was both their time of judgement.

Conclusion

There is a strong tradition within Judaism that many significant events in the narratives of Genesis take place on Rosh HaShanah. In their minds God used this holy day to mark important events in the Bible. What we do know for sure is that beginning with the creation account, all the way through the patriarchal narratives we can see the pattern of God’s appointed times, in particular, Rosh HaShanah, throughout the narratives of Genesis. While some evidence is less compelling than others, it is clear that on the fourth day of creation HaShem infused creation with the moadim. The very cycle of the sun and the moon reveals to us God’s calendar. It stands to reason then that we would see glimpses of these festivals in the lives of the righteous men and women of the Scriptures as they interact with the Creator.

It is exciting to imagine that from the very beginning of time the biblical festivals were created. They were introduced in Genesis 1 and then the details of their celebrations were given over to Israel at Mount Sinai. While they were explicitly entrusted to the Jewish people, a universal component remains. Rosh HaShanah and the rest of the festivals hold significance for all God’s people both Jews and grafted-in Gentiles.

Paul tells us the festivals are “a shadow of the things to come” (Colossians 2:17). This means that from Creation God has given mankind celebrations that are prophetic, pointing to the coming Messiah and Messianic Kingdom. According to the prophets, in that kingdom, with Messiah ruling and reigning in Jerusalem, all mankind both Jews and Gentiles will be celebrating God’s appointed times: “From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the LORD” (Isaiah 66:23). In turn, the biblical calendar perfectly encompasses the past, present, and future for all humanity.

Footnotes:

  1. David J. Rudolph, “Festivals in Genesis 1:14,” Tyndale Bulletin 54, no. 2 (2003): 23-40.
  2. The sages also say that the incident in Job where HaSatan stands before HaShem (1:6) takes place on Rosh HaShanah. See Jerusalem Targum of Job 1:6. Job, of course, is thought by most to be non-Jewish.
  3. b.Rosh HaShanah 11ba
  4. Rabbi Nosson Sherman, The Complete Artscroll Machzor: Rosh HaShanah: Sefard (Brooklyn, NY: Mesorah Publications, 1998), 457.
  5. b.Rosh HaShanah 10b.
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About the Author: Toby Janicki is the director of the 12-21 youth initiative, as well as a teacher and writer for First Fruits of Zion. He contributes regularly to Messiah Journal and has authored several books including God-Fearers and a comprehensive commentary on the Didache titled: The Way of Life. More articles by Toby Janicki