The Talmud: Selections, by H. Polano, , at sacred-texts.com
New Year, or the Day of Memorial.
On the first day of the seventh month, Tishri (October), is the commemoration of the creation of the world. Then the cornet is blown to announce to the people that a new year has begun its course, and to warn them to examine strictly their conduct and make amends therein where amends are needed.
Would not any person of sense, knowing that he must appear before a Court of Judgment, prepare himself therefor? Either in a civil or a criminal case would he not seek for counsel? How much more, then, is it incumbent upon him to prepare for a meeting with the King of kings, before whom all things are revealed. No counsel can help him in his case; repentance, devotion, charity, these are the arguments which must plead in his favour. Therefore, a person should search his actions and repent his transgressions previous to the day of judgment. In the month of Elul (September) he should arouse himself to a consciousness of the dread justice awaiting all mankind.
This is the season when the Lord pardoned the Israelites
who had worshipped the molten calf. He commanded Moses to reascend the mount for a second tablet, after he had destroyed the first. Thus say the sages, "The Lord said unto Moses in the month Elul, 'Go up unto me on the mountain,' and Moses went up and received the second tablet at the end of forty days. Before he ascended he caused the trumpet to be sounded through the camp." Since that time it is customary to sound the Shophar (cornet) in the synagogues, to give warning to the people that the day of judgment, New Year, is rapidly approaching, and with it the Day of Atonement. Therefore, propitiatory prayers are said twice every day, morning and evening, from the second day of Elul until the eve of the Day of Atonement, which period comprises the last forty days which Moses passed on Sinai, when God was reconciled to Israel and pardoned their transgressions with the molten calf.
Rabbi Eleazer said, "Abraham and Jacob were born in Tishri, and in Tishri they died. On the first of Tishri the universe was created, and during the Passover was Isaac born. On the first of Tishri (New Year), Sarah, Rachel, and Hannah, three barren women, were visited. On the first day of Tishri our ancestors discontinued their rigorous labour in Egypt. On the first of Tishri Adam was created; from his existence we count our years, that is the sixth day of the creation. On that day, too, did he eat of the forbidden fruit, therefore is the season appointed for one of penitence, for the Lord said to Adam, 'This shall be for a sign in future generations; thy descendants shall be judged upon these days, and they shall be appointed as days of pardon and forgiveness.'"
Four times in the year the Lord pronounces His decrees.
First, New Year, the first of Tishri. Then the judgments of all human beings for the coming year are ordained.
Second, The first day of Passover. Then the scarcity or fulness of the crops is determined.
Third, Pentecost. Then the Lord blesses the fruit of the trees, or bids them bear not in plenty.
Fourth, The Feast of Tabernacles. Then the Lord determines whether the rain shall bless the earth in its due season or not.
Man is judged on New Year's, and the decree is made final on the Day of Atonement.
Rabbi Nathan has said that man is judged at all times.
Thus taught Rabbi Akiba. "Why does the law command the bringing of a sheaf of barley on the Passover? Because the Passover is the season of the harvest of the grain. The Lord says, 'Offer for me a sheaf of barley on Passover, that I may bless the grain which is in the field.'
"Why does the Bible say, 'Bring two loaves of the new wheat on Pentecost?' Because at Pentecost time the fruit ripens, and God says, 'Offer for me two loaves of the new wheat, in order that I may bless the fruit which is on the trees.'
"Why were we commanded to bring a drink-offering of water into the Temple on the Feast of Tabernacles? Because then is the season of rain, and the Lord says, 'Bring the drink-offering of water to me, in order that I may bless the rain of the year.'
"Why do they make the comet which they blow of a ram's horn? In order that the Lord may remember the ram which was sacrificed instead of Isaac, and allow the merits of the patriarchs to weigh in favour of their descendants, as it is written in the Decalogue, 'Showing mercy to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments" (Ex. 20: 6).
On New Year's day they recite in the synagogues the record of the binding of Isaac for the same purpose. While God has mercy upon His creatures He gives them a season for repentance, that they may not perish in their wickedness, therefore as it is written in Lamentations 3: 40, we should "search through and investigate our ways and return unto the Lord."
During the year man is apt to grow callous as to his transgressions, therefore the cornet is sounded to arouse him to the consciousness of the time which is passing so rapidly away. "Rouse thee from thy sleep," it says to him; "the hour of thy visitation approaches." The Eternal wishes not to destroy His children, merely to arouse them to repentance and good resolves.
Three classes of people are arraigned for judgment: the righteous, the wicked, and the indifferent. To the righteous the Lord awards a happy life; the wicked He condemns, and to the indifferent ones He grants a respite. From New Year's day until the Day of Atonement His judgment He holds in abeyance; if they repent truly they are classed with the righteous for a happy life, and if they remain un-touched, they are counted with the wicked.
Three sounds for the cornet are commanded in the Bible. A pure sound (T’kiah), a sound of alarm or trembling (T’ruah), and, thirdly, a pure sound again (T’kiah).
The first sound typifies man's first awakening to penitence; he must search well his heart, desert his evil ways, and purify his thoughts, as it is written, "Let the wicked forsake his ways and the man of unrighteousness his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord."
The alarm sound typifies the sorrow which a repentant man feels for his misconduct and his earnest determination to reform.
The last sound is the pure sound again, which typifies a sincere resolve to keep the repentant heart incorrupt.
The Bible says to us:
"The word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it" (Deut. 30: 14). This verse teaches us that repentance is nearer to those who believe in God and His book than fanatics would make it. Difficult penances are ordained for the sinner among them. He must fast many days, or travel barefoot through rugged ways, or sleep in the open air. But we are not required to travel to the nether end of the ocean or to climb to mountain tops, for our Holy Word says to us, "It is not in heaven, neither is it beyond the sea, but the Word is very nigh."
In three ways may we repent:
First, By words of mouth, finding birth in an honest heart.
Secondly, With our feelings, sorrow for sins committed.
Thirdly, By good deeds in the future.
Rabbi Saadiah declared that God commanded us to sound the cornet on New Year's day for ten reasons.
First, Because this day is the beginning of the creation, when God began to reign over the world, and as it is customary to sound the trumpets at the coronation of a king, we should in like manner proclaim by the sound of the cornet that the Creator is our king,--as David said, "With trumpets and the sound of the cornet, shout ye before the Lord."
Secondly, As the New Year day is the first of the ten penitential days, we sound the cornet as a proclamation to admonish all to return to God and repent. If they do not so, they at least have been informed, and cannot plead ignorance. Thus we find that earthly kings publish then
decrees with such concomitant, that none may say, "We heard not this."
Thirdly, To remind us of the law given on Mount Sinai, where it is said (Exod. 19:16), "The voice of the cornet was exceeding loud." To remind us also that we should bind ourselves anew to the performance of its precepts, as did our ancestors, when they said, "All that the Lord hath said will we do and obey."
Fourthly, To remind us of the prophets, who were compared to watchmen blowing the trumpet of alarm, as we find in Ezekiel (33: 4), "Whosoever heareth the sound of the cornet and taketh not warning, and the sound cometh and taketh him away, his blood shall be upon his own head; but he that taketh warning shall save his life."
Fifthly, To remind us of the destruction of the Temple and the fearsome sound of the battle-cry of our enemies. "Because thou hast heard, oh my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war" (Jerem. 4: 19). Therefore when we hear the sound of the cornet we should implore God to rebuild the Temple.
Sixthly, To remind us of the binding of Isaac, who willingly offered himself for immolation, in order to sanctify the Holy Name.
Seventhly, That when we hear the terrifying sound, we may, through dread, humble ourselves before the Supreme Being, for it is the nature of these martial instruments to produce a sensation of terror, as the prophet Amos observes, "Shall a trumpet be blown in a city, and the people not to be terrified?"
Eighthly, To remind us of the great and terrible Day of Judgment, on which the trumpet is to be sounded, as we find in Zeph. (1: 14-16), "The great day of the Lord is near, and hasteneth much, a day of the trumpet and of shouting."
Ninthly, To remind us to pray for the time when the outcasts of Israel are to be gathered together, as promised in Isaiah (28: 13), "And it shall come to pass in that day, the great trumpet shall be sounded, and those shall come who were perishing in the land of Assyria."
Tenthly, To remind us of the resurrection of the dead, and our firm belief therein. "Yea, all ye that inhabit the world, and that dwell on the earth, when the standard is lifted upon the mountain, behold, and when the trumpet is sounded, hear!" says the prophet Isaiah.
Therefore should we set our hearts to these seasons, and fulfil the precept that the Bible commands us, as it is written:
"And the Lord commanded us to do all the statutes . . . . that it might be well with us at all times" (Deut. 11: 24).