Yom Tov Called ‘Rosh Hashanah’?

The name given to each Yom Tov is intrinsically linked to the theme of the day. As such, it is curious to note that the upcoming Yom Tov is called Rosh Hashanah (“Head of the Year”). Why was this name selected to encapsulate the essence of the day instead of a seemingly more appropriate name, such as Yom Hadin (the Day of Judgment) or Yom Teruah (the Day of Blowing the Shofar), the name by which it is referred to in the Torah (Bamidbar 29:1)?

Harav Shimshon Pinkus explains that Rosh Hashanah is the most crucial day of the year, and everything that happens to us throughout the year is dependent upon this day. Every important event in our personal lives and in Jewish history — both triumphs and tragedies — was conceived on Rosh Hashanah, regardless of the calendar date when they actually took place.

This unparalleled significance is alluded to by the name “Rosh Hashanah,” as the head is different from every other limb and organ in the body. If a person stretches his hands skyward, he can extend his reach by approximately two feet.

If he raises up his legs by climbing to the top of a tall building, he can add several hundred feet, but by definition, all parts of the body have finite power, with one exception: The head is effectively unlimited in its abilities.

The nose can perceive distant scents, the ears can hear sounds like thunder that come from many miles away, and the eyes can see the light of distant stars that are thousands of light years from earth. Even more powerful is the brain, which can produce thoughts that reach all the way to the Kisei Hakavod. Even while standing on earth, a person’s mind can be completely connected to Hashem.

Thus, just as the head is more far-reaching than every other part of the body, so too Rosh Hashanah, the Yom Tov named for the head, is more influential than every other day of the year. Just like the head, the potential inherent in Rosh Hashanah — into which we are able to tap — is boundless and infinite.

While this explanation is inspiring, it begs the question: Why in fact is this Yom Tov so powerful? Rav Pinkus explains that Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the creation of Adam. Adam was so spiritually great that he was capable of altering the future of the entire world through one transgression.

In the positive direction, had he refrained from sinning, he would have brought the universe to its ultimate rectification, and the final redemption would have arrived immediately. On Rosh Hashanah, the entire universe is recreated, and just as at the time of the original Creation, Hashem’s Omnipotence is on full display, with no limitations, and just like Adam, each of us possesses the ability to build worlds or destroy them.

The name of the Yom Tov alludes to this phenomenon by telling us that just as the reach of the head is unbounded, so too on Rosh Hashanah — the “head” of the year — anything is possible. The Gemara (Yevamos 64b) teaches that Sarah Imeinu was not only barren, but did not even have a womb. Nevertheless, her prayers were miraculously answered and she gave birth to Yitzchak.

When were Sarah’s supplications answered? On Rosh Hashanah (Rashi, Rosh Hashanah 11a), the day when the world is recreated with no restrictions. Just like Sarah, we have the opportunity on Rosh Hashanah to reinvent ourselves with new strengths and abilities for which we have always longed, no matter how impossible it may seem.

Rav Pinkus notes that, unfortunately, most of us do not take advantage of this unparalleled opportunity to change because we do not truly believe that it could happen, and we limit our prayers to things we view as within the realm of possibility. As we prepare for Rosh Hashanah, one of the key tasks we must work on is internalizing that for one day, there are no laws of nature and the sky is the limit. Just like the force possessed by the head, the “head” of the year is a day of unlimited potential, just waiting for us to recognize and utilize it as we begin life anew.


Q: The Torah refers (30:11) to a commandment that isn’t hidden or distant from a person. It isn’t in the heavens or across the sea, but rather it is very close — in a person’s mouth and in his heart. While it is possible to err regarding the location of an item or its distance from oneself, how is it feasible to mistakenly think that an item that is as close to oneself as is physically possible is in reality thousands or millions of miles away?

A: Harav Leib Chasman explains that a person is made up of two diametrical opposites: a lofty soul and an earthly body. Our mission in this world is to ensure that our soul becomes dominant. If we do so, spiritual matters will come naturally to us, but if not, they will seem completely foreign.

The Torah alludes to this by teaching that if we properly repent our ways and become spiritual people, the proper path will be as clear and easily accessible as our mouths and hearts. If we veer from this path, however, it will indeed seem so distant and unfamiliar that it appears to be across the seas and in the heavens.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.