The two-day holiday of Rosh Hashanah marks the anniversary of the world's creation and the beginning of the Jewish year. Jews consider Rosh Hashanah -- Hebrew for "head of the year" -- as the Day of Judgment, or the day on which God examines His creation and judges it for the coming year. As Rabbi Hadar Margolin writes at Aish.com, Rosh Hashanah is an excellent opportunity for personal reflection and spiritual growth.
Saying You're Sorry
In the weeks leading up to the holiday, take stock of your relationships and reach out to people you might have hurt with rude comments or insensitive behavior. Rosh Hashanah is meant to be a fresh start. Apologizing to people you've injured with words or actions helps you resolve interpersonal issues, put old business behind you and move into the new year with a clear conscience. Think about friends, relatives, coworkers and neighbors you may have insulted, neglected or otherwise hurt. Be in touch with them and say, "I'm sorry." Make up your mind to relate to people with greater sensitivity in the future.
Reflecting on the Message
Jews of all stripes -- from unaffiliated to Orthodox -- attend religious services on Rosh Hashanah. If you plan to spend time in synagogue or temple, do some homework before the holiday to make your time there meaningful. Familiarize yourself with the Rosh Hashanah prayer book, known as a "machzor." If you don't own a machzor, visit a Jewish bookstore or search online for one that features traditional Rosh Hashanah liturgy with an English translation. Read the introduction and thumb through the machzor to get a feel for how the prayers are structured. During services, glance through the explanatory notes and commentary that accompany the main text. Try to reflect on the main themes of the day, which include God's kingship and the hope that His judgment for the coming year will be favorable.
Shofar and Tashlich
The blowing of the shofar -- a hollowed-out ram's horn -- is an indispensable part of the holiday. Even if you won't be in synagogue for the entire service, try to get there for shofar blowing. In keeping with the theme of God's kingship, the shofar symbolizes the trumpet blasts associated with a secular king's coronation. The sound of the shofar is unique and intense; it's meant to rouse in you a sense of awe and a desire to change. Think of the shofar blasts as a spiritual wake-up call, or an opportunity to rethink and reset your priorities. During the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah, some Jews recite the "tashlich" prayer and symbolically cast off their shortcomings into a body of water. Like listening to the shofar, reciting the tashlich prayer inspires a desire for personal change.
Honoring the Day
Rosh Hashanah is a "yom tov," one of the major holidays that dot the Jewish calendar. It's a special occasion, so prepare by getting a haircut, taking a shower and putting on nice clothes. Using your machzor as a guide, light candles at night to usher in the holiday. It is customary to enjoy two meals -- one at night and one during the day -- on both days of the holiday. Begin each meal by reciting the kiddush blessing and the blessing on bread. Many people use round bread for the meals to symbolize continuity. Your machzor probably lists certain foods -- or "simanim" -- Jews typically eat at the evening meal. The simanim -- including apples in honey, carrots, dates, pomegranate seeds, black-eyed peas and fish -- are chosen because their Hebrew names connote or sound similar to things the Jewish people pray for, such as abundance, sweetness, and security from enemies.