The following passages in the Torah concern the first day of the seventh month:
In the seventh month on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts. You shall not work at your occupations; and you shall bring an offering by fire to the Lord. (Lev. 23:24-25)The Torah prescribes complete rest, loud blasts of the horn, and burnt offerings . . . yet it doesn't seem to provide an explanation of why. So where did we get all the central themes of Rosh Hashanah--the New Year, the proclamation of God's kingship, examining ourselves in anticipation of divine judgment, peoples' names being inscribed in the Book of Life?
In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations. You shall observe it as a day when the horn is sounded. You shall present a burnt offering of pleasing odor to the Lord. (Num. 29:1-2)
Here's what I found:
First: Rosh Hashanah is the only holiday in the Jewish calendar to fall on a new moon. Reuven Hammer points out that the number seven seems to be of particular importance here:
Just as the seventh day of the week is holy, so the seventh month of the year has special significance. Since each new moon is a sacred time, it is logical that the seventh new moon--counting from Nisan, in the spring--should also acquire a special aura of holiness. (Entering the High Holy Days, p.4)Furthermore,
many scholars have suggested that the first day of the seventh month was popularly celebrated in ancient Israel as a divine coronation day, the time of God's assumption of the kingship and the beginning of a new cycle of the year.* (Ibid)Scholars find allusions to such a "divine coronation day" in Psalms 93-100**, liturgical songs which focus on God as creator, king, and judge:
The LORD is king, He is robed in grandeur. (Ps. 93:1)Specific references are also made to one of the sounds of the shofar--the teru'ah--in Psalms 95:1, 2; 98:4, 6; and 100:1. This sound is connected to the proclamation of God's kingship.
Rise up, judge of the earth! (Ps. 94:2)
For the LORD is a great God, the great king of all divine beings. In His hand are the depths of the earth; the peaks of the mountains are His. His is the sea, He made it; and the land, which His hands fashioned. (Ps. 95:3-5)
Let the rivers clap their hands, the mountains sing joyously together at the presence of the LORD, for He is coming to rule the earth; He will rule the world justly, and its peoples with equity. (Ps. 98:7)
The Lord, enthroned on cherubim, is king. . . Mighty king who loves justice, it was You who established equity, You who worked righteous judgment in Jacob. (Ps. 99:1,4)
Acknowledge that the LORD is God; He made us and we are His; His people, the flock He tends. (Ps. 100:2)
So where did the holiday get the name Rosh Hashanah? More tomorrow...
* "There were two celebrations of a new annual cycle in ancient Israel, one in the spring month of Aviv (later called Nisan), 'the first of the months of the year' (Exod. 12:2), and another in the fall at 'the turn of the year' (Exod. 23:16, 34:22)." (Hammer, p. 4)
** According to tradition, Psalms 90-100 were composed by Moses (see Ps. 90:1).