Oz Torah: The true hero of Rosh Hashanah.


Heroes and villains abound in the festival stories.

Pesach pits Pharaoh and Moses against each other. On Purim it is Haman and Mordechai. On Chanukah it is Antiochus and Judah Maccabee.

What about Rosh Hashanah?

credit:Christians for Israel Australia.

Since the festival is not based on narratives there is no particular reason why there should be a hero or a villain or indeed a cast of characters at all.

But if we look at the Torah readings we find that there are people and personages who are portrayed so vividly that we can hardly imagine Rosh Hashanah without them.

Could there be a Rosh Hashanah without Abraham, Isaac and Sarah? Without Rachel and Hannah?

However, my choice for a Rosh Hashanah hero or villain would not be any of these much loved Biblical characters.

Pardon the apparent egotism, but in my mind the hero is myself – and so is the villain.

Not me specifically, but each and any of us.

If we waste the opportunities God gives us every year to enhance His world, that turns us into virtual villains. If we seize the moment and make ourselves nicer people and our world a more stable, peaceful, beautiful place, we have become heroes.

We don’t have to wait for history to decide which category is ours. By next Rosh Hashanah all will become clear!


There are people who devote far more attention on the High Holydays to food, fashions and festivities than to penitence, prayer and charity.

There can be little objection to starting a new year with a festive appearance. Food and fashions are certainly a superficial way of showing it is yom-tov. But they are part of a total mosaic that includes greeting cards, flowers and fruit, staying away from work, family meals after the services; even the anxious enquiries on Yom Kippur as to how each is fasting.

Religious tradition adds other impressive features – white vestments, cherished melodies, old machzorim, historic prayers and especially the blowing of the shofar: even the very size of the milling yom-tov crowds.

Ideally, a universal mood of spiritual exaltation, of inner communion with our Maker, would envelop us completely at this solemn season. But we are fallible and human, and few can maintain real spiritual fervour for long.

We need customs and symbols that keep on impressing us with the meaning of the occasion and turn our thoughts again and again to the deeper spiritual issues.

But the symbols are meaningful only when they succeed in arousing our minds and hearts. There are times when we achieve this best by closing our minds off from everything which is going on around us, even from the synagogue service, and communing with our own spirit.

There are moments when we need to be still, to uncover our own souls, to face our own consciences.

Not only on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It was indeed a wise person who said that someone who has not a moment for himself every day is not really a human being.


Rosh Hashanah is great in itself but also a great gateway to the year. It commences the Ten Days of Penitence which start the year off on a serious note.

If the secular new year were the beginning of a ten-day period it would need a name, which would probably have to be “Ten Days of Living It Up.

Ten Days of Repentance. עשרת ימי תשובה‎, Aseret Yemei Teshuva: Chabad.


In alphabetical order, it would be addiction, banality, consumption, drinking, eating, frivolity, gambling, hedonism, idleness and jabber.

I once attempted a list of themes for the Jewish Ten Days of Penitence. I included hope, faith, charity, modesty, peace, truth and justice, a range of theological and ethical issues.

Others would have different issues and priorities. But whatever list you go by, it is bound to be serious and thought-provoking.

The Ten Days are not there for inanities and ephemera, leaving merely a headache and a hangover. They are a precious opportunity to focus our sights on the meaning of God and the purpose of life.

Make your own list of themes for thinking, and allow them to inform all you do in the year ahead.


Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem. Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

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