Rosh Hashanah really is “heading” off the year, starting earlier than ever before in our lifetimes. The whole Jewish calendar is premature, leaving us with the burden of making both turkey and latkes on Thanksgiving/Hanukkah and celebrating Pesach eating matzoh while watching March Madness. This year’s calendar is definitely an anomaly, because the last time Rosh Hashanah was so early was all the way back in 1899, when it started on September 5. The next time it will be this early again is 2089.
Unlike our civil, Gregorian calendar, which is solar-based, the Jewish calendar syncs the lunar, solar, and daily calendars. The months are lunar-based — but the years are based on the solar calendar. Since the holidays are partly fixed to agricultural themes, holding Hebrew dates to a lunar calendar alone would mean that the holidays would drift all around the year. To rectify this problem, every two to three years out of a 19-year cycle, a month (Adar II) is added to synchronize the 12 lunar cycles with the longer solar year. This is known as the leap month. The last leap month didn’t match up the calendars very effectively, which is why the holidays fall so early this year.
So the big issue we face is preparation: How will we brace ourselves for the High Holidays when they are coming at us head-on at 60 miles an hour? In reality, the time between Shavuot and Rosh Hashanah never changes, but the illusion is set because we base our holidays in relation to the seasons. So the High Holidays seem rushed, because the summer has just faded away. But Rosh Hashanah occurs on the first of Tishrei, just like it always does.
As we all know, the High Holidays are a time for us to do some self-reflection and take a good look at the life we are living. It is a time for us to welcome the New Year (literally, this time) with sweetness and joy. Although we may not feel totally warmed up and ready for the “big game,” we should spend the short time that we do have to prepare emotionally and “wake up” with the sound of the shofar.