While Rosh Hashana is frequently translated as “new year,” the literal meaning of the Hebrew words is “ head of the year.” According to Jewish tradition, one’s actions on these auspicious days serve as templates for one’s actions in the year to come. For this reason, people make a conscious effort to be especially careful of the words they utter on Rosh Hashana, they pray with proper awareness and are careful to recite blessings over the foods they eat.
The impact that one’s actions on Rosh Hashana have on the year to come is reflected in the statement made by the sages of the Jerusalem Talmud: “If one sleeps at the year's beginning, his good fortune likewise sleeps.”
There is much discussion about what “sleep” is referred to in this Talmudic dictum, given that Rosh Hashana is celebrated over a two day period. It is generally understood that sleeping overnight is completely acceptable and that the sages of Israel were referring to sleeping during Rosh Hashana day itself, since that is the time of judgment. Napping, on the other hand, is avoided by many people so as not to set a “sleepy tone” for the rest of the year.
While the custom not to nap is a literal understanding of the sages’ words, the statement actually presents a philosophical insight into the importance of Rosh Hashana. The Day of Judgment is a precious opportunity granted to the Jewish people to make a fresh start for the year to come, an opportunity through which one would certainly not wish to sleep.
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