1. Adam

Rosh Hashanah, the head of the Jewish year, coincides with the sixth day of Creation—the day G‑d created Adam, the first human. This is by no means coincidental. G‑d specifically chose the birthday of the first human as the day that marks the Jewish New Year.

Why do we celebrate Rosh Hashanah on the anniversary of humankind, as opposed to the anniversary of the universe (six days earlier)? Because we—descendants of Adam—play an integral role in Creation. G‑d created an incomplete world. It is up to us to use the coming year to fill in that gap, by instilling the world with Divinity and sanctity, one mitzvah at a time.

2. Eve (Chava)

Shortly after Adam was created from the dust of the earth, G‑d determined that it was “not good for man to be alone”1 and He created Eve (Chava), the first woman.

Rosh Hashanah is thus the anniversary of the creation of the first man, as well as the first woman. Ironically, while Eve was the paradigm of fertility (the very name Chava means “mother of all life”2), the other women on this list struggled to conceive.

Read: Adam and Eve

3. Sarah

Our matriarch Sarah was barren for many years, until miraculously giving birth to Isaac at the age of 90. Our Sages tell us that it was on Rosh Hashanah that G‑d “remembered” Sarah, resulting in Isaac’s conception.3

To recall this event, the Torah reading of the first day of Rosh Hashanah relates the story of Isaac’s birth and formative years.

Read: Sarah

4. Isaac

The Torah readingof the second day of Rosh Hashanah also features Isaac. It relates the story of the binding of Isaac, in the merit of which we pray that G‑d judge us favorably and grant us a year of blessings. One detail of this story is the ram whose horns were tangled in a thicket—recalled by the shofar, made from a ram’s horn.4

Read: The Binding of Isaac

5. Rachel

Rachel watched as her sister Leah bore Jacob one son after the next, while she remained barren. Finally, on Rosh Hashanah, Rachel was also remembered On High, resulting in her pregnancy with Joseph.5

Read: A Jewish Mother

6. Joseph

Years later, in the dramatic saga of Joseph’s life, Rosh Hashanah appears once again: It was the day he was released from prison, after being falsely accused of attempting to act immorally with the wife of his master Potiphar.6

Read: The Story of Joseph in the Bible

7. Chana

Chana, mother of the prophet Samuel, is the third of the trio of barren women who were remembered on High on Rosh Hashanah.7 Some add that Rosh Hashanah was the day she offered a silent prayer in the Tabernacle in Shiloh, which the High Priest Eli mistook as a sign of intoxication.8

In commemoration, we read Chana’s story in the haftarah of the first day of Rosh Hashanah. This moving account underlines the power of prayer, demonstrating that if we invest our hearts and souls into our prayers, G‑d will surely heed our requests.

Read: Chana

8. Gedaliah

After Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the first Holy Temple in Jerusalem, he appointed the righteous Gedaliah, son of Ahikam, as the governor of the remaining Jews. Under his leadership, the small group of Jews began to recover and reclaim some sense of peace and security. However, this tranquility was not to last. On Rosh Hashanah, Gedaliah was slain by a jealous, treacherous Jew named Yishmael. Whoever survived the massacre fled to Egypt, and the last embers of Jewish life in the Land of Israel were extinguished.

To commemorate this sad milestone in our history, the day following Rosh Hashanah is kept as a fast day, known as Tzom Gedaliah.

Read: Gedaliah

9. Rabbi Amnon

One of the most soul-stirring prayers recited on Rosh Hashanah is Unetaneh Tokef. Its passages describe in vivid terms how all created beings pass before G‑d on this day, and He decides the fate of each one. We are reassured, however, that even if negative occurrences are in store, “repentance, prayer, and charity revoke the evil of the decree.”

Who composed this haunting text?

Legend has it that it was composed by an early medieval scholar named Rabbi Amnon. After being punished by the local duke for refusing to renounce his faith and become a Christian, the crippled sage was brought to the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, where he led the congregants in a newly composed addition to the High Holiday liturgy.

(Note: According to some versions of the account, Rabbi Amnon instructed the duke to amputate his legs, as punishment for his delay in responding to the duke’s offer. However, this version is problematic, as it is forbidden to willingly mutilate one’s body.9 Also note that this prayer appears to predate Rabbi Amnon.)

Read: Rabbi Amnon of Mayence

10. Rabbi Shimon the Great

The machzor—the prayer book used on the High Holidays—is replete with prayers exclusive to Rosh Hashanah (and Yom Kippur). Many of these prayers are known as piyutim (plural for piyut), liturgical compositions written in poetic style expressing the awesomeness of the day.

One of the first composers of piyutim was Rabbi Shimon the Great, a saintly tenth-century scholar from Germany. Many of the piyutim in the machzor were penned by him, and some of them include the Hebrew acrostic: Shimon bar (son of) Yitzchak.

Legend has it that one of Rabbi Shimon’s sons was kidnapped and raised as a Christian, rising in rank until he was appointed pope. On a mission to Rome on behalf of the Jewish community, Rabbi Shimon met with the pope and discovered his long-lost son, who subsequently returned to Judaism.

Read: Rosh Hashanah Services at a Glance

11. Jews in Concentration Camps and Soviet Gulags

Over the course of our history, Jews have taken the most extreme measures possible to mark this holy day and perform the sacred rite of blowing the shofar. Shofars were even smuggled into concentration camps and Soviet gulags and blown in secrecy, demonstrating that no one and nothing can destroy the indomitable Jewish spirit.

Read: A Shofar in Siberia

12. You!

Rosh Hashanah is a day of prayer, a time to ask the Almighty to grant us a year of peace, prosperity, and blessing. But it is also a joyous day, when we proclaim G‑d King of the Universe. The Kabbalists teach that the continued existence of the universe depends on G‑d’s desire for a world, a desire that is renewed when we accept His kingship anew each year on Rosh Hashanah. This is something that is up to each and every one of us, by hearing the shofar blasts and resolving to serve G‑d over the upcoming year to the best of our ability. So the true hero of Rosh Hashanah is no one else but you.

Read: The Waking of Creation

For more on Rosh Hashanah, visit our Rosh Hashanah site.