We at Galilee of the Nations are excited to journey with you through the Fall Holy Days as we learn about God’s heart and purpose for these appointed times together. Let us begin.
We will start by looking at what the Scriptures (and some tradition) have to say about Rosh HaShanah (literally, "head of the year"). Lets make some observations today from Leviticus 23:23-25:
“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of solemn rest, a memorial proclaimed with blast [teruah] of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work, and you shall present a food offering to the Lord.” (Leviticus 23:23-25, ESV)
Rosh HaShanah? Or Yom Teruah? Which is it?
In the original language there is no mention in this text (Lev. 23:23-25) of "Rosh Hashanah" or even the beginning of a new year. In fact, the command given to Moses by God was that "in the seventh month"--i.e., in Tishri, as opposed to Nisan, which Exodus 12:2 states as the "beginning of months"--there should be a "day of solemn rest, a memorial proclaimed with blast of trumpets," or, as some translations have rendered, "with joyful shouting (HCSB)."
"Why then, do we call the Holy Day "Rosh HaShanah?" Biblically, the name of the Holy Day is more accurately rendered "Yom Teruah," Hebrew meaning, "Day of Sounding” or “Festival of Trumpets." "Teruah" is a Hebrew word translated in English as "blowing," as in of a trumpet, or in some cases as "shouting" as in a shout of joy. Elsewhere, the word is used to suggest a battle-cry (which, it is worth noting, is another purpose of the use of a "shofar," or a ram's horn).
Furthermore, because we are told in the text that this day is to be a "memorial," some have labeled this day as "Yom Ha-Zikaron" or "Day of Remembrance," citing verse 24. So, why the change? Barney Kasdan, in his book God's Appointed Times, explains that "the rabbis gave such significance to this special Shabbat (it was the first of the fall holidays), that they eventually considered it as the 'spiritual' New Year." Hence the name change to Rosh HaShanah (Head of the Year). This renaming occurred as part of a more broad redefinition of Judaism itself after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD, when "the sages of the Mishnah...associated Yom Teruah with the start of the Jewish civil year." (John Parsons, Hebrew For Christians)
Rosh HaShanah, or the first of Tishri, falls during a 40-day period, beginning with the month of Elul, which the Jewish people have set apart as a time of "special spiritual preparation." (Kasdan) The preparation intensifies with Rosh HaShanah, set apart as a day of repentance leading into the "Ten Days of Awe," which culminate in the Holiest Day on the Biblical Calendar, Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).
Now that we've cleared that up, what exactly does the Torah teach us about this special day? Read this statement from Rabbi Derek Leman: "There is no point in trying to reclaim 'the purely Biblical Rosh HaShanah.' There is no such thing." What Leman is saying is that Rosh HaShanah truly is veiled in mystery.
However, as Solomon has said, "It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, and the glory of kings to search it out." (Prov. 25:2)
Therefore, let’s briefly touch on three points from our passage in Leviticus 23, with a fourth point that has become a predominant theme, traditionally, of Rosh Hashanah:
1) This is a Day of Rest:
"...you shall observe a day of solemn rest...You shall not do any ordinary work." (vv. 24, 25, ESV)
This is a "shabbathon," a day of "complete" or "solemn" rest. On this day, the Jewish people are not to "do any ordinary work." In setting this time apart, the people of God are also called to reflect, as...
2) This is a Day of Remembrance:
Or, as our text says "a memorial" (ESV) or "reminder” (NASB). But what, exactly, are we to remember? Does the text even tell us? It appears not. Perhaps here is where tradition can help us out:
• The Mishnah associates Rosh Hashanah with the anniversary of creation, and in particular the creation of our first father, Adam:
Rosh HaShanah represents...the day that God began to rule as King of the Universe. When Adam first opened his eyes and human consciousness was born, he immediately understood that the LORD created all things, including himself. According to midrash, Adam's first words were," The LORD is King for ever and ever." God then said, "Now the whole world will know that I am King," and He was very pleased. The birthday of humanity is therefore the Coronation Day for the King of the Universe. (Parsons)
• The shofar blast was often used in ancient times in the coronation of kings. Therefore, on this day "we are to remember who we really are by remembering that the LORD is our King." (Parsons)
In addition to being a day of rest, and a day to remember God our Creator and King, our text also instructs us that...
3) This is to be a Day of Rejoicing:
"...and joyful shouting." (v. 24, HCSB)
A couple of Psalms are particularly insightful in this regard, as we witness the themes of "joyful shouts,” "trumpets," and God's Kingship complementing each other--all of which are themes associated with Rosh HaShanah:
“Sing for joy to God our strength; Shout joyfully to the God of Jacob. Raise a song, strike the timbrel, The sweet sounding lyre with the harp. Blow the trumpet at the new moon, At the full moon, on our feast day. For it is a statute for Israel, An ordinance of the God of Jacob.”
Psalm 47:1-2, 5
“O clap your hands, all peoples; Shout to God with the voice of joy. For the Lord Most High is to be feared, A great King over all the earth…” “...God has ascended with a shout, The Lord, with the sound of a trumpet.”
Lastly, we must keep before us that Rosh HaShanah is to be...
4) A Day of Repentance
As previously stated, Rosh HaShanah marks the beginning of "Ten Days of Awe," a time during which the Jewish people take spiritual stock, preparing themselves for Yom Kippur. Rabbinical tradition holds that,
...on Rosh HaShanah, the destiny of the righteous...are written in the Book of Life, and the destiny of the wicked...are written in the Book of Death. Most people, however, won't be inscribed in either book, but are given ten days--until Yom Kippur--to repent before sealing their fate. On Yom Kippur, then, everyone's name will be sealed in one of the two books. The ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are therefore called..."the Ten Days of Repentance.” (Parsons)
Significantly, some scholars suggest that Yeshua's ministry began during this same time period. Remember, He was first immersed by John the Baptist--a common practice for men during this "special season of spiritual preparation"--and then, after 40 days of temptation in the wilderness, Yeshua came proclaiming this message: "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand."
Repentance. God's Kingship. A timely message for Yeshua to launch into His public ministry with, was it not? Especially so if the contention of many scholars is accurate, that His ministry's inception coincided with the season of Rosh HaShanah and the Ten Days of Awe. More on this in part two of this series...
In part 2, we'll look at some of the interesting traditional practices on this Holy Day of Rosh Hashanah, and what relevance these have for us as followers of Messiah.
Until then, here are a few prayer points:
1. "God, reveal to me, in a deeper way, the reality of your Kingship. Help me to be a loyal subject to your rule and faithful representative of your Kingdom."
2. "Grant to me, O God, that good gift of repentance. Renew and refresh me in this season as I take stock of my own spiritual life."
3. "Produce in me a deeper joy in you, O Lord, a joy comparable to that which the Psalmists wrote of, and that which your People throughout the ages have known."