In Part 1 of our Rosh HaShanah series, we explored the origins of the Holy Day, both from the Scriptures and from Jewish tradition.
Today, we will discover how some of these beliefs about Rosh Hashanah have actually been fleshed out over the centuries. In particular, we will be looking at three practices, and hopefully discerning what application each of these have for us as followers of Messiah. These practices are: water immersion (Tevilah Mikveh), "casting off" (Tashlich), and the sounding of the Shofar.
Water Immersion (Tevilah Mikveh):
As we've already seen in Part 1 of this series, repentance--and therefore forgiveness--is a predominant theme during Rosh Hashanah. You'll remember that Elul, the month preceding Tishri, is the beginning of a special 40-day period in which Jewish people prepare themselves for the intensified reflection, self-examination, and repentance that Rosh Hashanah, the Days of Awe, and Yom Kippur are characterized by. During the last days of Elul, you will find in many Jewish synagogues special prayers for forgiveness--called Selichot--being offered by the penitent.
Then, on Erev Rosh HaShanah, many Jewish men will go to a Mikveh after midday. This is part of an orthodox Jewish belief that "a Mikveh...has the power to purify from certain types of spiritual impurities" and "can be an important part of the Teshuva [repentance/returning] process" (from www.aish.com)
It was hinted at in the previous (article) that Yeshua Himself could very well have been "Mikveh'd" (i.e. baptized) by Yochanan the Immerser (John the Baptist) in the Fall, or around the time of Rosh Hashanah. Many believe that the bulk of Biblical evidence points to Yeshua's birth being in the fall (not in the winter, as Christian tradition holds); further, we know that Yeshua was "about 30 years old" (Luke 3:23) when His public ministry began. And how did the Messiah's ministry begin? With an "Immersion" (Mikveh) by His cousin Yochanan in the Jordan River, which was shortly followed by the inauguration of His preaching ministry.
"What better time could there have been for the Messiah to start his earthly ministry than the time of the spiritual new year? The historical evidence seems to indicate the month of Elul served as the perfect time of preparation for the greatest spiritual message ever to come to Israel: return to God, Messiah has come!" (Barney Kasdan, God’s Appointed Times)
As believers in Messiah, we hold a similar belief in the power of purification through immersion. Listen to Peter's words in his first letter to the Diaspora:
"Corresponding to that, immersion now brings you to safety—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but a pledge to God of a good conscience—through the resurrection of Messiah Yeshua" (1 Peter 3:21, emphasis added).
Furthermore, Paul writes in his letter to Titus:
"But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared—not by deeds of righteousness which we had done ourselves, but because of His mercy—He saved us through the mikveh of rebirth and renewing of the Ruach ha-Kodesh, whom He abundantly poured out on us through Messiah Yeshua our Savior..." (Titus 3:4-6, emphasis added)
"Casting Off" (Tashlich):
Read these ancient words, penned by the prophet Micah in the 8th century B.C.:
"He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities under foot. Yes, You will cast [Tashlich] all their sins into the depths of the sea." (Micah 7:19, NASB)
Oh, what comfort these words bring to us as we meditate on the magnificence of God's mercy manifest to us in the Messiah! Moreover, what hope we derive for the very people about whom these words were spoken: the Jewish People, the posterity of "Jacob" and "Abraham" (Micah 7:20)!
Significantly, it is this very passage, Micah 7:18-20, that is recited by many Jewish people on Rosh Hashanah. This recitation is a dramatized one, taking place not in a synagogue setting but instead alongside a body of water. Whether a creek or a river, a lake or an ocean, Jews will assemble and "cast" pebbles, bread crumbs, or even the contents of their pockets into the water, all the while rejoicing in God's promise of forgiveness.
As followers of Messiah, we know the One in whom there is "redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace" (Eph. 1:7, NKJV). We also rest in that, not only has He made us new (2 Cor. 5:17), but He is continually renewing us (Rom. 12:2), washing us in the water of His word (Eph. 5:26).
Sounding of the Shofar
For those of you who have attended, or will be attending, a Rosh HaShanah service, a prominent practice you will observe is the blowing of a shofar, or ram’s horn. As you’ll remember from Part 1 of this series, this practice is largely derived from the Biblical injunction in Leviticus 23 to observe this day with “blast of trumpets.” At many Rosh Hashanah services, it is not uncommon for the shofar to be “blasted” upwards of 100 times!
What is the Sounding of the Shofar Intended to signify?
Among other things, the shofar blasts at Rosh Hashanah are intended to represent:
The Coronation of a King: For more on this, see Part 1 in this series.
A Call to Repentance: As we’ve already seen in Part 1, some Jewish traditions hold that Rosh Hashanah marks the anniversary of creation. If that is the case, then the Holy Day also directs our attention to another anniversary: that of the Fall of Man at Adam’s “original sin.” Hence the shofar serves to remind the Jewish people that the very King they coronate with its blast is the same King before whom they will be judged. The shofar blast here is an alarm to “awaken” the souls of God’s people to their need of His mercy and forgiveness.
The commemoration of the binding of Isaac (Akedah) and God’s provision of a substitute ram: Significantly, two of the Torah portions read at Rosh HaShanah services are the accounts of 1) the birth of Isaac (Genesis 21:1-24), and 2) Isaac’s binding by his father Abraham (Gen. 22:1-14). You’ll remember that in the Akedah, Abraham’s faith was tested when God ordered that he offer his only beloved son, Isaac, as a “burnt offering” on Mount Moriah (v. 2). Abraham obeyed God, demonstrating his unwavering faith in the LORD. Then the LORD, seeing that Abraham truly “feared God,” (v.12), commanded that Abraham withdraw the knife that was soon to slay Isaac. Instead of Isaac, God provided a ram for the burnt offering as substitutionary sacrifice. Thus the shofar, or ram’s horn, is meant to remind the observer of Rosh Hashanah of the “divinely provided ram” that paid the “ransom for Isaac’s life” (Parsons).
Prayer Points: As believers, we understand that the knife was withheld from Isaac only to later fall on another, the Messiah Himself, Yeshua of Nazareth. While the faith Abraham modeled is for us most admirable and imitable, we know that the greatest sacrifice ever paid was that which Messiah offered, His own life for the “ransom of many” (Mark 10:45).
Next time, we’ll look further at some of the ways Rosh HaShanah points the believer to our blessed hope in the future.
In the meanwhile, here are a few prayer points:
1) God, thank you for the Mikveh (baptism) of Your Ruach Ha Kodesh (Holy Spirit) that I have received as a believer in Messiah Yeshua. Please continue to fill me with your Spirit and thus empower me to faithfully follow You.
2) Father, I pray that you’d fulfill what you promised through your servant Amos long ago, that the people of Israel would have their sins “cast into the depth of the sea” as they turn to their Messiah and King, Yeshua.
3) Lord, I pray that this year I would imitate evermore that model of faith that Abraham set forth, that I would be “fully assured that what You have promised, You are able also to perform.” (Rom. 4:21)