Rosh HaShanah 5777

by Bonnie Saul Wilks, Senior Writer, Messianic Jewish Bible Institute

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish holiday commemorated annually on the first day of Tishrei on the Hebrew calendar. It a two-day celebration that falls this year on the Gregorian calendar at sundown on October 3-4.  With the celebration of the Jewish New Year, the High Holy Days are considered officially underway.

In the Jewish world, this festival is not biblical per se but perhaps may have a parallel connection to the celebration called, Yom Teruiah from Leviticus 23:24. Traditionally, it is commemorated now as the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve. It is much more than a celebration of their births, but also a time to remember they came to know God as more than Creator but friend. They discovered on those cool evening walks in the garden that He had an important role for them in His world.

On this joyous holiday, the common greeting is, Shana Torah, or “A Good Year” in Hebrew. You will hear throughout the day the sounding of the shear or ram’s horn, and each blast has special meaning. It’s form and sound has become the primary symbol of this holiday. It is said to be bent symbolizing humility and curly texture with hollowed areas representing the absence of ego. According to Ashkenazi tradition, this earthen trumpet is blasted 100 times during the two-day celebration.

Read: Genesis 22:13; Exodus 19:16-17; Numbers 10:10; Nehemiah 12:35-38

Hebrew Words: Rosh Hashanah falls at the beginning of the High Holy Days or in Hebrew, Yakima NorAm, translated “The Days of Awe” which ends with Yom Kippur or “Day of Atonement.” These are understood to be The Days of Repentance—a time for serious introspection, repentance, making amends, and asking forgiveness for sins. Rabbinic interpretation of Judaic Law demands that mankind’s micas (acts of charity) outweigh their offenses. That will ensure the promised blessing of a good and sweet new year. Shana Torah Umetukah is also a common holiday greeting, meaning, “Good and Sweet Year.”

Devotional Thought: “…you shall have a Sabbath, a memorial of blowing the horn, holy gathering” (Leviticus 23:24).

I will never forget my first visit to the ex-palace of the Russian monarchy, located in St. Petersburg. It was a jaw-dropping experience of lavish opulence and wealth, still sparkling through the dust of ages past with a relentless mirrored shine of the once-extravagant lifestyle of the reigning elite. Every room glimmered with riches—gold, precious stones, ornate marble carvings, jewel-crusted vases, and statues. Queen Catherine the Great began to collect art objects and paintings during her reign, and they are still housed in The Hermitage for public viewing.

There are several original Rembrandt’s there, darkened because of time but still bearing the stroke and genius of a master painter. Our museum curator, a round, well-educated Jewish woman moved us through each room with a sparkle in her eye and a love for antiquity and Russian history.

She paused and remarked with a newfound astonishment at the famous Rembrandt on display, Sacrifice of Isaac, “I can’t imagine a God so cruel, so heartless as to require this from any father on earth.” He comment broke my heart. I remember feeling a stab in the chest all the way down to my toes. I shot a prayer heavenward for a revelation of the lovingkindness of my good Creator, Redeemer, and Father.

I am sure that biblical story (Genesis 22:13) has caused more than one person to stumble through questions about the goodness of God. And like all historical slices of life from scripture, there are layers of meaning and truth just below the surface that unlock the glorious revelation of the benevolence and generosity of the one true God of Israel and the Nations. These things are spiritually understood, and the Holy One gives understanding and wisdom to all who ask.

This story is the ultimate symbol of the ram’s horn that is used in Jewish history (Exodus 19:16-19), and especially during Rosh haShanah. Just moments before Abraham raised his arm to slay his only son, he lifted his eyes and then his knife to see the horn of a ram tangled in a thicket. God provided an alternative sacrifice, through the shedding of that living creature’s blood. Abraham passed his ultimate test of faith (Roman 4:3), and God counted it to his righteousness.

That happening became the hallmark of Old Covenant faith, pointing to mankind’s need for blood shedding. God is no longer counting people “good enough” through tests of trust; He requires atonement, the covering of sin for us to be considered pure in His eyes . The sacrifice of Yeshua, the ultimate corban or sacrifice is all that is needed to meet the Jewish requirement for pardon (John 1:29). His blood covers all—even Gentiles, once and for all, when applied in repentance on bended knee before the Judge of heaven (I John 1:9).

Thus the shofar became for God’s ancient people the symbol and sound of joy, warning, gathering, gladness, ceremony, arrival of monarchy, and war. On Rosh haShanah, you will hear the sound in short and long blasts.

Tekiah – Long Blast – “When…sounded in long blasts, the entire community is to gather before you in the tent of meeting” (Numbers 10:3, HCSB).

Shevarim – Three Broken Sounds – “When you sound short blasts, the tents that are pitched on the east side shall set out” Numbers 10:5, HCSB).

Teruiah – Nine Short Blasts – “When you go into battle in your own land against an adversary who is attacking you, sound short blasts on the trumpet, and you will be remembered by the LORD your God and delivered against your enemies” (Number 10:9, HCSB).

Tekiah Gedolah – Very Long Blast – “On the third day, when morning came, there was thunder and lightening, a thick cloud on the mountain, and a loud trumpet sound, so that all the people in the camp shuddered” (Exodus 16:19, HCSB).

Shevarim Teruah – Three Broken Sounds followed by Nine Short Sounds

The meanings of the blasts differ among scholars—some hear a regal coronation in the short sounds. In the staccato sounds, some hear warning. Some note in the long, lingering blast the unwavering constancy of God’s love; and in the long and short blasts together, the Jubilee sound of release and freedom.

Although Jewish opinions differ, as believers we are aware of the times and seasons in which we live. It is the hour before the second returning of Yeshua—the hour before midnight. The shofar is sounding.

As God’s ancient people blow shofars around the world during Rosh haShanah, let us awaken with soberness and receive the Good News of liberty. Let us warn the dying of the urgency of the hour, and lastly let’s look forward to the day when He returns with the regal coronation sound the shofar’s blast that will welcome us home to live with our Redeemer forever more. 

Prayer: Tune my ears to hear the true meaning of the blast of the shofar as is sounds during the High Holy Days, preparing His people for the second coming of Yeshua our Messiah.

Rosh haShanah Celebrations and Traditions: This is a two-day holiday with symbolic food, like a sliced apples dipped in honey setting the course for a sweet, new year. Pomegranates are served to symbolize fruitfulness; Challah is baked with golden raisins and braided into a circle, representing the cycle of life. On Erev Rosh haShanah, Gefilte fish and matzoh-ball soup are traditional favorites.