We are about to observe the Jewish New Year, which is called Rosh Hashanah, literally meaning “the head of the year.” Rosh Hashanah is the first of the three Fall Feasts; it is followed by Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) and Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles). It is celebrated on the first day of the month of Tishrei in the Jewish calendar.
Rosh Hashanah is one of the seven great festivals appointed by God, all of which are listed in Leviticus chapter 23 and mentioned in a number of other passages in the Scriptures. There is also a vast amount of Rabbinic teaching describing the festivals and their observance.
Each of these holy days was established by God and revealed to the children of Israel through Moses, who received the calendar as part of the Sinai revelation. These holidays are supremely important to the Jewish people, and both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are observed each year by the majority of Jewish people, whether secular or religious. Rosh Hashanah is also an important family holiday, and many Jewish families around the world will have special dinners and spend time together, as well as attending Synagogue.
In the Bible, this festival is called Yom Teruah, which is Hebrew for “the day of the blowing of the trumpet.” In this sense, it functions as a call to attention for the Jewish people, preparing us for the Day of Atonement coming ten days later.
The blasts of the shofar (ram’s horn) sounded on Rosh Hashanah also remind us of the obedience of Abraham, who was willing to offer his only son as a sacrifice in obedience to God, though God stopped Abraham before he went through with it! The shofar reminds us that God demands full and unquestioning obedience.
The great theme of Rosh Hashanah is repentance. In fact, the first day of Rosh Hashanah begins a season of ten days of repentance, which are often called the Ten Days of Awe by the Jewish people. The observance of the Day of Atonement concludes these ten days. Most Jewish people believe that repentance is the path that leads to the forgiveness of sin, which is secured in the closing moments of Yom Kippur.
Though it is difficult to explain the difference, forgiveness is stressed in the Jewish community far more than personal salvation, especially as understood by most Christians. Jewish people are not as apt to think about personal salvation, a secured future beyond the grave and the power of God infused into our everyday existence by the presence of the Holy Spirit. All too often, Christians read concepts that are commonly understood by born again believers into Judaism. However, Jewish people do think about forgiveness during this time of year and are usually eager to repent before God and reconcile with anyone they may have offended.
However, in this view, forgiveness is seen as temporal, needing annual renewal and received on the basis of both God’s grace and mercy as well as one’s repentance and willingness to obey His Law found in the five books of Moses – at least this is the traditional Jewish teaching on the subject.
So why is Rosh Hashanah important to me as a Jewish follower of Jesus the Messiah?
Allow me to give a few reasons why I personally observe Rosh Hashanah as well as what it means to me.
Observing Rosh Hashanah is a wonderful way of identifying with my Jewish people on a more spiritual level, rather than focusing on Israel or on social, cultural or political concerns that might be important to Jewish community life.
This festival causes me to reflect and take stock of my life and especially my relationship with God. Seasons of spiritual reflection are wonderfully enriching and necessary in the midst of our busyness – even if we are busy doing the Lord’s work. Rosh Hashanah reminds me of my own need to repent regularly of my sins and to be faithful and obedient to God’s Word.
It also provides a wonderful time with my family, as well as being a fruitful season of witness in which I am able to invite Jewish friends and neighbors to our services and Bible studies around the globe. It is one thing to tell a Jewish person they can be Jewish and believe in Jesus… and it’s quite another to sit next to them at a Messianic Jewish Rosh Hashanah service, listening to the blowing of the shofar and the chanting of familiar prayers, and hearing the message of Messiah. In some ways, this is much more powerful. As believers, we know and proclaim that repentance from sin is only one part of the path to forgiveness and personal salvation… as it is only when we receive Yeshua as our Messiah that we are able to enjoy eternal forgiveness, freedom from condemnation, and the power to live transformed lives!
The shofarreminds us of what lies ahead, as the blast of trumpets will announce Messiah’s return on the day when those who believe will be raised to new and everlasting life.
As Rabbi Saul – the Apostle Paul writes,
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4: 16-17)
There is much more to say about this festival – so I highly recommend that you visit the Chosen People Ministries website for Rosh Hashanah resources!
I would be interested in knowing what Rosh Hashanah means to you, and in whether or not you find spiritual value in setting aside time for deeper reflection and for repentance.