L’shana tova! Happy new year! Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the Jewish New Year and is the first of the High Holidays. In Jewish tradition it marks the beginning of the “Ten Days of Awe” or “Days of Repentance” or “High Holy Days” (culminating on Yom Kippur) during which time man is given ten days to repent of his past year’s sins while God sits in judgment. Yom Kippur is the Day of Judgment when the Jewish person’s future hangs in the balance between life and death.
It begins in the fall on the first day of Tishri, the seventh month in the Jewish religious calendar which was established by God, beginning with the Passover month of Nisan; see Exodus 12:2; Lev. 23. It is the only holiday that is celebrated on the New Moon – i.e., the first of the month.
“I have a Jewish Friend”
It is a custom on this holiday to send your Jewish friends and relatives special wishes for a joyful New Year. New clothes are worn, especially the color white. This is the common color based on the promise that God will turn our scarlet sins as white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). “May you be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life” is the customary greeting. People also say to each other “May you have a sweet and good new year.”
Year after year, the Jewish people who don’t believe in Messiah Yeshua come away from the High Holy Days with no assurance of salvation and atonement.
The biblical mood or tone of this holiday was not fear but joy (see Nehemiah8:1-12). God is not reluctant to be merciful; we don’t have to try to convince Him to forgive sin. The key is to rest in the knowledge that on Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) God would atone for sin and forgive – which He ultimately did through Messiah Yeshua.
As those who trust in Messiah Yeshua, we believe that through repentance of our sins and faith and trust in a Messiah who died and rose again, we are completely cleansed. We have crossed from darkness to light, from death to life and from hopeless judgment to incredible spiritual blessings. This cleansing from sin that Messiah Yeshua provides is not based on any work we have done but by faith in what Messiah Yeshua has done.
In the synagogue, the story of Abraham who began to sacrifice his son Isaac is read as part of the liturgy. The ominous sound of the shofar (trumpet made from a ram’s horn) is heard throughout most of the month, although it is never blown on the Sabbath when instruments are forbidden. During this feast the shofar is used as a “wake-up call”; an alarm to call Jewish people to their appointed time of judgment.
The shofar is an excellent reminder that God is sovereign (Psalm47:5). The shofar is also significant in that a ram was substituted for Isaac when God asked Abraham to sacrifice him. This event is a very clear and touching picture of the sacrifice of Messiah Yeshua on the tree and His willingness to offer Himself for the salvation of all men, through repentance from their sin and trust and faith in Himself and in His death and resurrection. In the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, what the ram was to Isaac, Messiah Yeshua is to us. It could have been us on that altar, but instead Yeshua has died for us (see Isaiah 53:4-6; Romans 5:8; cf. Leviticus 17:10-12).
Selihot (prayers of repentance) are recited for at least four days beginning the Saturday night before Rosh Hashanah. On the Sabbath they are not recited. This is a time of introspection, reconciliation and a time to confront the past. But there is also a hint of joy, sweetness and hope for many Jewish people. At this time only sweet foods (like apples and honey or syrup) are served. This symbolizes a hope for sweetness in the year to come.
The month before Rosh Hashanah (the month of Elul) the Jewish people prepare for this festival. Just as Friday is the day of preparation for the Sabbath each week, the sixth month (Elul) is to be spent in preparation for the seventh month (Tishri).
See Numbers 29:2-6. A special burnt offering was offered on these days consisting of a young bull, a ram, and seven lambs. A kid goat was also sacrificed as a sin offering. Both of these offerings were in addition to the required daily sacrifices (Numbers 28:1-8) and those for the new moon (Numbers28:11-15) which were also offered on that day.
The synagogue readings on Rosh Hashanah are: Genesis 21 and 1 Samuel 1:1-2:10 (first day), Gen. 22 and Jeremiah 31:2-20 (second day), and Numbers 29:1-6 on both days.
Actual Observance Only Once
In Ezra 3:1-6, it was during this holiday that the Temple altar was rebuilt, and sacrifices were reinstituted by those who returned from Babylonian exile. Revival also occurred on this day as Ezra rehearsed God’s law in the ears of the people (Nehemiah 7:73-8:13).
It is traditional during this festival to eat apples with honey, carrots with honey (tzimmes) and honey cake (a traditional Eastern European food; cf. 2 Samuel 6:15, 19). Main dishes might be turkey or brisket but a symbolic dish is a cooked fish served with its head. Fish is a popular dish since it is associated with productivity. This is a good illustration of God’s promise that there will be a time when Israel will no longer be the tail, but the head (Deuteronomy 28:13)!
Jewish people consider it bad luck to eat anything sour or bitter, since this may be a sign of bitter times to come. Also during this festival, round challot (Sabbath breads) are eaten, instead of the usual long braided ones. These symbolize the continuous and, hopefully, unending cycle of life. It expresses hope that the coming year will be complete, unbroken by tragedy. To the believer in Yeshua, bread symbolizes the spiritual food that God has given us by coming to earth to liveand die as a man. Yeshua is called the Bread of Life (see John 6:35).
It is customary to feast on this holiday, from Nehemiah 8:10. This passage also explains why many Jewish people invite the needy for Rosh Hashanah meals.
All of the biblical holy days have prophetic as well as historical meanings. Many of the ancient rabbis saw this as a time when the Messiah would be the agent of a full spiritual regathering. Believers in Yeshua believe Messiah Jesus can return to regather believers to meet Him in the clouds at any time. The dead in Messiah will rise first, to be followed immediately by those believers alive at that time. The Apostle Paul writes that the signal of this gathering will be the sound of something like a shofar (see 1 Corinthians15:50-58; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18).
The Hebrew Scriptures tell us that at Messiah’s Second Coming, the Jewish people will be regathered. See Isaiah 27:12-13; Matthew 24:31.