By Tamar Afriat
Here in Israel it must be Rosh Hashanah because the pomegranates are ripe. When we eat this traditional Rosh Hashanah fruit, we recite the blessing that our good deeds for the coming year will be as numerous as the seeds of the pomegranate. Just like many Jewish holidays, particularly in Israel, it would be easy to just focus on the food; symbolic food, like pomegranates or apples dipped in honey, figures heavily in the Jewish holiday menu, and, well, food itself, offered to anyone who walks through your door and prepared in copious amounts for holidays, is practically an unwritten Jewish law of biblical proportions. For most families in Israel, I know this is how Rosh Hashanah will pass: sending greetings for a sweet new year, traditional meals with family, visiting friends, and taking trips. We will be doing all of the above. But is this really Rosh Hashanah? If I look past the holiday symbols that tend to lose their intended meanings, if I actually listen to the words of the prayers and blessings of this day, there is something very different that is Rosh Hashanah:
“Let us now relate the power of this day’s holiness, for it is awesome and frightening. On it Your Kingship will be exalted; Your throne will be firmed with kindness and You will sit upon it in truth. It is true that You alone are the One Who judges, proves, knows, and bears witness… Who remembers all that was forgotten… The great shofar will be sounded and a still, thin sound will be heard. Angels will hasten, a trembling and terror will seize them – and they will say, ‘Behold, it is the Day of Judgment, to muster the heavenly host for judgment!'” –Rosh Hashanah Prayer, U’Netaneh Tokef Kedushat Hayom
Summer Is Fleeting and So Is Life
A man’s origin is from dust and his destiny is back to dust… he is likened to a broken shard, withering grass, a fading flower, a passing shade, a dissipating cloud, a blowing wind, flying dust, and a fleeting dream. –Rosh Hashanah Prayer, U’Netaneh Tokef Kedushat Hayom
There seem to be several meanings applied to Rosh Hashanah, also called the “Day of Trumpets”: the Bible simply states it as “a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts” in Leviticus 23:24. It has also come to be known as the new year in the Hebrew civil calendar. As it falls on the 1st day of the 7th month in the Hebrew calendar, it is also said, according to tradition, to be the day the Lord finished creating the world. Also, throughout the generations Jewish sages have taught that Rosh Hashanah is the day the Lord will judge all mankind. This day, as it were, is not festive or celebratory. In fact, all the days from Rosh Hashanah (New Year) to Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) are called “The Days of Awe” and are the most serious, holy days for Jews. The pious, observant, and Orthodox have been gearing up for this day differently than most. For them, the month before Rosh Hashanah is a time of serious reflection and introspection. It usually coincides with the month of August when most of us are still trying to enjoy the last fleeting days of summer, hanging out at the pool all day and spending evenings on the beach. For me, at least, it is the least likely time to be in a reflective mood. The juxtaposition of summertime with the time of introspection the month before Rosh Hashanah reminds me of when Yeshua said that His coming in judgment would be as in the days of Noah…
“For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” –Matthew 24:38-9.
Day of Trumpets: A Wake-Up Call
“For Your Name signifies Your praise: hard to anger and easy to appease, for You do not wish the death of one deserving death, but that he repent from his way and live. Until the day of his death You await him…” –Rosh Hashanah Prayer, U’Netaneh Tokef Kedushat Hayom
However, if you go up to Jerusalem the week before Rosh Hashanah after midnight and make your way to the Western Wall, you will find it packed with the throngs that have come to recite special prayers asking for forgiveness called slichot. It is a stirring scene. There is hardly a dry eye there. There you will hear raised cry to heaven, to our Father, our King, because we are all sinners, everyone of us, and in desperate need of His mercy. Though every fiber of my being seems to resist introspection and tells me, “All is well, enjoy the last fleeting days of summer,” I am struck by the time and the season. I know that this is the season that the Lord will ultimately return to judge the earth and the hosts of heaven. But, now, this very moment, is all I have. I need to do a “Cheshbon Nefesh” or, literally, an accounting of my soul. I thank God for this season for it is literally, with its trumpet blasts, a wake-up call. Our prayers during this time remind us of the nature of Him who judges us. In the midst of His perfect holiness, His awesome power, He is “compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abundant in kindness, abundant in truth, preserver of kindness for a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, and the One Who cleanses from sin.” The shofar blast this Rosh Hashanah is a wake up call for all of us. He is the one I want to please, yet I spend so much time and energy trying to please myself and garner praise from others. When I think of standing before Him to account for my life, I tremble because I want more than anything to hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I want to be like the trees of full harvest, abundant with the fruit of good deeds done in righteousness and humility. I want to be the one of the faithful virgins with her lamp filled with oil, awaiting the sound of the trumpet telling her that her bridegroom has come. Thank you, God, for Rosh Hashanah every year, the day of trumpets that reminds us that time is short, that what we do here in each and every moment matters into eternity.
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