Rosh Hashanah, That Mysterious Holiday

By Tamar Afriat

“Say to the Israelites: ‘On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts.'” -Leviticus 23:24

“On the first day of the seventh month hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. It is a day for you to sound the trumpets.” -Numbers 29:1

Israel’s channel 1 promoted a special that will air on the evening of Rosh Hashanah called “Exploring Israel’s Holidays.” In the lead-up to the show, the host asks this about Rosh Hashanah: “What is it about this mysterious holiday?” At first blush, Rosh Hashanah doesn’t seem mysterious at all. People know it as the Jewish New Year—Rosh Hashanah literally means “the head of the year”. Jews around the world wish each other a sweet new year for Rosh Hashanah and have festive holiday meals with family and friends. Dig a little deeper, however, and you find that’s there’s something else going on for Rosh Hashanah that doesn’t exactly fit with the light, celebratory, new year-feel. In the synagogues, solemn prayers are said from morning to evening from the same prayer book used for the fast of Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement”. The rabbinical sages say that Rosh Hashanah is the day on which God judges all mankind. In Judaism, Rosh Hashanah, also known as “Yom Truah”, “the Day of Trumpeting”, begins the period called “the ten days of awe” or the “ten terrible days”, the most serious and holy period in the Jewish calendar that calls for soul-searching and repentance. The “ten days of awe” culminate in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Why does there seem to be both celebratory and very solemn elements in Rosh Hashanah? One answer may come from thousands of years ago in Babylon. After the Babylonian exile, a number of Jews remained in Babylon where they established a significant and influential Jewish community that flourished as a center of Jewish learning. Though very few, there were some Babylonian influences on Judaism at that time, in the same way that gift-giving during Hanukah in America is an influence of Christmas gift-giving. During the Babylonian exile, the Jewish community adopted Babylonian month names, as the Talmud itself points out:

“The names of the months came up with them from Babylonia.” (Jerusalem Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 1:2 56d)

Another influence can be seen in Rosh Hashanah. The Babylonians celebrated their New Year twice: once in the spring on the first of Nissan, which the Bible states is also the beginning of the year, and a second time in the fall which usually coincided with the time the Bibles prescribes the observance of “Yom Truah”, the day of trumpeting. Why would Jewish leaders impose a meaning on a holy day prescribed by the Bible? In the case of Rosh Hashanah, the answer is simple: the Bible simply doesn’t give much information for this particular day. For every other holiday, the Lord gives a clear explanation of the day’s significance and meaning. For “Yom Teruah” no clear meaning is given. In the search for meaning, some meanings were applied, some absolutely accurate, and some possibly bearing the hallmarks of foreign influence. One thing is clear, however: Yom Teruah is an important holy day, and Jews do and should take it seriously. God certainly didn’t mean us to be scratching our heads as to what this day means. As with all the holidays He prescribes in the Bible for the children of Israel to observe, each holiday points to an aspect in God’s redemptive plan for mankind. It is no different with the mysterious “Day of Trumpeting”.

Other than refraining from work, the blowing of the shofar, or trumpet, is the only specific commandment for this day. On Rosh Hashanah, the shofar is blown 100 times. In ancient times, the shofar was blown to announce an important event. It seems the Lord wants to get our attention about something, that He’s telling us to be watchful and attentive for something important on this day. Looking at what the Word says about this day gives us a very good idea as to what Yom Teruah is about:

“At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And He will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” -Matthew 24:30

“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Messiah will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” -1 Thessalonians 4:16-17

There are other verses as well that speak of this day as revealing a mystery of God:

Listen, I tell you a mystery…we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” -1 Corinthians 15:51-2

“But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as He announced to His servants the prophets…The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Messiah, and He will reign for ever and ever.'” -Revelation 10:7 & 11:15

God’s ways are mysterious, but in His goodness He reveals His plan to us if only we ask, seek, and knock to understand His purposes. Doing a little research, we see clearly the important event that “the Day of Trumpeting” announces is none other than the coming of our Lord Messiah to gather His elect, and, as Revelation states, to establish His kingdom on the earth! But wait, doesn’t Matthew 24:36 state that no one knows the day or the hour of His return? That is absolutely correct. We cannot be sure if the trumpet that announces the coming of the Messiah and rapture will sound exactly on the same day as the current Hebrew calendar date of “the Day of Trumpeting” or in what year that would occur. However, the “Day of Trumpeting” tells us to remind ourselves of His return, to anticipate and long for it, and to always be ready, just as Yeshua’s parable of the ten virgins teaches us. The Bridegroom goes away, and the ten virgins awaiting His return fall asleep:

“And at midnight a cry was heard, “Behold the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!” -Matthew 25:6

Only five of the virgins have enough oil in their lamps to go out to meet Him. Oil signifies intimacy with the Lord, a close sustained relationship with Him that allows us to be a light to the world and to be able to see our way in the darkness. Both the book of Revelation and the parable of the ten virgins reveal that the announcement of the Bridegroom comes at midnight; that is, it will be a very dark and troublesome time in human history. Let Yom Teruah, the “Day of Trumpeting” this year remind us to always be ready and to long for the sound of the shofar that will announce the coming of our Lord and Messiah, Yeshua. That indeed is the sweetest thing I can imagine. So when eating this year’s traditional honey dipped apples and bread at the holiday meal, I will think of that sweet meal that will be ours at the wedding feast of the Lamb!

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