Missing the Point of Rosh Hashanah

Our shofar, a ram-horn trumpet blown on Rosh Hashanah / Yom Teru'ah

If you have any Jewish friends (or family), you probably know that Rosh Hashanah begins this year on the evening of September 24. What you may not know is that how this holiday is celebrated (as the Jewish New Year) is not how it was originally intended.

Even more, your Jewish friends probably doesn't know this either.

Trumpets to New Year

Rosh Hashanah means "head of the year," and is celebreated on the first day of the Jewish month of Tishri. (The Hebrew calendar is a lunar-based calendar, with the first day of each month coming at the new moon.)

However, the origin of this holiday comes in Leviticus 23. At this point (vv. 23-25) it was called Yom Teru'ah, "day of trumpets." This was one of the seven major Feasts of the Old Testament. At that point, Tishri was the seventh month of the year, not the first. (For support of this, see v. 5, which puts the first month in the spring, when Passover was celebrated.)

What happened to make this shift? The most common explanation I've heard is that it came at the time of Hebrew exile in Babylon and Persia. Someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but I was told that one or both of those cultures had their new year in the fall (around the time of Tishri), and that when the Jews were in exile, they adopted that cultural practice.

Others say that the religious calendar begins in the spring, and the civil calendar begins in the fall (at Rosh Hashanah). But nowhere is this taught in the Hebrew Bible. In fact, the one time the term rosh hashanah is used (in Ezekiel 40), it most likely refers to the a day in the spring.

Either of these explanations misses the point of Yom Teru'ah.

Missing the Point

The defining moment of this Feast was the blowing of a ram's horn, or shofar. The holiday of Yom Teru'ah was ordained by God as a time to get the attention of Israel (as a loud blowing of a ram's horn would do), and to gather them for the Feast of Yom Kippur. In that solemn day, a great atoning sacrifice would be made for the whole nation of Israel. For most observant Jews (then and today), Yom Kippur is the most serious holiday of the year, as you can imagine. Therefore, Yom Teru'ah should be, too.

But nowadays, Yom Teru'ah (or Rosh Hashanah) is just a time to wish each other a "Happy New Year." We have completely missed the point! We have moved from a focus on giving attention, glory, and worship to the great Adonai, to giving each other sweet pleasantries.

I shouldn't be surprised. After all, at one time I was blinded to these truths, and to the truths about Yeshua Ha'Mashiach ("Jesus the Messiah"). And Jesus predicted the same (in John 12):
“He who believes in Me, does not believe in Me but in Him who sent Me. He who sees Me sees the One who sent Me. I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness."  (vv. 44-46)

I was once in this darkness, and by the grace of the Lord, I am in the light. And now, I feel burdened for my Jewish family and friends who are in the darkness and don't see the truth about the Messiah.

Missing the point about Rosh Hashanah or any other holiday is a symptom of the bigger issue of missing the truth about Jesus. I didn't always feel this weight, but God has grown it in my heart (as I explained in this post).

Does God Have Your Attention? 

Most Jews today are anticipating the coming of the Messiah. And when I was growing up and attended Hebrew private school, I was taught that the Messiah would only come when there was peace on earth. The goal, therefore, was to work really hard to bring about this peace.

But this, too, misses the point. We sinful humans can never overcome evil on our own. It's not that the Messiah will come when we get everything right in this world.

The truth is that He has come already, as a suffering servant, to get us right with God. We don't need a shofar to get our attention. What should get our attention are the truths that God is holy, and we are sinners.

And we definitely need more than pleasant well-wishes.We need faith in the great atoning sacrifice of God's Son, the Messiah, as the only way to bridge the gap between God's holiness and our sinful nature.

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