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Themes Of Rosh Hashanah

As Rosh Chodesh is the head of the month, Rosh Hashanah is the head of the year - the New Year.

Rosh Hashanah occurs on the first and second days of Tishri. As a sign of its utmost importance in ancient Israel, the arrival of the new moon (Rosh Chodesh) for the month of Tishri had to be confirmed by at least six witnesses, twice the requirement of the three witnesses for any other month. In addition to the normal procedure of lighting signal fires to announce a new moon, messengers were sent out from Jerusalem to hand deliver the news of the arrival of Rosh Chodesh Tishri. These precautionary measures were taken to safeguard the Israelites from disobedience and misalignment to the precise timing of the Feast as instructed by God in His Word. It was a holy obligation in which no mistake should be made in missing this important appointment with the Creator of the universe. It was and still is a major event in their lives!

Rosh Hashanah is celebrated as two days everywhere in Israel and outside Israel. Since it occurred on a holy day in which no servile work was allowed (Lev. 23:24-25), the messengers were not dispatched on this day to tell the people about the new moon. Thus some people in Israel might not know whether the Feast had begun. So everybody celebrated two days or a long day of 48 hours. The practice was later maintained as a custom even after the mathematical calendar was adopted. Ezra observed this feast for two days (Nehemiah 8:2-13). However Yom Kippur is celebrated strictly for only one day everywhere – because extending the Feast for a second day would cause an undue hardship. Yom Kippur is the tenth day of Tishri. No sighting of the moon is required. Firm restrictions are in place to ensure this observance.

The month of Tishri marks the beginning of the Civil Calendar that represents the physical creation of man. The month of Nisan marks the beginning of the Sacred Calendar that represents the spiritual birth of man - from Passover to Tabernacles. Just as the seventh day (Shabbat) is holy, so is the seventh month (Tishri) - it is set apart by God as holy. Just as Friday is the day of preparation for Sabbath, the previous month of Elul is the month of preparation for Tishri. This season is a time of reflection and evaluation - putting our lives in order and getting our relationship right with God. It is viewed as the most holy of months as it contains four Jewish holidays; two of which, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are called "High Holidays".

In Leviticus 23, God named the other holidays, Sabbath, Passover, Day of Atonement, etc. However, this holiday has no name. It is simply referred to as Yom Teruah (the day of the sounding of the shofar). It became known as the Feast of Trumpets, a special day calling attention to the coming holiest day of the year - the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).

The Feast of Trumpets and Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) are the holiest days of the Jewish year. The ten days, inclusive of both dates, are called the Days of Awe or High Holy Days. This season is a time for us to look inward into our relationship with God for our spiritual health and growth. No work is allowed on the Feast of Trumpets. The themes surrounding this Feast include:

  • The New Year Day
  • Birthday Of The World
  • The Day Of Shofar Blowing (Feast of Trumpets)
  • The Day Of Judgement
  • Coronation Day
  • The Day Of Remembrance
  • Day Of Memorial

The New Year Day

The New Year is celebrated with holiday greeting cards, special prayers, festive meals and sweet foodstuffs. It is customary for families to gather together for the holiday meal. Traditional foods sweetened with honey, apples and carrots are served, symbolizing sweetness, blessings, abundance and the hope for a sweet year ahead.

On the day of Rosh Hashanah, Ezra the scribe told the Jews, "Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our LORD. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength." Nehemiah 8:10

Before leaving the synagogue, it is customary to bless one another with the benediction, "May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year." Then it is customary to go home joyfully and to keep away from all grief and sighing, so as not to give the Accuser an opening - for the Accuser’s only place to attack is where there is grief and sighing. One ought to trust in God as it is written: "For the joy of the Lord is your strength." No bitterness or bitter food is allowed.

A popular tradition during Rosh Hashanah is eating apples dipped in honey. At the beginning of the evening meal, the Jews will recite "Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, Creator of the fruit of the tree." They then dip an apple in honey and recite this blessing, "Be it Thy will that a good and a sweet year be renewed for us" before eating it.

The Jews has several different new years. Nisan 1 is the new year for the purpose of counting the reign of kings and months on the calendar. Regardless of when a king became the ruler, his coronation would be on Tishri 1. Elul 1 is the new year for the tithing of animals. Shevat 15 is the new year for trees to determine when their firstfruits can be eaten. Tishri 1 (Rosh Hashanah) is the new year for years.

Birthday of the World

It is a celebration of the earth’s physical birthday. The Jews believe that Tishri 1 is the birthday of the world because the Hebraic words "in the beginning" in the book of Genesis, when changes around, reads "on the first of Tishri". Therefore the Feast Of Trumpets is known as the day the world was created, or more precisely, the day man was created.

(For more information on this, please read The First Rosh Hashanah.)

The Day of Shofar Blowing

"Speak to the children of Israel, saying: 'In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a sabbathrest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation." Lev. 23:24

The shofar is blown in the temple to herald the beginning of the 10-day period known as the Days of Awe.

The shofar has a special place in the hearts and lives of the Jews. They come in various forms, and are made of diverse materials. Some are made of silver (Num. 10:2) and are used only by the priests for the calling of assembly and for the journeying of the camps. Some were made of rams’ horns (Josh. 6:8) and are blown at special festivals and to herald the arrival of special seasons (Lev. 23:24, 25:9, 1 Chr. 15:24, 2 Chr. 29:27, Psa. 81:3 98:6). Trumpets are also used in the Book of Revelation (Rev. 1:10, 8:2)

(For more information on this, please read Feast Of Trumpets.)

The Day of Judgement

On this holy day, Jews around the world will examine their past deeds and ask for forgiveness for their sins.

A widely observed custom is the ceremony of Tashlikh. It is the symbolic casting of one’s sins into a river, lake or other body of water containing live fishes. The fish factor is important. As the fish is dependent on water, so are the Jews dependent on God. As the fish never closes its eyes, so the Lord never ceases watching over Israel. This is done on the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah or of the second day if the first day coincides with a Sabbath – as no work is to be done on a Sabbath.

This tradition of Tashlikh originated in Germany during the sixteenth century but became popular after the endorsement by Rabbi Isaac Luria. Its Biblical roots are derived from Micah 7:19, "You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea." Today, many Jews gather in the afternoon at a river to metaphorically divest their sins. They turn their pockets inside out, discarding any bread crumbs or leftovers therein. The simple ceremony is symbolic of the determination to free oneself from sins and shortcomings during this holy season.

Being judged by God is an awesome thing. He knows all and yet He shows mercy and grants grace. Even judgment itself needs not be devoid of joy – the joy of being forgiven by an awesome and loving God. The joy of the Lord is our strength!

Coronation Day

Another theme of this Feast is God’s royalty. The shofar announces the kingship of God.

With trumpets and the blast of the ram's horn, shout for joy before the LORD, the King (Psalm 98:6). Through true repentance, we become God’s loyal subjects. It is the day that God manifests His royalty. The day that He created His world is also naturally the day He sits on the throne as the King and the Judge.

This Coronation Day is a joyous day for the whole earth to celebrate. The King is coming back again. He will appear at the sound of the last trumpet, which will be at Yom Kippur. Jewish eschatology teaches that on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) after six thousand years are complete, the Day of the Lord will come. On that day the shofar will sound, the righteous will be resurrected and will attend the coronation of the King.

In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 1 Cor 15:52

For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 1Thes 4:16-17

"..but in the days of the sounding of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, the mystery of God would be finished, as He declared to His servants the prophets." Rev 10:7

We therefore celebrate Rosh Hashanah with joyful expectations, looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ. This will teach us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts so that we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world. Titus 2:12-13

The Day of Remembrance

This day the Jews review the history of their people and pray for Israel. This theme of remembrance is thought to be from God remembering Sarah, Rachel and Hannah. A Talmudic dictum says that on Yom Teruah (Feast of Trumpets), Sarah, Rachel, and Hannah were "remembered."

It is believed that on Rosh Hashanah, the destiny of mankind is recorded by God in the Book of Life. After Rosh Hashanah services, as the people leave the synagogue, they would say to each other: "May you be inscribed in the Book of Life." God remembers and writes them down.

Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD listened and heard them; so a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the LORD and who meditate on His name. Malachi 3:16

Day Of Memorial

Leviticus 23:24 calls the blowing of trumpets a memorial but does not say what the memorial is for. Many believe it is a memorial of God's grace to Abraham when He substituted a ram to be sacrificed instead of Isaac (Gen. 22). It is also regarded by both Jews and Christians as a memorial of the creation of the world, at which the sons of God shouted for joy (Job 38:7).According to Jewish tradition, all the following events happened on Tishri 1:

  • Adam and Eve were created
  • The Flood waters dried up (Gen. 8:13)
  • Enoch was taken by God (Gen. 5:24)
  • Sarah, Rachel and Hannah (1 Sam. 1) conceived
  • Joseph freed from prison by Pharaoh
  • The forced labor of Hebrews in Egypt ended
  • Job contracted leprosy
  • Start of sacrifices on the altar built by Ezra (Ezra 3:1)