Rosh Hashana is the Jewish New Year. There are seven mandatory feasts of the Lord and Rosh Hashana is the fifth. The Hebrew calendar has several ‘new years’ in it, which can be very confusing until you get your head around them.
The beginning of the religious year starts in the Spring time with Pesach (Passover) which is on the 14th day of the month of Nissan. The 1st day of Nissan is the new year for counting the reign of kings and months on the calendar; the 1st day of Elul is the new year for the tithing of animals, the 15th day of Shevat is the new year for trees which helps to determine when first fruits can be eaten and the 1st of Tishri is the new year for years which is Rosh Hashana. Rosh Hashana means more than ‘New Year’; it actually means ‘Head of the year’ or ‘First of the year’. So it’s the new calendar year of all the new years in the Hebrew calendar in the same way that January 1 is the start of our new year.
The celebration of Rosh Hashana lasts for two days and unlike our western New Year’s celebrations, which become an excuse to drink excessive amounts of alcohol, eat excessive amounts of food, make excessive amounts of noise keeping neighbourhoods awake until the wee small hours of the morning, leaving excessive amounts of rubbish all over the place and watching fireworks demonstrations, Rosh Hashana is altogether different. It’s still a joyous occasion, but it’s a time of introspection, reflection over mistakes and poor choices during the previous year with the determination to make necessary changes to avoid the same mistakes over the coming new year…similar to making new year’s resolutions but with a greater emphasis on spiritual and ethical matters. Again, it’s definitely a very joyous celebration but the serious side of this feast is the primary focus.
In the Bible this festival was instituted in Leviticus 23:24, ‘In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of solemn rest, a memorial proclaimed with a blast of trumpets, a holy convocation.’ (A ‘convocation’ is a calling together or a formal assembly for a specific purpose)
This is a serious feast that happens to be both joyful and expectant.
This festival is also known as ‘Yom ha-Zikaron’ which means ‘The Day of Remembrance’ and also ‘Yom Teru’ah’ which means the ‘Day (feast) of Trumpets’. Rosh Hashana is celebrated over two days because of the difficulty in pin-pointing the exact timing of the new moon upon which the festival begins, it’s commonly believed that ‘no one knows the day or hour’ of this particular feast so to make sure they don’t get the timing wrong, they cover their bases with a two-day celebration.
It’s also believed in Jewish tradition that God created the universe on 25th of Elul making the 1st of Tishri the 6th day of creation and this festival was to be celebrated with the blowing of the shofar. The shofar is blown 100 times during Rosh Hashana which is how this head of the new year celebration came to have the name ‘Feast of Trumpets’. The blowing of the shofar uses various styles and the shofar blasts are a coronation of God as King of the Universe. They’re a reminder to God’s people to remember that God is their Creator and that He is their King as well. He is their Sovereign Ruler.
As Gentiles we don’t understand the significance of the blowing of the trumpets and that’s because we don’t know or understand Jewish customs and practices. We might read about the blowing of trumpets in the Old Covenant, but we rarely take the time to investigate what they signify.
There are 4 primary shofar blasts:
The general custom during Rosh Hashana is to first blow Tekiah, the coronation and honour of God their King, that is then followed with Shevarim for repentance before Him, that’s followed by Teru’ah for the individual soul’s response to the call of repentance which is supposed to be a serious wake-up call, and that is then followed by the closing, with Tekiah ha-Gadol – the ‘Last Trump’. This is the sequence of trumpet blasts during Rosh Hashana.
When Jewish congregations gather in their synagogues to celebrate Rosh Hashana, there are traditional passages of Scripture that are read. In Messianic congregations who believe in Jesus, passages from the New Covenant are included as well.
In the synagogue services on the first day of Rosh Hashana, Genesis 21:1-34, Numbers 29:1-6, 1 Samuel 1:1-2; 10 (Messianic synagogues include 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 & 1 Corinthians 15:51-54) are read and taught on. On day 2 of Rosh Hashana, Genesis 22:1-22; 24, Numbers 29:1-6, Jeremiah 31:1-19 (Messianic synagogues include 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 & 1 Corinthians 15:51-54) are read and taught on.
The traditions that surround Rosh Hashana include lighting candles and reciting prayers and blessings; serving apples and bread (khallah) dipped in honey before the meal to wish one other a sweet year ahead; round shaped khallah (bread) is served to represent the crown of God’s kingship and from a Messianic perspective, it’s a reminder that those who obey the Lord receive a crown of righteousness from Him. Often the round khallah bread is baked with honey and raisins. Sweetness is always associated with Rosh Hashana.
We’ll continue to learn about Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, next time on Foundations.