Rosh Hashanah: A time for reflection

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By Gene Linzey

The year was somewhere around 1400 B.C. A large number of Jews and Egyptians had just left Egypt in an extraordinary departure that was preceded by a mind-numbing display of God’s miraculous power.

The fearful multitude passed through the Red Sea on dry ground, the haughty Egyptian army and cavalry were destroyed as the returning waters inundated them (Exodus 1-14), and now at the Holy Mountain, Moses was experiencing the formidable task of setting up the laws, customs, holy days, and administration for the emerging nation of Israel. (The number of people leaving Egypt has been guessed to be as low as 20,000 and as high as 2 million.)

Seven Jewish Feasts (festivals or holy days) instituted by Moses at Mount Sinai were to be part of the Israeli culture. The Feast of Trumpets is known as Rosh Hashanah, or Yom Terua (day of sounding the ram’s horn), and is the fifth of the seven festivals. Rosh Hashanah means Head of the year, and is commonly referred to as the Jewish New Year (Leviticus 23:23-25).

There is a big difference between the football game/beer bash many Americans and Europeans celebrate on New Year's Day and the Jewish Feast of Trumpets, for Rosh Hashanah starts the 10-day period called Yamim Noraim, or Days of Repentance; also known as Days of Awe. This is a time of serious introspection, thinking of mistakes made in the past year, and planning on the changes desired for the coming year. This culminates with Yom Kippur: the Day of Atonement.

Many Jews, as do many Christians, believe in the Sovereignty of God (with some variations of the theme). Accordingly, religious services for Rosh Hashanah and the Days of Awe focus on the concept of God’s sovereignty.

One of the concepts is that God writes each individual’s future for the next year in His books: life, death, health, sickness, wealth, poverty, etc. However, our attitude and actions (teshuvah, tefilah, and tzedakah, which are repentance, prayer, good deeds) can motivate God to modify what He writes.

These books are said to be sealed on Yom Kippur, and are the idea behind the common greeting during this time, which is “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.” Therefore, during the Feast of Trumpets and the Days of Awe, we are encouraged to ask forgiveness for wrongs committed, and be reconciled with those whom we may have hurt in the past year.

It is interesting to note that Rosh Hashanah is one of four Jewish “new years." In Judaism, Nissan 1 (March-April) starts the year for measuring the reign of kings and listing the months on the calendar, Elul 1 (August) begins the year for the tithing of animals, and Shevat 15 (February) is the new year for trees (actually, determining when first fruits can be eaten etc.).

But Tishri 1 (September-October) starts the calendar or civil new year (Rosh Hashanah or Yom Terua) with the Sabbatical (every seventh) and Jubilee (every 50th) years commencing accordingly.

Noting that the Jewish feasts or festivals played an important role in the life of Jesus (He was crucified at Passover, instituted His church on Pentecost, etc.), there is speculation among some Christians that Jesus was either born on Rosh Hashanah or that He will return on this festival.

Edgar Whisenant even wrote two books about why Jesus would return on Rosh Hashanah in 1988. Many folk quit their jobs and some even euthanized their pets (so the pets would not suffer or be lonely after the “rapture”).

Obviously, Messiah has not returned yet. Watch out for these kinds of predictions: Matthew 24:36 says that no one knows the day or hour that He (Messiah) will return.

Whether you are Jewish or not, I encourage you to review your relationship with God and with man. Make amends as necessary, and honor our heavenly Father in all that you do.