Rosh Hashana

Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken…and he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matt. 24:29, 31)

Rosh Hashana (Heb. “Head of the year”) is the fifth of the seven biblical feasts given to the nation Israel (Lev. 23:24-25). Although it is named for and celebrated as the Jewish “New Year,” the words Rosh Hashana do not appear anywhere in the Tanach (Hebrew Bible) in connection with this particular feast. Sometime after the Babylonian captivity, the Jewish people developed a civil year to be followed simultaneously with the religious year. Hence Tishrei 1, the day Rosh Hashana is observed, begins the civil new year, while Nisan 1 begins the religious new year (Ex. 12:2). Interestingly, the phrase Rosh Hashana appears only once in the Hebrew Bible (Ezek. 40:1), and there it is a reference to Nisan 1.

The biblical observance of Rosh Hashana consisted of only three main elements: the blowing of trumpets, no servile work being performed, and an offering made by fire. In addition, special offerings were required besides those usually offered on the New Moon (Num. 29:1-6). Over the years, especially those following the destruction of the Temple, several traditions developed for the observance of this feast.

Together with Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), which occurs on Tishrei 10, Rosh Hashana begins the High Holy Days of Judaism. The Jewish people believe that on Rosh Hashana three “books” are opened in heaven. The first book contains the names of all the truly wicked, while the second book contains the names of all the truly righteous. The third book, the largest of the three, lists the names of those somewhere in between. It is believed that on Yom Kippur the books are closed and sealed for the year. Based on Psalm 49:9-10, Daniel 7:9-10, and Daniel 12:1-3, the rabbis developed the understanding of life after death either in eternal bliss or eternal shame and contempt. Thus, during the ten-day period between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur (called the Days of Awe), it is the responsibility of the individual Jewish person to get right with God to be certain that he or she would be inscribed in the right book for the afterlife.

The modern observance of Rosh Hashana parallels the traditional in its recognition of the books. However, modern observers are not concerned with being inscribed in the right book to guarantee their place in the afterlife, but rather in determining what kind of year they will have here on earth. Thus, on Rosh Hashana, people will greet each other with “Shanah Tovah” (lit. “good year”) or “L‘Shanah Tovah Tikatevu” (lit. “May you be inscribed for a good year”). The highlight of the synagogue service is the blowing of the shofar (ram’s horn). Typically, a variety of cakes and apples dipped in honey are eaten because these symbolize hope for a sweet and happy year. The readings from the Bible on Rosh Hashana primarily relate to the story of Isaac and Abraham (the Akedah) due to the faith that Abraham displayed in being willing to sacrifice his son. The Jewish people also hold Isaac in great and high esteem because he was willing to be sacrificed in that way.

The Rabbis believe that Satan (the Adversary) has a special time of accusing Israel on this day, and even the great Hebrew sage Maimonides called upon the Jewish people to remember their creator and repent at this time of year.

Another interesting part of the modern observance of this holiday is the practice of Taschlich (lit. “you will cast”). Following the afternoon synagogue services on the first day of Rosh Hashana, Orthodox Jewish people will gather at the nearest river or open body of water. There, based upon Micah 7:18-19, they will cast breadcrumbs from their pockets, symbolically casting their sins into the sea. Sadly, they have lost sight of the fact that, according to the prophet, it is God who casts away sin and not the people themselves.

The key to the observance of Rosh Hashana is the blowing of trumpets. Therefore, a more descriptive name for this holiday would be the Feast of Trumpets. Biblically, trumpets are used for a call to assembly, to announce war, to sound an alarm, to strike fear, to mark solemn feasts and Sabbaths, and to mark the beginning of months (Num. 10). In addition, Jewish thought developed the idea that the trumpets were used for a calling together of the people and to repentance. In Isaiah 27:12-13 and Joel 2:1,15, the Bible describes that the regathering of the Jewish people into the land of Israel will be preceded by the sound of the shofar (trumpet). Therefore, the ultimate fulfillment of the Feast of Trumpets will be the final gathering of the Jewish people preceding the establishment of the Messianic Age (cf. Matt. 24:29-31).

The Bible also teaches that the church needs to be mindful of the trumpet sound. Although it is a different trumpet, the sound of the trumpet will be heard when the church is called out of the world by the Lord Jesus at the rapture (1 Thess. 4:13-18). Since this event is imminent, this trumpet could sound in our lifetime! We must therefore be always prepared to meet the Lord in the air.

The Feast of Trumpets stands as a reminder that when Israel is saved, there will be a time of gathering, repentance, and restoration but at a heavy price. When the trumpet is sounded to regather the Nation and to ultimately usher in the Millennial Kingdom, two-thirds of the Jewish people will perish (Zech. 13:8). Thus, the prophetic fulfillment of Rosh Hashana, the gathering of the Jewish people into the land of Israel for national repentance and cleansing, will mark the fulfillment of God’s promise for the restoration of the nation (Deut. 30:1-6) when He will truly cast off their sins and “all Israel shall be saved” (Rom. 11:26).