A big meal is planned for tonight, and all over Israel kitchens are buzzing with activity and festive tables are being set up in most homes as families prepare to get together all across the country to celebrate Rosh Hashanah together, the “Jewish New Year,” on the first day of the seventh month of the biblical calendar. Yet, while our mailboxes are being filled with electronic holiday greeting cards and our calendars recognize the occasion, many Israelis don’t really know what they are celebrating at all during Rosh Hashanah on this first day of the month of Tishrei.
In fact, our Hebraic ancestors in biblical times not only DID NOT observe the date the way we do it today, but probably had no clear idea regarding any New Year’s celebration at all other than recognizing that the Passover month was the first month of the year as recorded in Exodus 12. The rest of the months were simply named second, third, fifth, seventh and so on, and the only biblical observance of a “New” anything was the “New Moon” cycle, announcing the start of a new lunar month to the population of ancient Israel.
Nowhere in the bible were our ancestors commanded to celebrate Rosh Hashanah. And while extra biblical traditions conceived and placed this holiday on the first day of the month of Tishrei, the seventh biblical month, this date was actually assigned by God much earlier, through Moses, for a different biblical feast all together: the “Feast of Trumpets.” The historical fact is that Rosh Hashanah’s traditions originated during our Babylonian exile and following centuries, when Israel was distant from the land and from God, yet this made-up modern holiday nearly replaced the biblical commandment regarding the observance of the fifth feast God commanded Israel to keep, Tabernacles, incorporating the blowing of the trumpets among the new, man-made traditions.
As all students of the Bible know, there are seven feasts God commanded Israel to observe: Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, Pentecost, Trumpets, Day of Atonement and Tabernacles, all pointing to (1) God’s plan of world redemption and (2) His Anointed Servant, our Messiah (Leviticus 23). Concerning the fifth feast, Trumpets, the book of Leviticus 23:24-25 says “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a Sabbath-rest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work on it; and you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD.’”
Blowing of trumpets and keeping a Sabbath rest are the only instructions given us for this fifth feast of God, and the blowing was for a remembrance. A remembrance of what? Perhaps Trumpets is a call to remember the true state of our being, humanity’s great need of divine help and mercy, and set our hearts and minds in preparation toward the two upcoming and final feasts of God. As the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles soon arrive, carrying in their wings the prophetic weight of the divine plan and purpose, all God’s children must seek to comprehend their message and examine our hearts in light of their severity and eternal impact.
Many in the Messianic community today believe that the Day of Atonement (sixth feast) points toward Israel’s national repentance and redemption (Zechariah 12), and that the Feast of Tabernacles (seventh feast) speaks of Messiah’s reign on earth (Zechariah 14). These feasts arrive in fast succession following the blowing of the Trumpets, and the entire prophetic season lasts only 21 days from beginning to end, culminating in the fulfillment of all of God’s seven feasts; the unfolding of the mystery of Messiah; and the coming of His Kingdom to earth.
Thank God that He gave us the Feast of Trumpets to celebrate today, providing a needed reminder and a wake-up call urging all who have ears to hear to prepare and look expectantly for these promised world changing events.
WHERE DID ROSH HASHANAH COME FROM?
While Rosh Hashanah doesn’t appear anywhere in the Bible, we need to recall that Jewish religious practices greatly changed during the Babylonian exile. By the time Ezra and Nehemiah led the exiles back to Judea to restore the national and spiritual life in the Promised Land, things changed a lot. Now the months of Israel were not named first, second, third, and so on; rather each month now boasted a Babylonian name, and the seventh month was called Tishrei, a derivative of the Akkadian word tishritu, meaning “beginning.” Not only that, but the Babylonians took their New Year’s celebrations very seriously with remarkable events and festivities going on for 12 consecutive days. It appears the Jewish exiles brought back with them not only pagan wives as recorded in Ezra chapter 10, but also pagan practices.
Nowhere in the Second Temple period literature is there any mention of “Rosh Hashanah,” and the holiday only appears in rabbinic writings starting from the third century AD. These writings deal with the holiday’s observance and many (extra biblical) details, with great attention given to the theme of entering the “Days of Awe,” the 10-day purging and cleansing period leading up to the Day of Atonement; a theme that is actually biblically sound.
The blowing of the silver trumpets mentioned in the scriptures was replaced with a blowing of the shofar, a horn, usually of a ram. Consolidating various blowing traditions from different Jewish communities, today we have the Tekiah (a long blow), the shevarim (three consecutive blows), and the teruah (nine fast blasts), all sounding at different times throughout the day, rounded up to 100 blows total.
Additional traditions were added over the centuries as different rabbinical schools needed to place their own mark on the new holiday. Today we find Rosh Hashanah featuring fish head dishes (getting “ahead” during the new year); honey, sweet bread and fruit (hoping for a sweet year); pomegranates (based on the erroneous notion that it has 613 seeds as the number of the commandments in the Law); and Tashlikh, the practice of emptying one’s pockets into the sea, river or a well, symbolizing getting rid of one’s sins. Abundant superstitions!
SO WHAT SHOULD WE DO TODAY?
Enjoy Rosh Hashanah with your family and friends, but do not neglect the real, biblical, and Spirit breathed observance of the Feast of Trumpets. And let us remember the apostolic warning, saying, “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Messiah. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power…“
“And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses… So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Messiah.” (Colossians 2:8-17).
The Lord Yeshua Himself rebuked the religious leaders of His day, confronting their practices of “making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down…” Matthew 7:13.
May God’s fifth feast of Trumpets strengthen and cleanse our hearts as we seek His face in preparation for the sixth and seventh feasts, Atonement and Tabernacles. They are right around the corner.