Rosh Hashana, which means “Head of the Year”, begins at sundown on Wednesday, September 24th. God prescribes its observance in Leviticus 23:24–25: “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of sabbath rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts. Do no regular work, but present a food offering to the Lord.’”
Jewish tradition links this first day of the Hebrew civic calendar with the commemoration of God’s creation of the world. The solemn assembly and trumpet blasts associated with this day point to this ten-day period of self-reflection, repentance, and renewal that begins in earnest on Rosh Hashanah and culminates on the holiest day of the Jewish year, Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). Leviticus 16 describes the one day during the year in which the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies to make atonement for the entire nation.
The traditional greeting at Rosh Hashanah is “L’shanah tovah tikatev v’tihatem” (“May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year”), or simply, “L’shanah tovah.” This blessing points to the belief that each person must use these Days of Awe to repent and do everything possible to make things right with God and others so their name will be sealed in God’s Book of Life on Yom Kippur. We who know Jesus as Messiah are grateful that he has been both high priest and perfect sacrifice for us (Hebrews 4:14–5:9), and we come to these Days of Awe with deep gratitude for all he has done for us.
The trumpet blasts of Rosh Hashanah, in the form of a ram’s horn or shofar blown during the Rosh Hashanah worship service, launch us into these ten days focused on repentance, and are meant for all of us to be a spiritual wake-up call: Your Creator is coming! Prepare to meet your King!
As Israel has emerged from fifty days of war this summer into an uneasy truce, a different sort of alarm has become far too familiar, but never “normal”, this year. Sometimes air raid sirens have sounded many times a day as they warn people to take shelter from another round of missiles launched from Gaza. Ignoring the siren’s blast is unwise. Its shrill warning is meant to preserve life. I live in the United States, half a world away from the sound of those air raid sirens. Thanks to the Internet and modern communications tools, I can be informed about when those sirens pierce the air in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv or Ashdod, but the knowledge is not a call to take action and seek shelter. It has been, however, a call to prayer.
As the Internet brings me the latest round of news from the Middle East, I am reminded to pray for the shalom of Jerusalem and all of Israel (Psalm 122:6), for physical protection of those in the land as well as the security of knowing the One who promises to be our refuge (Psalm 91), and for the
salvation through Messiah Jesus of all nations (Psalm 67, Luke 24:46–47).
As we approach Rosh Hashanah this year, I am struck by the juxtaposition of the shofar’s ancient call sounding along with latest round of air raid sirens. Though the purposes of shofar blasts and air raid sirens may seem as different as night and day, I am praying that many will hear and respond to the message embedded in the sound of both: “Your Creator is coming! Prepare to meet your King!”
I hope you’ll join me in that prayer. L’Shanah Tovah!
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I wrote this short devotional for the most recent newsletter for the Caspari Center for Biblical and Jewish Studies. My husband and I have been privileged to serve with this equipping and discipleship ministry based in Jerusalem. To learn more about the Caspari Center, visit www.caspari.com.