Rosh Hashanah, which translates “head of the year.” Or, in the Bible the Feast of Trumpets, or “Yom Teruah,” Which translates the “Day of Blasting” because God commanded His people on this day to blast or blow shofars. Rosh Hashanah is also called Yom Ha-Zikaron which means "The Day of Remembrance" and Yom Ha-Din which means "The Day of Judgment". Then, there is Yom Kippur which literally means “The Day of Atonement.” We of course have the days in between known as the “Days of Awe.” But, what does this all mean? How are they connected? These are questions that many people ask. So, let’s try to understand this in the simplest was we can.
Rosh Hashanah occurs on the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, which is usually in September. This year (2023) Rosh Hashanah began on Friday, September 15th. Much like Rosh Hashanah begins on the first day of Tishrei, Yom Kippur occurs on the tenth day of Tishrei each year, usually in late September or early October. This year, Yom Kippur is on September 25th.
“But, Rob… This all sound quite serious and even wonderful. But, where is this in the Bible?” GREAT question! Thank you so much for asking.
In Leviticus 23:23–25 the Bible says: Again the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘ In the seventh month on the first of the month you shall have a rest, a reminder by blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation. ‘You shall not do any laborious work, but you shall present an offering by fire to the Lord.’ ”
Numbers 29:1-2 says: “‘On the first day of the seventh month hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. It is a day for you to sound the trumpets. As an aroma pleasing to the Lord, offer a burnt offering of one young bull, one ram and seven male lambs a year old, all without defect.”
So we see here, God has given us specific details about when we are to have Rosh Hashanah. The other things we can deduce about Rosh Hashanah are we are to do no work and we are to blow our trumpets. This is something we can clearly do even in modern times. Some may ask if this still applies to us today. If we go slightly back in Leviticus 23 (where we just were) and read verse 20, we will see that it reads: It is to be a perpetual statute in all your dwelling places throughout your generations. This means these appointed times are for today just as they were for then and for all time to come. I use the term appointed times because there are many instances in the Bible where God sets an appointed time that we are to do things. But, this is not all Rosh Hashanah is about. As we saw earlier, it is the head of the year. Or, the New Year.
Rosh Hashanah is the time of year for us to review our year and consider how we might have done wrong by others or might be falling short in other ways. It's a time to reflect on our actions over the preceding year. But, the most important part of Rosh Hashanah isn't just this reflection on our year. It is the teshuvah, the return, renewal, or repentance that we are called to that makes this time special. This isn't just about us saying we promise to do better in the future. Teshuvah is not just about repentance. It is also beginning the process of forgiveness and of forgiving others. This continues till Yom Kippur. This helps us let go of the past, so we can look towards our new year.
In addition to this time of reflection, repentance and forgiveness, we celebrate this time by lighting candles at sundown and saying two blessings, the yom tov blessing and the Shehecheyanu blessing. This is then followed by eating a meal that consists of many sweet foods. There are apples dipped in honey to symbolize “a good and sweet year.” We also eat challah that can have raisins or also be dipped in honey to make it sweeter. This challah is baked in round loaves to symbolize the cyclical nature of life. You can add other sweet foods like tsimmis. There are many ways to make tsimmis. We make ours with carrots and honey. Sweet potatoes and kegul are also favorites on Rosh Hashanah. Of course, we cannot forget, there is the blowing of the Shofar during the day!
This brings us into the “Days of Awe” which is the ten day season of repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. These days are concluded with the observance of the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur. This is a time for us to ask for forgiveness from those we may have offended during the past year and to forgive others for their offenses against us in anticipation of receiving God’s forgiveness at the conclusion of this ten day period. For the forgiveness aspect,
there are three stages, whether you’re being forgiven or you’re forgiving others. These three steps are s’lichot (“forgiveness”), m’khilah (“letting go”), and kapparah (“atonement”). Forgiveness begins with the conscious intention to forgive. But if we stop there, the feelings of guilt or resentment can reappear when you least expect them. Letting go means, “I no longer need the past to have been any different than it was.” At this stage, you might still remember the pain, but you are no longer consumed either with guilt or resentment. With atonement, we can accomplish something positive that would have never been possible. We may still remember, we may feel still the pain. But the act of atonement transforms the pain into a blessing.
This of course leads us to the holiest of Holy days. Yom Kippur – The Day of Atonement. We see in Leviticus 23:26-32 is says: The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “On exactly the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement; it shall be a holy convocation for you, and you shall humble your souls and present an offering by fire to the Lord. “You shall not do any work on this same day, for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement on your behalf before the Lord your God. “If there is any person who will not humble himself on this same day, he shall be cut off from his people. “As for any person who does any work on this same day, that person I will destroy from among his people. “You shall do no work at all. It is to be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwelling places. “It is to be a Sabbath of complete rest to you, and you shall humble your souls; on the ninth of the month at evening, from evening until evening you shall keep your Sabbath.” This is an amazing day! This is the day that after we have spent 10 days reflecting on our lives, repenting of our sins and forgiving others, this is the day that is traditionally seen as the day on which God finalizes the judgment of us each year, sealing people’s names in the Books of Life or Death. We celebrate this day by refrain from bathing or showering, using perfumes or moisturizers, having sex, wearing leather and fasting for 25 hours. One of the most important aspects is of course keeping Sabbath on Yom Kippur as we see in Leviticus 23:28-32. During the day traditionally there are five prayer services:
The first is Maariv, with the Kol Nidrei service on the evening of Yom Kippur. Then there is Shacharit, the morning prayer; Musaf, which includes a detailed account of the Yom Kippur Temple service; Minchah, which includes the reading of the Book of Jonah and lastly, there is Neilah, the “closing of the gates” service at sunset, followed by the shofar blast marking the end of the fast. You then break your fast at sunset with a festive meal. The feast held at the end of Yom Kippur sometimes has rich foods like bagels, souffles, sweet kugel, eggs and cheese. Some people prefer dairy-based dishes (instead of meat-based dishes) because they can be easier to digest on an empty stomach.
And that is how Rosh Hashanah, the Days of Awe and Yom Kippur all come together during this holiest time of year.
If we read Hebrews 9:8-12 you see with the coming and sacrifice of Christ, the way through the veil into the Most Holy Place has been opened. Understanding this, we can see that the Day of Atonement is both symbolic and anticipatory of the work of Christ, whom forgiveness ultimately rests. The effectiveness of the Old Testament sacrificial system rested on the promise of Christ’s future act. Although Yom Kippur is traditionally the last day to atone, we know ultimately that the doors of repentance are open all of the time because the sacrifice that Christ made — it’s never too late. However, we believe that it is extremely important to keep all of the Biblical holidays as Christ himself as well as his disciples did. We believe this 100% because as we had seen earlier these days are “to be a perpetual statute in all your dwelling places throughout your generations.”
The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one who gets the people to do the greatest things.
A few days ago I woke up to a text in my phone. It was from my mother and said,"Boy are you in trouble." It took me very little time to realize I forgot her birthday. The day before was a packed day and ended with a well welcomed and needed Sabbath. I was disappointed to have forgotten. I love my mother. She is one of those people that loves the phone calls and catching up with friends and family that her birthday brings. Birthdays are days we turn from the busyness of our lives and remember a person. The same applies to anniversaries. They are days we celebrate milestones in a person's life. Often times we get invited to a party and do our best not to miss it. To me the Biblical Holidays are like this times infinity. They are appointed times/feasts/festivals that He has set. They are to be kept forever. Lev 23:21
~Sabbath is the first one mentioned. That is the seventh day. It is from sunset Friday night to sunset Saturday night. That is a weekly time that we are to do no work and convocate as the church for a time of teaching and worship. Christ kept it. Before and after His ascension, His disciples kept it. Many still keep it. We are thankfully in that number. Sabbath is an awesome and a very guarded day in our family. We weekly look forward to this time to draw closer to God and closer as a family.
~Another appointed time is Passover. This is a very special time in our home and the homes of many people who follow Christ. It is the feast that was His last supper with His disciples. He commanded them as he broke the passover bread, that as often as they do this, to remember Him. Passover is an appointed time of God that was used to remind His children of how He delivered them out of Egypt. It is full of Messianic significance that points directly to Christ and His profound sacrifice. It is a powerful time of remembering God's all surpassing power and love for us.
~Next we come to first fruits. We are still in the process of understanding this appointed time so I will not talk at length about something I have a light grasp of, but we have come to an understanding that on the outset it is about giving back to God a portion of the best of our produce. Many of us don't have farms, so that could be giving a portion of your time and/or resources. A great scripture we have found to reflect on is in 1 Cor 15:20. Paul tells us that "Christ is the first fruit of those of them that slept." Again, a great opportunity to reflect on the gift we have in Christ and look for opportunity to give back to God using the first and best of our resources.
~Feast of Weeks, also known as Shavuot,“Hag Matan Torateinu” (The Festival of the Giving of the Torah) and Pentecost. It celebrates the giving of the Torah. Imagine your world without the Word of God. How dark and meaningless it would be. God's Word is such a precious gift. This is a very meaningful holiday, but like many, also fun. Lots of people pull an all nighter on the first night devoted to fellowship and the reading of His Word to celebrate the gift that it is. The Ten Commandments are read this night as well. There is a celebration with special food and folk dancing during the festival of Pentecost. It is also customary during this time to help the widow, unmarried and orphan. As disciples of Christ we have an additional gift to celebrate as during this time is when the disciples experienced the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2.
~The Festival of Trumpets also known as Rosh Hashanah follows. We just celebrated this! This is a time that we reflect on who we are before God. How we can be better. We take account of how we may have wronged others and seek to make amends. We also do our best to examine our hearts to see if we are holding grudges against anyone. If so we let go that frustration and forgive them. It is a new year on the Jewish calendar and we want to start it right. We seek to identify and let go of ways that are offensive to God. In that spirit, many people participate in a tashlich ceremony. This is a newer Jewish custom added to the holiday where they pray and symbolically cast their sins into water with crumbs from their pockets or stones. Many disciples of Christ do this, but instead consider it symbolically casting off each offensive way they found in their soul searching, naming them one by one as they toss them off. As disciples of Christ who are cleansed of our sins by the blood of Christ, this symbolism can also take a different form. As the crumbs get tossed in the water and they are swept away never to be seen again, we remember how Christ's sacrifice washed away our sins. It is very powerful to see those crumbs big and small getting carried away and reflecting on how that came to pass for us.1 John 1:7-9
~After this comes the Day of Atonement, also known as Yom Kippur and the Sabbath of Sabbaths. This is a day of fasting. It is also considered by many to be the holiest day of the year. In traditional Judaism they fast to make atonement for their sins. As disciples of Christ, our sins are atoned for, praise God, but as per the scripture, we can still participate and fast. We can do this to show true repentance for all of those sins we identified and repented of during the Feast of Trumpets. It is a great time to spend on our knees in prayer repenting of our poor choices and praising God for His great mercy and blessings. This time starts with a big meal, time of prayer and study and ends with a time of study, prayer, blowing of the shofar and... eating.
~Last on the list is The Feast of Tabernacles/Booths. This is a time that God commanded as a time of festive rejoicing. We have 7 days of celebrating and encourage others, brothers and sisters in Christ and the unsaved, to join us. This makes it great for reaching out to the unsaved and a great time of general encouragement for all of His people. Having practiced this, I will tell you, even if you do not reach out to others, they will reach out to you. We live in an apartment complex. We are the people who popped up a strange structure on our patio and decorated it. If this did not get onlookers, the shaking of the leafy batton by all.. likely did. The first day this year as we set up our structure in drizzling rain, one of our neighbors we are acquainted with came out and said, "are you guys having a party or something?" Opportunity. We shared with him what we were doing and a bit about this appointed time. Dropping seeds. We also daily spend time in the sukkah. This is a time that draws out the most committed introvert. As people pass, they occasionally start conversations. A brother shared with us once as we were approaching our first Sukkot and considering camping, how one year he set up his sukkah close to the road outside of the place he fellowshipped. Many people camp for Sukkot. He shared how he felt that missed the point. He told us how he had every manner of person from dog walkers to the police, who someone called, stop to inquire what this was about. He shared about God with a great many people that week. I think also notable is, when this curious behaviour is combined with feasting and fellowshipping, it brings the joy we have being children of God out from behind closed doors to a place where others see and are drawn to it. People who may feel awkward approaching God in a church setting, may feel right at home getting to know Him at a barbecue on your porch. Batton and all.
These are God's Appointed Times. The times on the calendar that God has set apart and invited us to join Him. There are many appointed times set by man that many are strictly obedient to. Thanksgiving. Christmas. Independence Day. Memorial Day. Easter. Halloween is a big one that crosses cultural boundaries and many more. People ask at times why we keep God's appointed times. Why wouldn't we? Perhaps the better question is, why has the world abandoned God's Appointed days for Pagan ones? Constantine kicked out Passover in 325 AD, that Christ told us in Luke 22 to keep in remembrance of Him. He rejected it in favor of Easter, which is a Pagan Holiday that predates Christ's crucifixion by a mile. In 321 AD he also changed the the day that he insisted Christians go to church from Saturday to Sunday. I won't say he moved Sabbath, because "Sabbath" was never in fact moved. God defined Sabbath as being on the 7th day of the week - Saturday. He who designed it, gets to define it. Man may have changed the day some folks congregate for church. But, man can not change Sabbath. In what world does it seem acceptable to decline God's invitation in favor of Constantine's in addition to other festivals that in many cases were created to distract from God? My mother responded to my forgetting her day by sending a text. How does God respond? Personally, we began keeping the feasts simply because God said to. The fruit? We have been abundantly blessed by this choice. Man made holidays are fun for a day. We still go and see fireworks on Independence Day. My wife makes an amazing stuffing and pies for Thanksgiving and we do the dippy crafts associated with Presidents Day, Earth Day, etc... but those things will never displace God in our family. God appointed days, to our observation and experience, are designed by our loving Father to train us and draw us closer to Him. They are infused with joy, encouragement and spiritual growth. All good things. Most importantly, God decreed they are to be kept forever. Lev 23:21 To be a follower of Christ, you need to follow Christ. Christ kept God's Appointed Times. He obeyed His Father and told us to do the same. Let us always remember that where we walk, others follow. When we follow Christ, we lead others to God. Where is your walk leading others to?
But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.