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.”