A Festival to Remember | Emor – WEEK 31

By Mitch Glaser

Lev 21:1-24:23

We are about to observe the Jewish New Year called Rosh Hashanah, which literally means “the head of the year.”

The festival is one of the seven great festivals appointed by God to be celebrated on the first day of the seventh month of the Jewish calendar, Tishrei.  All seven of these holy days are found in the Bible in Leviticus chapter 23 as well as in a number of other passages in the Pentateuch/Torah.  There is also a vast amount of rabbinic material describing the festivals and how they should be observed.

See Leviticus 23: 23- 25; Numbers 10: 10; 29: 16 for the biblical details!

Rosh Hashanah is the first of three great festivals to be celebrated in this seventh month. The other two are Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles).

Each of these holy days was established by God and revealed to the children of Israel by Moses who received the calendar as part of the Sinai revelation.

Each of these holy days are supremely important to the Jewish people, and both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are observed every year by the majority of Jewish people, whether they be secular or religious.  

These holidays have a variety of themes and customs and are observed in a similar manner by most Jewish people, whether they be Ashkenazic (Eastern European decent) or Sephardic (primarily from Spain and North Africa), New Yorkers, Brooklynites, or Israelis.  

You will not find the phrase “Rosh Hashanah” in the Bible (Leviticus 23), but rather the festival in Hebrew is called Yom Truah, the day of the blowing of the trumpet.  In this sense the festival is cast as an attention grabber for the Jewish people, preparing them for the Day of Atonement coming 10 days later. 

The shofar blasts also remind Jewish people of the obedience of Abraham who was willing to offer his only son as a sacrifice in obedience to God, though God stopped Abraham before he went through with the act! The shofar reminds us that God demands full and unquestioning obedience.  

Additionally, according to the sages of Israel, Abraham earned an abundance of spiritual merit through his obedience in this instance; and that same merit is available today for those Jewish people who feel they will fall short of what is needed to please God during this season. The blowing of the shofar reminds the Jewish people that a cache of additional mercy is available to them if they feel their good works and repentance will not meet His holy standards.

A special prayer book was designed and compiled by our rabbis and sages entitled The Machzor and is used in the synagogue as the prayer book and service guide for the first two holidays in particular.  

The great theme of Rosh Hashanah is repentance.  In fact, the first day of Rosh Hashanah begins a season of ten days of repentance, often called the Ten Days of Awe by the Jewish people. The observance of the Day of Atonement concludes these ten days. It is understood by most Jewish people that repentance is the path that leads to salvation and the forgiveness of sin, which is secured at the closing moments of Yom Kippur.

Though it is difficult to explain the difference, forgiveness is stressed in the Jewish community far more than personal salvation, especially as understood by most Christians.  Jewish people are not as apt to think about personal salvation, a secured future beyond the grave and the power of God infused into our everyday existence by the presence of the Holy Spirit.  All too often, Christians read concepts commonly understood by born-again believers into Judaism.  

However, Jewish people do think about forgiveness during this time of year and are usually eager to repent before God and reconcile with whomever they may have offended as well. 

But forgiveness is viewed as temporal, needing annual renewal and received on the basis of both God’s grace and mercy as well as our repentance and willingness to be obedient to His Law found in the Five Books of Moses. At least this is the traditional Jewish teaching on the subject.

Rosh Hashanah is also an important family time, and many Jewish families around the world will have special dinners and time together, as well as attend synagogue.

In one sense, it is true that many Jewish people attend synagogue twice a year: on Rosh Hashanah and then again on Yom Kippur.  In my opinion, this shows just how important these holidays are in the minds and hearts of most Jewish people.  

So, why is Rosh Hashanah important to me as a Jewish follower of Jesus the Messiah?

Allow me to give a few reasons why I personally observe Rosh Hashanah and what it means to me.

Observing Rosh Hashanah is a wonderful way of identifying with my Jewish people on a more spiritual level, rather than focusing on Israel or a social, cultural, or political concern that might be important to Jewish community life.

Celebrating Rosh Hashanah also causes me to reflect and take stock of my life and especially my relationship to God.  Seasons of spiritual reflection are wonderfully enriching and necessary in the midst of our business—even if we are busy doing the Lord’s work.

Rosh Hashanah reminds me of my own need to repent regularly of my sins and to be faithful and  obedient to His Word.

Rosh Hashanah additionally provides me with a wonderful time with my family and friends.

It is a fruitful season of witness where I am able to invite Jewish friends and neighbors to our services and Bible studies around the globe so that Jesus can be seen in a Jewish context.  It is one thing to tell a Jewish person they can be Jewish and believe in Jesus, and it’s quite another and, in many ways, far more powerful to sit next to them during a Messianic Jewish Rosh Hashanah service listening to the blowing of the Shofar, the chanting of familiar prayers, as well as a Messianic message. This Messianic message speaks of repentance from sin as only one part of the path to forgiveness; there is also a need for a personal salvation by receiving Yeshua as our Messiah. In this way only are we able to enjoy true forgiveness, freedom from condemnation, and the power to live a transformed life!  

The Shofar blasts reminds followers of Yeshua that this world will not last forever, and that one day the blast will sound and those who believe will be raised to new and everlasting life.  As Rabbi Saul – the Apostle Paul writes,

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4: 16-17)

There is more to tell, and that is why I highly recommend that you visit the Chosen People Ministries website at www.chosenpeople.com/Rosh Hashanah.

I would be interested in knowing what Rosh Hashanah means to you and whether or not you find spiritual value in setting aside time for deeper reflection and for repentance.

Click HERE to be directed to our Portions Podcast.

About the Author

Dr. Mitch Glaser was born into a nominally Orthodox Jewish home in New York City at a time when views on life, death and religion were beginning to undergo major changes in American society. His religious roots were soon lost after his Bar Mitzvah at age 13 to the excitement and energy of the 1960s.

After dropping out of college in 1970, Dr. Glaser moved to California and was introduced to various Eastern religions which, while intriguing him, did not answer the questions of his soul. It was after two of his closest friends received Jesus as their Messiah that Dr. Glaser first heard the Gospel message. After reading the New Testament and studying Messianic prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures, Dr. Glaser himself received Jesus in November of 1970.

Dr. Glaser is an alumnus of Northeastern Bible College and holds a Master of Divinity degree in Old Testament from Talbot School of Theology as well as a  Ph.D. in Intercultural Studies from Fuller  Theological Seminary, School of  Intercultural Studies. He is the co-authorof The Fall Feasts of Israel with his wife, Zhava, and co-editor of To The Jew First, The Gospel According to Isaiah 53 and The People, The Land, and The Future of Israel, published by Kregel Publications. Dr. Glaser’s evangelistic book, Isaiah 53 Explained, is now in eleven languages with over 100,000 copies in print. He has written many articles for Christian periodicals and has taught at leading evangelical schools such as Talbot School of Theology, Fuller Theological Seminary, Moody Bible Institute and Columbia International University.

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