Imagine receiving an invitation from a friend to a June 30th party. You arrive and are surprised to find the other attendees wearing “Happy New Year” headbands and glasses in the shape of “2023”. When the countdown reaches midnight, everyone cries out and starts dancing around and tooting their little horns. It’s now July 1st, and they are ushering in the beginning of the new year.
Welcome to Rosh HaShanah! Translated, it means “head of the year”, and popularly it is known as the celebration of the Jewish New Year. However, if you know the Hebrew calendar at all, you will recognize that its celebration this year from September 15-17 is actually on the first day of Tishrei, the seventh month. New Year’s Day in the middle of the year. How did this happen?
There are many traditional explanations, but none of them are biblical. What we do know from the Scriptures is that Rosh HaShanah coincides with a very important, and very strange, Jewish festival – the Feast of Trumpets.
Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “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….’” (Leviticus 23:23-25)
The Lord told Israel, “In perpetuity, I want you to gather as a people on the first day of the seventh month, blow a trumpet, then go home.” While the celebration seems strangely random, when we look at it in context the pieces begin to fall together – both for the purpose for the Feast of Trumpets and the reason it is considered the beginning of the New Year.
While still in the wilderness, God commanded Moses to make two silver trumpets (Numbers 10:1-8). Their purpose? Preparation and direction. When blown one way, it called different groups to assemble. When the trumpets were blown another way, it told the Israelites to pack up their things and prepare to move. When blown again, it signified that it was time to commence their trekking.
Armed with this understanding of the trumpets, our glance at the Hebrew calendar will unlock the mystery of this feast. The blast of the horns on Rosh HaShanah is a signal for preparation. What is it that the people should prepare for? Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which takes place ten days later. That trumpet blast was the signal for the Israelites to enter into a time of repentance and introspection, known as the 10 Days of Awe, so that they would be prepared when the time came for that holiest of all days on the Jewish calendar.
In the same way businesses often have both a calendar year and a fiscal year, the Jews were given both a calendar year and a spiritual year. The spiritual year began with the Feast of Trumpets and the trumpet blast of preparation. This led to ten days of getting one’s heart ready which culminated in the Day of Atonement, a somber and sorrowful time during which the sins of the people were covered over through the work of the High Priest. But the calendar doesn’t end there. Five days later, Sukkot or The Feast of Tabernacles begins, a week-long celebration of God’s grace and provision.
In these three special days – Trumpets, Atonement, and Tabernacles – we find a great model for how we should approach God. We begin by preparing ourselves to enter into His presence. We reflect on His majesty and our humility. It is then that we are ready to truly repent of our sins, trusting not in the offerings of a high priest but the personal sacrifice of the Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, when he died on the cross to provide for our forgiveness. Then comes the time of celebration when we remember God’s grace and mercy that He’s given to us and the hope and joy that we have as a result.
So, take time today and celebrate Rosh HaShanah by preparing yourself for a fresh start with God. Let today be the beginning of your spiritual new year!