“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.” Numbers 29:1
"The Lord said to Moses, “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.’” Lev 23:23-25
Got your shofar ready? Rosh HaShanah is coming, and along with it are food celebrations, shofar blasts, white clothes and a public holiday - not to mention a new calendar year!
Now you may note that the verses above clearly say this important Feast is on the first day of the seventh month - the month of Tishrei in Hebrew. So how can it be a new calendar year? Unfortunately there is no easy answer to this question. Jewish tradition calls this day ‘the head of the year’, or ‘Rosh Hashanah’ in Hebrew, and was thought to refer to the beginning of the agricultural growing season, or arable calendar. In Jewish tradition, it is also thought to be the day Adam and Eve were created, the day The Flood waters dried up, Enoch was taken by God, the day Sarah, Rachel and Hannah conceived and the day Joseph was freed from prison by Pharaoh. Some have suggested God marked this day as a representative of the Shabbat/Sabbath, being the 7th month so sacred to God like the 7th day. Although the beginnings of the tradition to celebrate this Feast as a new year began in the first century, the reason why this developed is not known for sure. Various teachers have various opinions and scriptures to back up their points of view, but history does not record exactly when or why it became the new Jewish calendar year, only that it is the day the numbers roll over.
So what’s it all about?
Firstly, it’s a sacred day, a holi-day, a Shabbat where no regular work is done. It is the first of day of the ’10 Days of Awe’, a time for reflection and repentance in preparation for the coming of Yom Kipur/Day of Atonement. The bible only gives one day for this Feast, but tradition holds that one day is not enough for all the searching of the heart that is called for and in modern culture the Shabbat continues for two days.
Another key element to this sacred day is to do with the sounding of the shofar, an animal horn used to produce blasts as on a trumpet, and in English, we refer to this date as ‘The Feast of Trumpets’. The original Hebrew in Leviticus says ‘zikhron t’ruah’ (זִכְרֹ֥ון תְּרוּעָ֖ה), literally translating as ‘memorial fanfare’. Tradition dictates the shofar is blown with a variety of long and short, multiple blasts, being a summons to become alert and awake, to enter this period of reflection and repentance with the seriousness such introspection requires. It is also customary to wear white at this time, to symbolise purity and a desire to be close to God, as it says in Isaiah 1:18, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”
Although a sacred day, Rosh HaShanah, or Feast of Trumpets, is not a time of fasting. And as with several other Jewish commemorations, there are plenty of good things to choose from! Apples and honey are a favourite of all, the apple to express hope that the coming year will be fruitful, and the honey, that the coming year will be a sweet one. The pomegranate has usually come into season at this time and is eaten to remind us of God’s commands and the desire to fulfil them. Often a fish head is present on the family table during the meal, accompanied by a blessing from Deuteronomy 28:13 saying “The Lord will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the Lord your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never
at the bottom.” And as with every Shabbat, the meal is accompanied with challah, special bread usually plaited or braided into a long loaf, but this time the loaf will be round to signify a smooth and even year, and like a crown to remind everyone of the kingship of this holiday, that this is the head of the year.
In 2015, the 1st & 2nd of Tishrei run from the evening of 13th through 15th September. Why not take the opportunity to reflect and contemplate on the year that has been, to hear the ‘memorial fanfare’ of the shofar and allow it to awaken our spirits to draw near to God in humility and hope, and to share a special meal with family and friends celebrating the goodness and sweetness of the year to come!