Two New Years on One Day

A pomegranate symbolizing Rosh Hashanah.

September 15, 2023. Two new years on one day? Yes! First, on September 15 I celebrated my 74th birthday. Second, the evening of September 15th (or 1 Tishre on the Jewish calendar) marked the beginning of the Jewish new year 5784...

Rosh Hashanah as this day is know is considered the “head” of the Jewish (new) year. Rosh Hashanah is celebrated in the synagogue with traditional liturgies and as a highlight, the sounding of the shofar (ram’s horn). Jews hope to hear 100 notes on the shofar that evening.

Why is the shofar sounded? Rabbis have various responses:

Rosh Hashanah is the day that commemorates the creation of the world, and it is described as the "coronation" of Hashem (G-d). As it is customary to sound a trumpet at a king's coronation, so we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. By blowing the shofar we recognize the "purpose" of the creation.

The shofar blast marks the beginning of a period of amnesty which is known as The Ten Days of Repentance. Repentance: since humanity has been given free-will, and our actions are not pre-determined, we must take responsibility for our actions. The ability to repent teaches us that our future is not bound by our past and that by changing our behavior we can change from our past.

When we accepted the Torah at Mount Sinai, the sound of the shofar is described as "continuously increased and was very great" (Exodus 19:19). The shofar serves to remind us of the revelation at Mt. Sinai and therefore to renew our commitment to Hashem and to accept that Torah morality is absolute and God given - not relative, nor does it depend on human understanding.

The prophets called out to the Jewish People and aroused them to improve their ways. The shofar reminds us of the admonitions of the prophets and their calls to repentance. We should know the Lord communicated with us via the prophets and displayed through them His desire to perfect us and not to punish us.

The shofar reminds us to pray for the rebuilding of the Temple where trumpets and shofars were sounded. God manifests His presence in the world in specific places like the Temple in Jerusalem. He also manifests His presence at special times, such as the Ten Days of Repentance.

The ram's horn reminds us of the Binding of Isaac when Abraham demonstrated his absolute faith by being prepared to sacrifice his son. The Lord demonstrated His absolute love for Abraham by having him sacrifice a ram in his place.

The sound of the shofar is supposed to inspire fear in the hearts of those who hear it. It allows one to dwell upon fear of punishment, to progress from there to fear of doing evil, and then to fear of God.

The shofar also reminds us of the day of judgment in the future.

The sound inspires us to yearn for the ingathering of the Exiles, which will be heralded by the sound of a shofar. There will be absolute unity amongst the Jewish People and our connection to Land of Israel will again be absolute.

The shofar recalls the resurrection of the dead which will be accompanied by the sound of a shofar. As God is the source of all life and the creator of all existence so He has complete control over death.

Additional reasons abound as well. One of the more interesting: The shofar ushers in the Divine court session and shows our trust in Hashem's judgement. By showing our eagerness to be judged by Hashem we thus confuse the heavenly prosecutor, Satan.

Why does the Jewish new year occur in Tishri, the seventh month?

Judaism has several new year’s celebrations. Nissan 1 is the new year for the purpose of counting the reign of kings and months on the calendar. Elul 1 (in August) is the new year for the tithing of animals. Shevat 15 (in February) is the new year for trees (this determines when first fruits can be eaten, etc.). Tishri 1 (Rosh Hashanah) is the new year for years.

Rabbinical tradition tells us that one way we can help ensure that our names are inscribed in the book of life is to give to others in our communities. Giving is particularly important during the Days of Awe, which are the ten days which lie between the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

According to the Talmud, God opens three books of destiny on Rosh Hashanah. If our deeds are good, he writes our names in the Book of Life. If our deeds are wicked, he writes our names in the Book of Death – but if our deeds fall somewhere in between, they are written in a third book. God suspends judgment on those whose names he writes in this book. If our names are written in it, we have ten days more to change our hearts and lives – but on Yom Kippur our fates are sealed.

Evidence of the existence of these books of destiny can be found in Exodus, in which Moses – confessing to God that the Israelites have worshiped the golden calf, pleads for God’s forgiveness. He asks God to blot out his name from the book God has written if God will not forgive his people. This book is mentioned again in Psalms 69, in which the psalmist asks God to let the names of his adversaries be “blotted out of the book of the living.”

Having our names blotted out from the book of the living it a daunting prospect – especially during certain Jewish holidays. According to Jewish tradition (not the Bible) we can do three things to help make sure God writes our names in the book of life:

  • First, we can repent of the evil deeds we have done in the past.
  • Second, we can engage in meaningful prayer.
  • Third, we can participate in charitable giving. Giving to the poor is particularly important to God, who holds them in high regard.

These books remain open for ten days known as the Days of Awe in which we seek to make right those offenses we have caused to our fellow man.

God also makes it clear that he wants us to help the poor. Indeed, he commands us to do so, saying, “If, however, there is a needy person among you, one of your kinsmen in any of your settlements in the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman.”

We who know Messiah know that there is a book, The Lamb’s Book of life, and those whose names are written by the blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world can know for sure that they are sealed for a great eternity.

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Rev. 21:22, ESV)

Steve Cohen

Steve Cohen is the founder of Apple of His Eye

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