Rosh Hashanah 5777
Today’s Text: Leviticus 23:23-25
With the blowing of the shofar, the celebration of Rosh Hashanah will usher in the New Year—the year 5777—on the Jewish calendar. God instituted this fall feast at Mount Sinai.
“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.’”
Rosh Hashanah Context
Signaling the end of the yearly agricultural cycle and the beginning of a new civil year, this solemn, yet hopeful feast known as Rosh Hashanah or the Feast of Trumpets provides an opportunity for spiritual renewal and a reminder of God’s sovereignty.
While the Lord’s commandment to the children of Israel via their leader Moses is explicit, there are numerous traditional explanations for the blowing of shofars which are ceremonial musical instruments made primarily from ram’s horns (trumpets: NKJV; horns: JPS).
As Jewish families gather in synagogues and homes for Rosh Hashanah, the unique resonating shofar blast is a universal acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty as King of the Universe and reminder that Israel’s future is in His hands. Listen to the Rosh Hashanah shofar here:
Many elements of Rosh Hashanah—which is a not just a holiday, but a holy day where no work is permitted—symbolize the optimistic hope for a “good and sweet year.”
Dinner on the Eve of Rosh Hashanah traditionally begins with sliced apple and/or challah dipped in honey. Typically eaten on Shabbat, this specially prepared challah is a round, plaited sweet bread with raisins or currants and often decoratively topped with a portion of the dough shaped into a ladder, crown or bird.
My wife and I have fond and sweet memories of privileged opportunities to share in this beautiful and delicious ceremony that precedes Rosh Hashanah celebrations beginning with a blessing recited in both Hebrew and English:
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, borei p’ri ha-eitz.
We praise You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the Universe, Creator of the fruit of the tree.
Y’hi ratzon milfanecha, Adonai Eloheinu v’Elohei
avoteinu v’imoteinu, shetchadesh aleinu shanah tovah um’tukah.
May it be Your will, Eternal God, that this be a good and sweet year for us.
There is a slight variation in the blessing over the challah:
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, hamotzi lechem min ha-aretz.
We praise You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.
Pomegranates feature prominently in the celebration. A prayer recited during the Feast of Trumpets requests,
“May it be thy will, O Creator, that our year be rich and replete with blessings as the pomegranate is rich and replete with seeds” (1)
An exciting development was unveiled earlier this year by Yirmiyahu Zamiri, owner of Zamiri Nurseries located in the Hula Valley north of the Sea of Galilee. Over the course of the last eight years, Mr. Zamiri developed an amazing new variety of pomegranate. Dubbed the “Wine (Hebrew: Yayin) Pomegranate,” this bright crimson fruit contains an unusually sweet aril which is the juicy part that encases a soft, but completely edible seed. Actually considered seedless, Zamiri Nurseries’ Wine Pomegranate debuted in markets just in time for Rosh Hashanah offering consumers an alternative to the characteristically tart and astringent fruits that are usually dipped in sugar for the occasion. (2)
Another major feature inherent in the observance of Rosh Hashanah is the eternally optimistic anticipation that the evils of the past will not be repeated in the New Year. The refrain of a 13th century liturgical poem recited on Rosh Hashanah echoes perpetual hopefulness:
“Let the old year with its curses end, and the New Year with its blessings begin.”(3)
Rosh Hashanah 5777
While expectantly welcoming the hope and blessings of 5777, today, many of our Jewish and Israeli friends will undoubtedly be fervently praying that the horrors of the past year will end with the New Year.
Most in the Western world are oblivious to the terror Jewish families in Israel have endured over the past 12 months. On June 30, a friend in Israel emailed with horrific news that the 13 year-old daughter of a close family friend had been brutally murdered in her bed by a terrorist that had invaded the sanctity of the family home.
Did you hear about it? Her name was Hallel Yaffa Ariel. The news was heartbreaking; and while we did not know the Ariel family personally, it was impossible not to weep over the senseless loss of their much loved, beautiful daughter.
Tragically, this is only one incident of many experienced by Israelis over the past year. From a rabbi killed by terrorists on his way home from a Rosh Hashanah celebration—to a young man murdered while trying to protect those around him from a knife wielding terrorist—to victims stabbed in a grocery store or walking down the street—all represent indiscriminate attacks on unsuspecting innocent civilians.
Terrorist adults, teenagers and even children randomly attacking Jewish people in their homes, on the streets, in markets and while driving, cause many to fear that a routine daily errand will put them in the path of a violent hate-filled terrorist seeking to kill and maim.
The current wave of violence that began a year ago is being dubbed a third intifada; and, even as this blog is being written, a terrorist spokesman is inciting for a “Day of Rage” to mark a one-year anniversary.
According to the Israel Security Agency, since Rosh Hashanah on September 13th 2015, 40 innocent victims—fathers, mothers, children, sisters and brothers, grandparents and grandchildren—have been murdered; another 558 people were injured in premeditated attacks associated with the 2015 – 2016 terror wave. These seemingly random attacks include 65 stabbings along with 87 stabbing attempts, 107 shootings, 47 car rammings and one bus bombing. These statistics do not include 448 firebomb attacks in the month of October 2015 alone. (4)
Much of the horror experienced by Jewish people in Israel is barely reported by newsfeeds or media outlets and remains virtually unknown to the majority of people in the Western world. All life is considered sacred and precious to those with a Judeo-Christian worldview; and, the worldwide Jewish community acutely and collectively feels the pain of each murderous attack—as should the Christian community.
If there was ever a time for Christians to stand in solidarity with the nation of Israel, it is now. In addition to the current wave of violence in Israel, the intensifying BDS (Boycott, Sanction and Divest) movement aimed at crippling Israel’s economy, the ongoing threats of annihilation from antagonistic neighbors and a trend of rising anti-Semitism—not only threaten the peace and well-being of Jewish people, but all who hold a Judeo-Christian worldview.
Recently, as I visited with friends and was introduced to influential leaders at a prestigious event in the Jewish community, one person after another expressed deep appreciation for Christians who love and stand with Israel. All comments reflected the sentiment, “If it wasn’t for Bible-believing Christians, there would be no one standing with Israel.” Many feel isolated and friendless.
As the Jewish community celebrates Rosh Hashanah, choose to identify yourself as a Christian who stands in solidarity with them. Using Psalm 122 verse 6 as a template, pray that God will bring peace to the people of Israel and the Jewish people worldwide as we enter the year 5777.
Encourage Jewish friends, co-workers and acquaintances by reminding them that God has promised:
“Fear not, for I am with you;
Be not dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you,
Yes, I will help you,
I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.
Behold, all those who were incensed against you
Shall be ashamed and disgraced;
They shall be as nothing,
And those who strive with you shall perish” (Is. 41:10-11).
Authentic people of faith often ask, “What can I do to show my love for Israel?” While the answer sounds simplistic, the response requires a personal commitment to educate yourself, avail yourself of opportunities to speak-up and a willingness to use the resources God has entrusted to you to put action behind words:
- Stay informed about issues related to Israel.
- Be an outspoken advocate to stop misinformation from being disseminated unopposed.
- Get involved; do something!
- Use your talents and resources to bless Israel (Gen. 12:3).
- Pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Ps.122:6).
The words of the prophet Isaiah instruct as we stand in solidarity with Israel and the Jewish people:
“For Zion’s sake I will not hold My peace,
And for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,
Until her righteousness goes forth as brightness,
And her salvation as a lamp that burns” (Is. 62:1).
Charles E. McCracken is an international Bible teacher, long-time friend of Israel and advocate for the Jewish people. Rev. McCracken is known for authenticity in communicating biblical truth that makes his presentations relevant for those seeking to understand the significance of Israel and the church in Bible prophecy. He staunchly supports the nation of Israel and the Jewish people’s right to exist and live in peace.
© Charles E. McCracken 2016, devotional comments only. Repost/Reprint with permission from the author. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved. (Emphasis added.)
1) Sybil Kaplan, “The Pomegranate: A Rosh Hahsanah Symbol, The Connecticut Jewish Ledger, September 3, 2010.
2) JNi.Media, “Yes We Have Sweet, Edible, Seedless Pomegranates, Just in Time for Rosh Hashanah”, The Jewish Press, September 25, 2016.
3) Gerald C. Skolnik, “A Prayer for the New Year”, The Jewish Week, September 9, 2015.
4) Wave of Terror 2015/16, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, September 20, 2016.
IMAGE AND AUDIO CREDITS:
1) The blowing of the shofar at the Western Wall in Jerusalem during the eve of Rosh Hashanah. Photo by Ohayon Avi, GPO. By http://www.flickr.com/people/69061470@N05 [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios
2) By Tfursten (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
3) Pomegranates featured at a ceremony of the Israel Gene Bank for plants from the Volcani Institute in Beit Dagan, Israel. Photo by MOSHE MILNER, By http://www.flickr.com/people/69061470@N05 [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios