Rosh Hashanah & The Days of Awe

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.’”

On the first day of the seventh month, the cycle of the final harvest begins.  There are actually three separate “feasts” beginning with what is commonly called “Rosh Hashanah”  which in Hebrew means “head of the year.” Although the Bible tells us that God’s calendar begins in the spring, according to Jewish tradition, this is the beginning of the year for the trees!  Obviously this is biblically incorrect.  We will address this error following. Unlike all the other holy days, God is silent regarding the meaning of this day.  So when the Bible is silent, Jewish tradition speaks. Tradition teaches that the holy days begin what the rabbis call “The Ten Days of Awe.”

The Days of Awe

The ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) are traditionally designated as a time of preparation for judgment. It is believed that on the first day, God opens three books:

  1. The Book of Life
  2. The Book of Death
  3. The Book of Suspension

Into the first two books go the names of either the exceptionally righteous or the exceptionally wicked. The former are granted another year of life, while the latter are immediately sentenced to death. It is said that all the other names go into the Book of Suspension.   Then at the end of the 10 days, On Yom Kippur, God reviews every life and passes judgement – life or death for the next year. Thus the Days of Awe become frantic times of reflection, repentance, and attempts at reconciliation. The common greeting among the Jewish people at this time is:  May your name be inscribed in the Book of Life! Sadly, although people hope God will forgive them, they have no assurance of His forgiveness.

Rosh HaShana? 

So what is the correct name for this holy day?   The Torah (Leviticus 23: 23-25) calls this holiday, “the memorial of the great shout or blast” [in Hebrew truah]. Even calling it the “feast of Trumpets” is a misnomer. There is little else the Bible tells us about this special day other than to do no customary work. But perhaps a word study on truah and its oft used synonym shofar sheds substantial information. Here is a sampling of the uses of these two words:

  • Alarm for war and a signal to march
  • Shout for joy
  • Praise to God
  • Call to repentance
  • Coronation of a king

I suggest (and for once I agree with the rabbis who likewise believe) this holiday is really about the King of Israel. I further suggest that the reason the Bible is so silent about this memorial is because it commemorated the most incredible event in all of history – the incarnation.  

To order:

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