This Tuesday evening, September 7, begins Rosh Hashanah, the day of shouting or blasting!

Rosh Hashana means: ‘head of the new year.’

In the Jewish calendar, the New Year begins on the first day of the seventh month, Tishre, as Rosh Hoshanah. This is a specific time that marks the beginning of the year for the reckoning of years, sabbatical cycles and the jubilee. But most importantly, Rosh Hashanah is where judgment enters in and intersects with mankind. It’s the time when our fate stands in the balance as God reviews our past year and decides whether or not to renew our lease on His planet. As such, Jewish greetings for this time of year reflect our prayers for a good, sweet year up ahead.

The general greeting many use to denote this entire season is “Shanah tovah” (שנה טובה), which means “Good year.” The word “u’metuka” (ומתוקה), and sweet, is sometimes appended to the end.

Before Rosh Hashanah, people wish each other “Ketivah v’chatima tovah”(כתיבה וחתימה טובה) “A good inscription and sealing in the Book of Life.” On Rosh Hashanah eve, as the Jewish people return from their synagogue service, they would traditionally greet one another with “Leshana tovah tikatev v’tichatem” (לשנה טובה תכתב ותחתם). This means, “May you be written and sealed for a good year.”

The Jewish people believe that from noon on Rosh Hashanah, the fates of people are written, and at Yom Kippur the fates of the coming year are sealed. Thus, they greet each other with, “Gemar chatimah tovah” (גמר חתימה טובה), “A good final sealing.”

In Deuteronomy 23:24, we discover the day of the sounding of the shofar! Other than offering a few very unique offerings, the sounding of the shofar is the sole responsibility of every man, woman, and child in Israel to hear. Rabbi Yohanan Nuri instructed, “The blasting of the ram’s horn is to be done by the person who was saying the blessing of the sacrificial service with thanksgiving and sharing the priestly blessing” There are three major themes that are woven into and through Rosh Hashanah — kingship, remembrance, and shofar.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are intrinsically tied to one another. The Jews are taught that “all people are judged on Rosh Hashanah and the verdict is issued on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).” Rabbi Yohanan, a second-century Sage, teaches that three books are open on Rosh Hashanah: one for the completely righteous, one for the completely wicked, and one for those in between, that is, average human beings. The first two books are sealed on Rosh Hashanah; the last is kept in suspension until Yom Kippur so that “if they do well, they are inscribed in the Book of Life and if they do not do well, they are inscribed in the Book of Death” (B. Rosh Hashanah 16b). The period of time from the first day of the month to the tenth eventually came to be known as the “Ten Days of Awe” and thus links them together.

It is interesting that the notion of judgment is nowhere mentioned in the Torah in connection with Rosh Hashanah, and yet, when we examine the psalms that are connected with a possible ancient New Year celebration, we see that they embody this concept of judgment and repentance. After describing the proclamation of God as king, Psalms 96 and 98 conclude with the idea that God is coming “to judge the earth; He will judge the world in righteousness and its peoples in faithfulness.” In God’s role as Judge and Ruler of the world, God is responsible for judgment. Herein then, is the direct ideological connection between the New Year, marking the beginning of God’s reign and the idea of a godly judgment of the earth.

While the focus of Rosh Hashanah is on human responsibility and divine judgment, that of Yom Kippur is on human failure and divine forgiveness. We sin, but our failure can be mitigated; we can obtain forgiveness. By asking for forgiveness during Seliḥot, we gain atonement (kaparah).
Judgment and forgiveness are connected by the possibility of repentance (teshuvah), which is emphasized in the interval between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the ten days of repentance (aseret yemei teshuvah).

A window into the wider world of God’s love and grace for His creation is that His judgment does not lead to our automatic punishment, but rather we are given ten days of awe in which to change, to repent, and to be granted at-one-ment.

On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, let us prayerfully consider God’s Word for the dawn of this new year, 5782. This is the year of the Voice Of The Son. Boundaries will be drawn, space will be made for the new thing that God is birthing out of the pains we’ve experienced in 5781. This is the year that governments will experience great change – old things are crumbling, new things are emerging. This is the year that the voice of our Shepherd King will be heard. He who holds the golden scepter of God will triumph in His mercy and in His judgment. This is the year, 5782, that those battered by adversity and bludgeoned by persecution will find their refuge in the house of God.

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