On the Jewish calendar, the Days of Awe” begin tonight (Sunday night) with Rosh Hashanah. This marks the first of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, and this year’s New Year ushers in the year 5773. What follows is not only these Ten Days of Repentance, but also nearly a month of special days.
Following two actual days of Rosh Hashanah this Monday and Tuesday and the Fast of Gedaliah on Wednesday (commemorating the end of Jewish rule in the Land of Israel following the destruction of the First Holy Temple in 586 BC), Shabbat Shuva, the Sabbath of Repentance comes Friday night into Saturday.
The solemn Fast of Yom Kippur ends these holy days on the tenth day of Tishrei. Special verses about repentance are added to the silent Amidah prayer (Judaism’s central prayer, also called Shmoneh Esreh, or “18 Blessings”) said three times daily during these ten days. Sukkoth, or Tabernacles, the holiday of joy, follows five days later. People live in booths (succa) just as the early Israelites did coming out of Egypt into the Sinai Desert. The observance of Sukkoth is actually mentioned in John 7.
In Hebrew, the word for repentance is teshuvah. It is a time of introspection considering one’s sins and acknowledging them before a Holy God.
Rosh Hashanah has been also called the Day of the Sounding of the Shofar. Based on the commandment in Numbers 29:1, 100 shofar blasts are dramatically sounded throughout the prayer times within this New Years’ service. Traditionally, the congregation refrains from speech from the first shofar blasts until the last ones at the end of the service. Symbolic foods (simanim) are enjoyed following the service as well in Jewish homes. They include pomegranates (for our merits to be numerous), beets and carrots (for our enemies to be destroyed), apples dipped in honey (symbolizing a sweet year), and fish heads (that we lead rather than follow).
Christians have much to consider when seeing the detail and depth of observance our Jewish friends practice throughout this fall festival season. Presenting the very best of ourselves to God is at the core of these various festivals. Perhaps Paul captures some of this when he exhorts is to “offer ourselves as living sacrifices” to God (Romans 12:1-2).
So take time to usher in each new day with a reflection, a spirit of repentance, and a intentional desire to celebrate God’s provision!