Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year, year 5774) sets off the solemn time for Jewish people around the world. The 10 days that follow, culminating with Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), are called the Days of Awe. It’s a time to take stock of one’s life, literally an “accounting of the soul” (in Hebrew: cheshbon nefesh). In other words, it’s a time to assess one’s walk of faith, and repenting of sin.
Interestingly, the shofar or ram’s horn is used frequently as a symbol of awakening one’s attention during this penitential season. The blowing of the shofar takes place throughout Elul, the Hebrew month preceding Rosh Hashanah. According to Keren Hannah Pryor, “The month of Elul is considered a particular time for repentance and reconciliation with God. There are forty days between the first day of Elul and Yom Kippur. These correspond biblically with the forty days between the day (the first of Elul) that Moses saw the Israelites worshipping the Golden Calf and broke the first set of tablets carrying the Ten Words or Commandments of God and, after ascending Mount Sinai to intercede and plead for God’s Divine pardon, the day (the tenth of Tishrei) that he returned with the second set of tablets” (See the full article entitled, Change Takes Planning). This gives us Gentile Christians insight into the carefulness with which our religious Jewish friends approach these most solemn days. Indeed we have something valuable to learn from our Jewish community.
Teshuvah, or repentance marks the actions of the heart of those who approach the Days of Awe seriously. Again as Karen Pryor suggests, teshuvah is a “loving gift from our faithful Father. It is, in fact, a supernatural gift – a process that is above the forces of nature. The Creator set the laws of nature in place, day follows night, time marches on, death follows life and penalty follows sin.” Additionally, as Jewish author Avraham Finkel describes: Time is reversible, the past can be undone, a wasted life can be restored; “God is close to all who call to Him – to all who call Him with sincerity” (Psalm 145:18). What a wonderful promise!
The reading of passages such as Deuteronomy 30 just prior to these High Holidays carries a Divine promise of the joyful time when the hearts of all Israel will return to God and will yield to His will in loving obedience. Moses’ words capture the essence of this promise, “You will do everything that I am commanding you today; you and your children will repent with all your heart and with all your soul” (30:2).
Christian communities would benefit modeling the practices of preparation and repentance. Setting aside times for quieting ourselves before a Holy God and assessing our heart’s condition. In Yeshua / Jesus, our High Priest, we can blow the shofar in celebration of the forgiveness we find through the cross.