Shalom and Chag Sameach, dear friends! You probably know that here in Israel, we are entering a season called Chagim: Feasts, or Holidays. There are two Hebrew words that one commonly hears a during this season: Acherey Hachagim – “after the Holidays”. Everything is “frozen”, postponed, delayed for this time – but with a firm confidence that Acherey Hachagim – “after the Holidays” – everything will go back to normal. However, it’s all very different this year, and we are going to talk about that – but first, some basic information.
What is Rosh Hashana?
Rosh Ha-Shanah is celebrated on the first day of the month of Tishrei (רֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה). Rosh is the Hebrew word for “head”, shanah means year: therefore, Rosh HaShanah means Head [of] the Year, referring to the Jewish New Year. This term does not appear in the Torah. Leviticus 23:24 refers to the festival as Zikhron Teru’ah (“[a] memorial [of] blowing [of Trumpets]”). A memorial? What does Rosh Hashanah commemorate?
The word “memorial” – “Zikhron” – seems to be especially important here. Undoubtedly, there was a certain retrospective and commemorative significance in this blowing of the shofar, reminding Israel of the covenant relationship which God had entered into with them at Sinai: maybe, not all of my readers are aware of the fact, that the first mention of the trumpet in the Torah is connected to the events at Sinai: “And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long and waxed louder and louder Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice”. However, the important point not to be missed is that this term, “memorial” (zikhron), refers not only to the past. “In Leviticus, the term ‘memorial‘ … should be rendered ‘a reminding‘ of something present, or of something just at hand, rather than ‘memorial’, which suggests the past … The word may in other connections call attention to the past, but … its very usual sense is calling attention to things coming on and not yet actually arrived”. Thus, the Feast of the Trumpets is not only a commemoration, but is also a prophetic Feast, calling attention to things to come, but not yet actually here.
Why is this Year Different?
Even though it’s not Passover season, I would like to quote from the Passover Haggadah: “why is this night different from all other nights?” God wants us to be attentive and watchful. There is no doubt that the Biblical Feasts are God’s messages to His people and to humanity as a whole, and there is an amazing blessing in the continuity of these messages. However, when the message is interrupted by something – when it’s different from previous years – this difference is also very significant, and we certainly don’t want to miss the meaning of it.
There are two very significant factors that make this Rosh Hashanah different from previous years. The first and most obvious one is, of course, COVID-19: once again (as Passover was), it will be a very unusual celebration here in Israel. Once again, due to the coronavirus lockdown, we will not celebrate with relatives and friends; moreover, once again, we can’t actually leave our homes for several days. Locked in our homes, we are finishing this incredibly difficult year – and yet, we are also are starting the new one, hoping for a new beginning, for the renewal of the whole creation, for a reboot, using today’s terminology (like we reboot computer, when something goes wrong). Every day God is renewing His work of creation – but on Rosh Ha-Shanah this renewal is especially powerful and significant. Don’t we all want this reboot, this renewal? Don’t we all want His sovereign intervention?
Rosh Hashanah is also the Day of Judgment: Yom HaDin – and it opens the Ten Days of Awe ending with Yom Kippur. Even though God always wants us to turn and to return to Him, I believe He waits especially intently and expectantly during this period. God’s Kingship and our repentance are the main themes of Rosh Hashanah and the ten days of Judgment that follow. Tomorrow, Israel will enter these special days with trepidation in terms of COVID-19, and with total quarantine – but maybe, locked down for these Days of Awe in our homes, we will be drawn to repent, to pray, to plead with our King? Like our Prime Minister said in his speech announcing the lockdown: this is indeed a time for prayers.
So God Created Man
There is another very special thing about Rosh Ha-Shanah this year. You probably know that in Judaism, Rosh Hashanah commemorates the creation of the world. However, the day we celebrate as Rosh Hashanah – the first of Tishrei – is not actually considered the anniversary of Creation; it is considered the anniversary of the sixth day of Creation, when Adam and Eve were created. The anniversary of the first day of Creation would be five days before, on the twenty-fifth day of Elul, Why then, do we celebrate Rosh Hashanah on the first of Tishrei?
According to Jewish understanding, it is only when a man was created that the whole of creation became meaningful. We see this clearly in the very first chapter of the Torah, where the slow ascent of the cosmic drama culminates in the creation of man. As we read the description of each day of creation, we feel the story building, then in Genesis 1:26-27 we come to the crescendo: So God created man in His own image… In Rabbinic tradition, it is only the birth of humanity that made it possible for God to be proclaimed King. Therefore, Rosh Hashanah is not just a Jewish Feast—it is the birthday of humankind!
And here is the amazing thing about Rosh HaShanah this year, that I wanted to share with you: this year, it actually happens on a Friday – on Yom Shishi, Sixth Day! As if entering this week, we actually enter the first chapter of Genesis and watch in awe His work of creation! Our Prime Minister announced this new lockdown on Yom Rishon (First Day); I am writing these lines on Monday, Yom Sheni (Second Day); you will probably read them on Thursday, Yom Hamishi (Fifth Day); but even then, you can look back and contemplate the amazing rhythm of this week: akin to Genesis 1, the whole week has been building up, and I feel like I’m climbing the stairs, taking a new step with each day, coming eventually to the amazing peak of Rosh Hashanah—on Yom Hashishi, the Sixth Day, when God created man!
I want you all to know that the birthday of humankind is tomorrow!
SHANAH TOVAH! HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Y’ALL!
 Ex. 19:19
 Dr. Andrew Bonar, Commentary on Leviticus.
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