My dear readers, since I publish my posts only once a month now – and this is a very special month indeed – I will discuss all the Fall holidays in this article. We are in the Hebrew month of Tishrei, the seventh month in the Hebrew calendar. As you all know, the number seven is very important in the Bible. What is the seventh day? Shabbat, of course, and just as the seventh day is a prophetic symbol of the future messianic kingdom, so is the seventh month: the journey of the soul to the joy of the messianic kingdom is gradually unfolding in this special month. Remarkably, Rosh Hashanah is the only holiday in the Jewish calendar that falls on the New Moon, the beginning of the Jewish new month — when the moon, previously hidden from our eyes, begins to appear gradually. Along with the moon, the mystery of His Fatherhood and His Kingdom becomes brighter and brighter as we advance from one holiday to another. Today, we are going to follow the journey of the soul symbolized and revealed by these special days.
Of course, we will begin with the first of Tishrei – Rosh Hashanah. The term “Rosh Hashanah” in its current meaning does not appear in the Bible. Leviticus 23:24 refers to the festival of the first day of the seventh month as Zikhron Teru’ah ([a] memorial [of] blowing [of Trumpets]); Numbers 29:1 calls the festival Yom Teru’ah (“Day [of] blowing [the Trumpet]”). Thus, the biblical Hebrew name for this holiday is Yom Teruah (יוֹם תְּרוּעָה), literally “day [of] shouting/blasting”, and is usually translated as the Feast of Trumpets. The only commandment we have in the Torah for this day is indeed the blowing (of the shofar). Why?
The blowing of the shofar is a symbol of enthronement and kingship. Scholars suggested that the sounding of the shofar indicates God’s enthronement for the New Year: on Rosh Hashanah, God created the world, and by blowing our shofars we proclaim Him as our King! While opening a new Jewish calendar year, Rosh HaShanah commemorates the anniversary of Creation. However, the day we celebrate as Rosh Hashanah, the first of Tishrei, is not actually considered the anniversary of Creation itself – rather, it is 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? Because, according to Jewish understanding, it is only when man was created that the whole of creation became meaningful In Rabbinic tradition, it is only the birth of humanity that made it possible for God to be proclaimed King. Therefore, when we blow Shofar on this day, it is akin to a coronation: we proclaim God’s enthronement and Kingship for yet another year. Thus, we come to the main theme of the High Holidays: God is King! God’s Kingship is the main theme of Rosh Hashanah and the Ten Days of Awe it inaugurates. The special prayers for these days are filled with references to God as King: we read the prayer “Avinu Malkeinu” every day during these special days.
To this traditional understanding, I would like to add a personal insight: I believe that the sound of the Shofar is a reminder to every soul (that is why it is called Yom Zichron Trua). We each have our own story, but there is a greater story that each of us is a part of, whether we are aware of it or not. Yom Zichron Trua is a reminder that we are part of His story. It is a reminder to each of us that we are not orphans in this world, that we have a true Father and this Father is King. If we recall also that in Scripture the word lizkor, “remember”, always means some action—when we read “And the Lord remembered Noah… Sarah… Joseph,” there is always some action following these words—we would understand that the awakening of the soul is only the starting point, after which the real action, the work of the soul, must follow. This work of the soul is the repentance that the Lord expects from the soul. The sound of the shofar awakens the soul on Rosh Hashanah—it remembers that it has a Father and a King, and it embarks on the path of awe and humility. Thus, we enter the next segment of this journey: the Days of Awe.
I believe these ten days symbolize the path of the awakened soul. This is the path of the soul, which first realizes that her Father is the King, and rejoices and trembles with happiness, but gradually understands that He is her King as well, and humbles herself under this knowledge: He is my King, He is my Master, He is my Lord. It is the same progression that we see in the Song of Songs—from the initial jubilation: My Beloved belongs to me, to the humble understanding: I belong to my Beloved. And thus, we arrive at Yom Kippur, when we are told to “humble our souls”.
By the time of Yom Kippur, the moon is almost full (but not completely full yet). The mystery continues to unfold. If we read Leviticus 16, the main text for Yom Kippur, we would understand that on Yom Kippur another and very important truth is revealed: we have a Redeemer, the One Who Himself redeems and purifies. No matter how impure we may be when we come to him, the King Himself purifies and redeems. He is our Redeemer and our High Priest. He redeems us and takes us as his children – and this is Chatima Tova!
And then, on the 15th of Tishrei, we get to the full moon and the full revelation of the mystery of Tishrei. The holiday of Sukkot begins five days after the Day of Atonement, on the 15th day of the month of Tishrei, טו’ בתשרי tet-vav be-Tishrei, on the full moon. What is the meaning of Sukkot and why, in the Bible, is Sukkot sometimes simply called “The Feast” (1 Kings 8:2) or “The Feast of the Lord” (Lev.23:39). What is so special about Sukkot?
According to Jewish tradition, on Yom Kippur, God forgave His people after their terrible sin of the Golden Calf, and Moses returned with the second set of tablets. However, it is only at Sukkot that God’s presence returned to abide among His people; it is only at Sukkot that those divine clouds covered the hand-made booths. That is why Sukkot is indeed the holiday of divine intimacy and divine presence! That is why Sukkot is the most joyous of the Biblical festivals. If Pesach is called the “Season of our Liberation,” and Shavuot is called the “Season of the Giving of our Torah,” Sukkot is called zman simchateinu, the “Season of our Joy”—because God, in His mercy, came to tabernacle with His people! This is the joy of Sukkot, the joy of God’s presence and thus, the mystery of Tishrei is unfolded and revealed. We are awakened by the shofar and reminded of our Father and our King on Rosh HaShanah; we humble ourselves before Him during the Days of Awe; He redeems and purifies us on Yom Kippur; and finally, we enter the full joy of His presence and our renewed fellowship with Him on Sukkot. The full moon reveals to us the prophetic and profound truth of the Messianic Kingdom that both Jews and Christians wait for with trembling hearts: one day, we will need neither sun nor moon, because He Himself will be our Light!
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