Rosh Hashana – Happy New Year?

by Alexander Marks

A time of soul searching and sadness

Why is the Jewish New Year a time of sadness and weeping whereas the Gentile New Year’s Day is a time of gaiety and rejoicing? Unlike the Gentile New Year’s Day, Rosh Hashana is a time of soul-searching and sadness. On this day, according to Jewish tradition, there is a judgement in heaven, ”who shall live and who shall die.”

Why does the Jew weep and lament and pray to God on Rosh Hashana whereas the people of all other nations rejoice on the first day of the new year and hail one another with the greeting, “Happy New Year!”? Why should not the Jews do the same? It used to be so.

Before the destruction of the temple

We are told that before the destruction of the Temple by the king of Babylon in 607 B.C., all classes of the people of Israel, especially the young people, celebrated Rosh Hashana with noisemaking, with blowing of trumpets and with festivity. But after the destruction of the Temple, this day of joy was turned into a day of fear and terror. This change was an invention of the rabbis and it has implanted such a feeling of terror into the hearts of our Jewish people, that instead of celebrating this feast with shouts of joy and with trumpets, we observe it as a day of sadness and despair. How is this to be explained? The explanation is that the day has come to be associated with the forgiveness of sin.

In Leviticus 23:23,24, it says, “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall ye have a sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, an holy convocation.”

In the seventh month (Tishri) the children of Israel were to have not only the blowing of trumpets but also the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles. Why do we call the first day of Tishri “Rosh Hashana” instead of the “Blowing of Trumpets”? Because Satan has blinded us to the real meaning of the first day of Tishri which will be the ushering in of the “day of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7) and not New Year. The only place in our T’nach, our Jewish Old Testament, where Rosh Hashana is mentioned is Exodus 12:2, “This month (Nisan) shall be unto you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you.” The expression, “first of the year,” is in the Hebrew Rosh Chadasim, which means the head, the beginning of months.

Are we fooling ourselves?

Why then do the Jewish people fool themselves year after year by calling the first day of Tishri Rosh Hashana? The only explanation is that it is the work of Satan, who hates the Jews and is the instigator of Jew-hate in all ages. We have among our people a group of Jews who are called the “Chassidim.” The word means the “zealot ones.” These zealot Jews are considered righteous because of the sacrifices they make.

When I left for England on the Queen Elizabeth, I was escorted by a minister who was a conservative Englishman. While we were on deck talking to friends, I heard some unusual singing. I knew the singing did not come from Gentiles because the music was in the minor key. Since I am blind, I turned to my English friend and asked, “What is happening here?” Following the singing there was hand-clapping. My friend answered, “I see quite a number of young men who are dressed rather oddly. They are wearing black hats and long black coats; and they have beards.” I said, “They are probably Chassidim – zealot Jews – and spend a great deal of time in the study of the Scriptures. They give all of their spare time to prayer and are very fundamental in their belief in the Old Testament, believing completely in the inspiration of the Scriptures and the coming of the Messiah which they look forward to fervently.”

What do the rabbis say?

Turning to my English friend, I said, “Will you please take me over to them?” He answered, “I see an elderly man and I think he is a Rabbi.” He led me over and although I was not wearing a hat and felt at a disadvantage, I greeted this person with, “Shalom Alachem” (Peace be unto you). He graciously responded to my greeting. We fell into conversation in the course of which I asked him, “On Rosh Hashana and during the ‘ten terrible days’ following, do you consider yourself to be righteous?” He replied in a kindly tone, “Even the most righteous needs forgiveness of sins.”

Then I asked him, “Rabbi, is it not true that the ancient Rabbis taught that there are two Messiahs, a suffering Messiah, Ben Joseph (the son of Joseph), and the kingly Messiah Ben-David (the son of David)?” He replied, “Yes.”

“But,” I said, “there could not be two Messiahs, for is it not written in the book of our prophet Isaiah, chapter 53, verse 5, “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed,” which clearly indicates but one Messiah?”.

He was silent, even when I pointed out to him that the entire 53rd chapter of Isaiah was fulfilled in every detail in Jesus of Nazareth. However, even these zealot Hebrews, who love God and are absolutely absorbed in His Holy Scriptures, realize, as this Rabbi admitted, that they need forgiveness of sins.

I want to remind our Jewish people, as I also reminded this zealot Rabbi, that it is clearly stated in the book of Leviticus that “the priest (shall) make an atonement for you” in the seventh month (Tishri), on the tenth day of the month for the children of Israel, “And this shall be an everlasting statute unto you, to make an atonement for the children of Israel for all their sins once a year” (Leviticus 16:34). Our people have no earthly priest and no earthly tabernacle. What does this mean? Has God mocked us when He said that the priest was to make an atonement for the children of Israel once every year when we have no priest? What has happened?

There is an answer

There is an answer to this question in the Epistle to the Hebrews where the ordinances of the Levitical economy are shown to be mere types, or foreshadows of better things to come.

“For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect” (Hebrews 10:1).

Yes, the Levitical economy was abolished. “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldst not, but a body hast thou prepared me” (Hebrews 10:4,5).

Then we read in Psalm 40:7-8, (and it was prophetic), “Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God.” Who is this who was to come? Our Scriptures tell us plainly, “Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended? . . . what is his name, and what is his son’s name, if thou canst tell?” (Proverbs 30:4).

“Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (God with us) (Isaiah 7:14). “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

Who else but Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled this prophecy? Who else but Jesus of Nazareth came to be the Lamb of God, the one true Sacrifice to take away not only the sins of Israel but also the sins of the whole world? There is no forgiveness of sins apart from the sacrifice of our Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Our Jewish people are told that only the righteous ones can have their names inscribed in the Book of Life. I know of unrighteous ones whose names are inscribed in the Lamb’s Book of Life, their sins made “white as snow” as our prophet Isaiah says (Isaiah 1:18). How did that happen, you may ask. Because of their faith in the work that Messiah accomplished on the Cross of Calvary.

There are only two kinds of people in the world, those who believe in and have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord, Saviour and Messiah and those who have rejected Him. Not even the most devout Jew who rejects the Lord Jesus Christ as his Messiah can be counted among the righteous.

Our Rabbis teach us that besides the Book of Life there are two other books. One of these is the book wherein are inscribed the names of those who are not righteous and yet not unrighteous. They are in the middle. People in this group have to work during the “ten terrible days” by praying a great deal and by giving to the poor so that they can become righteous. The other is the book wherein are inscribed the names of the wicked. The rabbis say that the “ten terrible days” are not long enough for the wicked to become righteous. So much for what our Rabbis tell us about the three books. But what does the Word of God tell us?

What does the word of God tell us?

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “

“Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7).

It makes no difference how low a man or a woman may sink in sin, the Lord Jesus our Messiah can lift such a one out of the horrible pit and clothe him with the garment of salvation. As a result of our acceptance of Jesus Christ, we can stand before God as one pardoned and forgiven, and as perfect in His sight as His Son. Our greatest Jewish apostle, Paul, said, “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God who justfieth” (Romans 8:33).

So the “ten terrible days” are important days because they are days when we can search for forgiveness. I remember as a lad, after my Bar-Mitzvah, I was taken by my father during these “ten terrible days” to the cemetery. The Jewish cemeteries are crowded with people during this time who go to the graves of their departed righteous ones and pray to their spirits. We are asked to believe that these spirits hover over these graves, and the prayers offered are requests to the spirits to become the mediators of the living. Such an idea has no authority in our Scriptures. Listen, my Jewish friends: Don’t pray to the dead. Pray to the One Who said, “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore” (Revelation 1:18).

There is only One mediator between God and man, the Messiah (the Ben-Elohim) the Son of God. He and He only is our righteous Redeemer. When I am told by my people that they don’t need a mediator, I remind them that during the “ten terrible days” our dear orthodox brethren go to the cemeteries and pray to the dead. I invite you to pray to the Messiah Jesus, who according to the Hebrew prophets, died and rose again, and is now seated on the right hand of God and is our true Priest and Mediator.

The river Thames runs through London to the North Sea. I remember being taken there as a boy to see our Jewish brethren shake their garments over the river and recite the words, “He will cast our sins into the depths of the sea.” God is willing to do this for every Jew and Gentile who accepts Jesus the Messiah as Lord and Saviour. David, the sweet singer of Israel, said, “Blessed (happy) is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered (or atoned for)” (Psalm 32:1).


My dear reader, is your sin forgiven?

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8,9).

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