Of all the Jewish holidays, Rosh Hashanah is the most obscure holiday in the Torah. The Torah does not reveal to us what exactly the precepts of the holiday are, and what is its meaning. What is clear to us is only the main commandment of blowing of the shofar.
Nehemiah 8 describes for us the first Rosh Hashanah, after the return from the Babylonian exile:
“Then he said to them, ‘Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’” – Nehemiah 8:10 [NKJV]
Here Ezra and Nehemiah are telling the people, “today is holy, today we begin the 10 Days of Awe before the Day of Atonement, but do not grieve, on the contrary: ‘eat the fat, drink the sweet.’” We are meant to rejoice on Rosh Hashanah.
As the people of Israel, we see the eating of the fat and sweet things, as a symbol of a happy and sweet year, a fat and hearty year in agriculture, work, livelihood and family, that we will have happy and sweetness alongside our loved ones.
Numbers 29 lists the five main holidays in the Hebrew calendar:
Passover, Shavuot (Pentecost), Sukkot, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur. On four of these holidays, we understand the meaning and reason for the existence of the holiday, and the reason for doing things like building a Sukkah or eating matzah.
Rosh Hashanah, however, is a little less clear to us. In the Torah it is called the “Feast of Trumpets”. Judaism attributes this as being the start of the new year, the first of 10 days of repentance, which are a time of repentance and forgiveness, in preparation for the Day of Atonement.
What is the source of Rosh Hashanah’s uniqueness as a day of repentance, forgiveness, and atonement? The holiday makes no mention of the subject of repentance. The Bible simply states:
“And in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work. For you it is a day of blowing the trumpets.” – Numbers 29:1 [NKJV]
According to the Torah, there is only one mitzvah that belongs to Rosh Hashanah – the blowing of the shofar: “For you it is a day of blowing the trumpets.” What’s the point of the commandment to blow a trumpet? This also does not appear in the Torah, neither explicitly nor indirectly.
In the Torah there is no hint of a conceptual connection or closeness between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). Why does Jewish tradition connect Rosh Hashanah with Yom Kippur as the “Days of Awe”?
As the New Testament can be understood deeper in the light of the Torah, so the Torah can also be understood deeper in the light of the New Testament. Again, it is one canon of Scripture, of the Living Word of God, and this is how we are supposed to read and understand the totality of Scripture, as a single whole.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 14:8:
“For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?” – 1 Corinthians 14:8 [NKJV]
Some traditional interpretations use the same idea as the one that Paul is raising – war and spiritual war, linking the idea of spiritual war with Rosh Hashanah, which is a day of blowing the trumpets. In a time of physical war, when the enemy approaches, we must blow the trumpets.
“When you go to war in your land against the enemy who oppresses you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, and you will be remembered before the Lord your God, and you will be saved from your enemies.” – Numbers 10:9 [NKJV]
This verse emphasizes that during tribulations, Israel does not stand alone, God is standing by our side. But God’s help is not “automatic”.
We must blow the trumpet, and as a result, it is as if we are brought to God’s attention, and then He will save us from our enemies that rise up against us. In times of trouble, we turn to Him, and He will save us.
As believers, we encounter two different kinds of dangers: physical war and spiritual war. And 10 days before the Day of Atonement, we blow the shofar and ask God to come and deliver us spiritually.
And here we see the aspect of repentance, and mental preparation before the Day of Atonement. The blowing of the shofar reminds us of the need to repent, the need to correct our ways, and in addition, the blowing of the shofar brings us up before God for help, for salvation.
The Torah teaches us that without this combination of repentance and sacrifice there is no forgiveness of sins. Yeshua is our sacrifice, but the responsibility of repentance rests on our own shoulders.
The shofar also alerts us, Jews who believe in Yeshua as the Messiah of Israel and the world, to repent, to return to our Messiah, to return to security in our salvation.
During Rosh Hashanah it is customary to read “The Binding of Isaac”. It is as if we do this to remind God that, in the end, He took pity on Isaac, and at the last moment, God saved him. So is the hope that at the last moment, on the Day of Judgment, God will have mercy on us.
But more than that, we, the people of Israel, remember that Isaac was not sacrificed. Instead, a ram was sacrificed. We hope that this will be the case for as as well on the Day of Judgment.
And indeed it is, in the sacrifice of Yeshua the Messiah. It was Yeshua who was sacrificed in our place, He paid the price in full. In Yeshua, we can stand on Judgment Day.
According to tradition, each text has four layers of interpretation. These are explained in a Hebrew acronym called “Pardes”: “Peshat”, “Remez”, “Derash”, and “Sōd”.
“Peshat” refers to the literal meaning of the text. “Remez” is where the text hints to an additional meaning that is different than what we understand in the literal sense.
In “Derash”, the text hides within it a parable with a deeper meaning, and when we decipher it, then we understand additional texts that are conceptually related to it. “Sōd” is the most complex, and it contains secrets that few are able to discover or understand.
The New Testament is full of each of these layers of interpretation. The New Testament interprets the Torah in each of these methods of interpretation. It illuminates a lot of issues, and produces an entire “Pardes” (“pardes” is also the Hebrew word for “orchard”).
In the New Testament, we find the following verse:
“And they said to one another, ‘Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?’” – Luke 24:32 [NKJV]
Yeshua walked with the disciples and explained the Scriptures to them, revealed secrets to them (“Sōd”), and further understanding regarding the “Peshat”, the literal meaning of the text.
Here is an example of an interpretation in the New Testament of a scripture in the Torah:
When we read the story of the binding of Isaac, we do not know what is happening in Abraham’s head. We do not know what storm of emotions he is going through. We don’t know what he’s thinking. We can imagine, but not know.
Then comes the author of Hebrews and reveals to us a “secret” (“Sōd”), something that can not be revealed without revelation from God.
“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son… concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.” – Hebrews 11:17,19 [NKJV]
Abraham thinks and believes that Isaac will be raised from the dead. This is a “secret” that can know only by divine revelation.
But in the story of the binding of Isaac there is also a “Derash”, a deeper meaning, since there is a great similarity between this story and the story of Yeshua the Messiah.
Mount Moriah, according to tradition, is the abode of the Temple. Isaac carries the wood on his back, as one who bears a cross. This leads to a binding-crucifixion parallel, the scope and complexity of which also appear in Jewish art, for example, the painting “The Sacrifice of Isaac” by Marc Chagall.
Isaac asks where the lamb is hiding. Which lamb? The Lamb of God?
There is a “Remez”, a hint, in the word “lamb”. It alludes to the connection between the binding and the Passover sacrifice, and both of them to Yeshua.
The number three – three days Abraham travels, and three days Yeshua was in the grave, and three times Yeshua prays in the Garden of Gethsemane.
And of course the similarities between the following sayings:
“…This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” – Matthew 3:17b [NKJV]
“…Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love…” – Genesis 22:2a [NKJV]
Abraham is loading his donkey, and here there’s another hint, because a donkey alludes to the Messiah, who says:
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey.” – Zechariah 9:9 [NKJV]
This is one of the verses that brings forth the idea that the Messiah comes upon a donkey, therefore the Talmud notes:
“One who sees a donkey in a dream should anticipate salvation.” – Berakhot 56b
Hence the famous Hebrew phrase, “The Messiah’s Donkey”. Yeshua entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey.
And in conclusion, we see Isaac’s willingness to be sacrificed. Abraham was very old at the time. If the boy wanted to, he could easily be released from the grip of his father, saving himself.
This is another hint (“Remez”), alluding to Yeshua’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane:
“He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, ‘O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.’” – Matthew 26:39 [NKJV]
We touched on the “Sōd”, the “Derash”, and the “Remez” in the story of the binding of Isaac. However, it is important to go back to the literal meaning, the “Peshat”, to the most basic interpretation of the verse:
“Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham…” – Genesis 22:1a [NKJV]
And this brings us back to the ground. We understand that this is the true meaning of faith in God. When we do not understand the reasoning behind what we are commanded to do, yet we hurry to fulfill the commandments anyway.
Let us all have a Happy New Year, a year of health, a year of success, and of love.
But most importantly, may we have a year of light, that we will walk in the light of God’s word.
Happy Rosh Hashanah!
This article originally appeared on Netivyah, September 17, 2020, and reposted with permission.