“Blessed is the nation that knows Tru’ah.” (Psalms 89:15)
During the entire sixth Hebrew month of Elul, Jewish people are engaged in a time of introspection and self-examination in preparation for the Biblical Fall Feasts and Festivals of the seventh month of Tishrei. Each morning of Elul, the shofar (ram’s horn or trumpet) is sounded – it’s piercing, haunting sound stirring our hearts to seek God and repent of the sin in our lives.
The sound of the shofar is like our soul crying out to the Righteous Judge for grace and mercy. Although every day is a good day to repent – to get our hearts right with God and all others – a traditional Jewish custom is to take this special time to honestly assess our spiritual condition.
Yeshua, our Messiah, also exhorted us to examine ourselves instead of judging others: “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:4)
A well-known and greatly respected Jewish sage of the Middle Ages, Maimonides, wrote that the sound of the shofar is like an alarm call as if to tell us: “Sleepers, arise from your slumber, and those who are dozing, awake from your lethargy. Review your actions, repent from your sins, and remember your Creator!”
In the New Testament we are also exhorted to WAKE UP out of our spiritual slumber and make the most of our time, not following vanity or frivolous pursuits but loving and following God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Messiah will shine on you. Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:14-16)
We need to truly wake up out of our spiritual slumber and work while there is still light, for our redemption draws near. “And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” (Romans 13:11)
A Jewish custom that takes place the day before ‘Rosh Hashana’ is for Orthodox Jewish men to be immersed in the mikvah – a water purification ritual similar to baptism. It is within this Hebraic context that we may better understand the mission of John the Baptist (called Yochanan the Immerser) who called for repentance at the time of the Fall Feasts at the river Jordan.
“Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ ” (Matthew 3:1-2)
Slichot סליחות confessions
During this time, special psalms are read and prayers recited called Slichot סליחות (forgiveness). It comes from the Hebrew word ‘slichah’ סליחה which means ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘forgive me’. Although we strive to live a pure and holy life before God, all of us sin and fall short of the glory of God, therefore we need to repent.
“Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the LORD.” (Lamentations 3:40)
During this month of Elul, may we each be challenged to take a look deep within us, asking the Holy Spirit to shine His light on any areas of sin in our lives, or hidden in our hearts with which we need to deal.
As the Psalmist David composed: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalms 139:23-24)
A traditional Jewish custom is to go to each person with whom there may be some kind of breach in relationship, and to say, “I’m sorry”. Bringing reconciliation to broken relationships is so crucial to our spiritual life that the Word of God instructs us to leave everything at the altar and first go make it right with the person who may be holding something against us. (Matthew 5:24)
Coming from an Orthodox Jewish home before coming to faith in Yeshua the Messiah, I remember how my blessed mother used to come to each of us children every year before the ‘High Holy Days’ (as these fall festivals are commonly called), asking forgiveness for any way she may have sinned against us. It is truly a beautiful custom from which we could all learn to freely give and receive forgiveness, not only from God but from one another.
The first of these Biblical Fall Feasts is traditionally called ‘Rosh Hashana’, a Hebrew word meaning, ‘head of the year’. A Jewish custom is to eat the head of a fish (rosh dag) at the festive meal, bringing to mind the promise that God will make us the “head and not the tail; above and not beneath.” (Deuteronomy 28:13)
Other foods eaten on the holiday are pomegranates, which symbolize fruitfulness and fertility due to the many seeds inside the fruit. In Israel, the trees are loaded down with ripe pomegranates at this fall season in time for the holiday.
Instead of the usual braided challah loaf of bread, a round challah is eaten with the meal to symbolize the cycle of life. Apples are dipped in honey and eaten in the hope for a sweet year.
Since this festival occurs in the seventh month in the Hebrew calendar, why is it considered the Jewish New Year? This seems especially puzzling since the Bible tells us that the actual New Year begins in the spring (Aviv), in the month of Nissan.
“This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year.” (Exodus 12:2)
Traditional Judaism, however, celebrates Rosh Hashana as a commemoration of the Creation of the Universe and the birth of Adam and Eve, although there are some who claim that this tradition comes out of the Jewish Babylonian exile and reflects the many changes that were incorporated into Judaism from non Biblical and even pagan sources.
Just as mainstream Christianity has adopted several customs with ‘questionable origins’ , so has modern day Judaism. Most Jewish people celebrate Rosh Hashana as a “Jewish New Year’; Messianic Judaism, however, seeks to return to the ancient ways and to follow a more Biblical path according to the truth of God’s written Word.
This biblical festival is so awesome and rich in meaning; and yet it has been somewhat ‘watered down’ in traditional Judaism from its true meaning to a mostly secular ‘new year’ celebration. In the Bible, this festival is not called Rosh Hashana, but rather Yom Zikaron Tru’ah (Feast of Trumpets). It is a difficult phrase to translate literally, but Yom Zikaron means ‘remembrance day’ and ‘truah’ is a Hebrew word for ‘shout, blast, battle cry or alarm’.
Usually, these days of the festival are marked by hearing repeated blasts of the shofar. The sound of the shofar is not meant to comfort but to disturb us out of our complacency – to ‘sound the alarm’, to call to arms, to warn us of imminent danger!
Sound the Alarm
“Blow the shofar in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming. It is close at hand.” (Joel 2:1)
Actually, the word ‘shofar’ שופר comes from a Hebrew root word ‘shaper’ שפר which means ‘to improve’. The shofar calls us to improve our inner character – to be more and more conformed into the image of our Creator, Elohim.
The sound of the shofar was so powerful that it shook Mt. Sinai and its sound even brought down the walls of Jericho. Obviously, the shofar is an instrument of great spiritual significance.
The blast (or in Hebrew ‘tru’ah’) of the shofar (ram’s horn) represents the voice of God to His people. On Mt. Sinai, on the third day, amidst the booming thunder, flashes of lightning and a dense cloud, “the sound of the shofar was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled.” (Exodus 19:16)
Exactly why do we blow the shofar on Yom Zikaron Tru’ah?
We know it is a commandment but the reasons are not specifically stated. “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: “In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a sabbath-rest, a memorial of blowing the shofar, (Shabbaton Zikron Tru’ah) a holy convocation (mikreh kodesh). “ (Leviticus 23:24)
The shofar is blown for several reasons:
* to mark the arrival of a new moon
* to celebrate a simcha (joyous occasion)
* to proclaim liberty to the captives
* to hail a king at his coronation
* to warn of impending judgment
* to gather troops to battle
* to sound an alarm
* to call a sacred assembly and time of fasting
* to confuse the enemy camp
* to draw God’s attention
THE SHOFAR IN WARFARE
Today, the shofar is being re-discovered as a powerful instrument of spiritual warfare and is being blown, not only in Jewish synagogues, but also in Christian Churches and Messianic Congregations all over the world.
The Bible contains many references to the shofar being used in battle. Joshua and his Israelite army took the enemy city of Jericho with the great tru’ah (shout) and the sounding of the shofarot (plural of shofar). Jericho was a walled city – a stronghold of the enemy standing between Israel and their possession in the Promised Land. It took the shofar and the tru’ah to break down the walls.
It can do the same in our own lives when faced with a ‘walled city’ or stronghold of the enemy that stands in the way of us and our inheritance in the Lord.
“When the shofarot sounded, the people shouted, and at the sound of the shofar, when the people gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so every man charged straight in, and they took the city.” (Joshua 6:20)
THE SHOFAR IN PROPHECY
Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah will return with a tru’ah (shout!) and the shofar call of God;
“For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the shofar call of God, and the dead in Messiah will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)
This is the true meaning and spiritual significance of Yom Zikaron Tru’ah – not for a ‘happy new year’’ but to wake up and remember that the Messiah is returning soon and we must prepare ourselves to be ready!
THE SHOFAR IN JUDGMENT
The sounding of the shofarot begins in Revelation 8:7 with the outpouring of God’s judgments upon the earth. Seven angels standing before God in heaven are given seven shofarot to sound. The earth is struck with plagues similar to the plagues God used to destroy Egypt, including hail, water turned to blood, locust, frogs, and darkness.
The seventh and final shofar signals the rule and reign of the Messiah on earth, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Messiah, and He shall reign forever and ever!” (Revelation 11:15)
What is the voice of God saying to us as the body of Messiah through the call of the shofar? Wake up! The day of the Lord is near – a day of darkness, distress and wrath – a day of the shofar and tru’ah! (Zephaniah 1:14-16)
We have only so much daylight left while we may still work; for soon the darkness will be upon us. Let’s determine to make the most of the time we have left to serve the Lord with all our hearts and walk in obedience and courage for His coming Kingdom.
“God has gone up with a shout (tru’ah), the LORD with the sound of a trumpet (shofar). Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises!” (Psalms 47:5-7)