Rosh Hashanah - It's A New Year

by Keith Macnaughtan

That the Jewish people, as a nation, are distinct and different from all other nations is a truth which is often emphasized. Do they sometimes wish it were not so? -- apart from any other aspect of this matter, Gentiles themselves have never allowed this truth to be forgotten! As Jewish writers have often pointed out, the so-called "Jewish problem" is, in reality, a problem the Gentiles themselves have created by their ever-recurring interference in Jewish affairs.

But one point of minor distinction is this: unlike, we suppose, any other nation, our Jewish friends recognize two New Years, the respective days being separated by some seven of their months!

We may distinguish between them by saying that one is of sacred, the other of secular, origin. One has its origin in the Bible, in Tenach; the other stems from rabbinical rather than Mosaic authority. One was decreed in connection with Israel's Egypt-experience; the other issued from the calculations of Jewish Talmudists. One falls on the first day of Nisan, the other on the first day of Tishri.

The Rosh Hashanah of Torah

That of divine origin is referred to in Exodus 12:1,2 "And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, This month shall be unto you the beginning of months, it shall be the first month of the year to you."

And how great and far-reaching were the events of that month! On the tenth day of Nisan (or Abib) the passover lambs were to be selected; on the fourteenth day they were to be slain and their blood applied to the lintels and door-posts of the houses of the people of Israel. On the evening of that day their roasted flesh was to be eaten by the Hebrews who were to be attired and equipped as for journeying. In that same night the death-angel from the Lord would smite the firstborn of the families of Egypt, "from the firstobrn of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne even unto the firstborn of the maid-servant that is behind the mill" -- yes, and even "all the firstborn of beasts"

In that same month, on the fifteenth day, Israel's march to freedom and to nationhood would begin, an exodus that would terminate, a generation later, in the conquest and possession of the land of promise. And that month, "the beginning of months" , would see their miraculous deliverance at the Red Sea from the pursuing Egyptian host, and the dreadful destruction by drowning of the military power of Egypt. Ah, how many mighty events were crowded into Nisan, into Abib, into the month which by divine decree, was to be the first month of the year for the Covenant Nation!

"In the Beginning God Created . . . "

By contrast, Rosh Hashanah, the first day of Tishri, has its association with rabbinical speculation. Ancient rabbis supposed that it was on that day that the world was created. So for this year the fist of Tishri (or, in the common calendar, September 18th) marks the 5743rd year from creation.

As Rabbi Brasch of Sydney wrote ( The Star of David, page 28), "Christian nations commence the era of their calendar with the birth of Christ and Moslems with Mohammed's flight from Mecca to Medina. The ancient Greeks used the Olympic Games as their measuring rod of time, while the Romans counted the years from the foundation of their capital.

"Applying parallel principles, the Jewish calendar might have commenced with Abraham's birth, Moses' flight from Egypt, or Joshua's conquest of the Holy Land. Yet none of these dates or events was chosen. The Jew related his calendar not to any part of his own history, but the universe itself, counting his years 'from the creation of the world' . . . Religion is concerned with the essence of man. Though the actual figure of the Jewish year as scientific statement is quite fictitious, its importance as a religious symbol is most vital.

"Here history is contemplated not from the narrow national point of view but in the perspective of eternity. Life is seen not in fragments but in its totality; mankind not as separate races, nations and peoples, but as one humanity."

But we must not give the impression that Tishri the first is of no scriptural significance.

Whatever may be our view as to the ancient arithmetical activities which located creation on that day, we must remember that, in the Law of the Lord, it is of no small importance.

At Sinai it was decreed (as we learn from Leviticus 23:24,25) "In the seventh month, in the first day of the month" – and that, of course, is the first of Tishri – "shall ye have a sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, an holy convocation. Ye shall do no servile work therein, but ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord." And this occasion was to be followed by others of deep spiritual significance, all within that seventh month, the month of Tishri.

After the Exile and Tishri the First

Later Hebrew history recorded in the Sacred Word has some interesting references to the first day of Tishri. Ezra tells us of the Jews who returned from the Babylonian exile: "And when the SEVENTH month was come, and the children of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered themselves together as one man to Jerusalem. Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and his brethren, and builded the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings thereon, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God . . . FROM THE FIRST DAY OF THE SEVENTH MONTH" – note the date! - "began they to offer burnt offerings unto the Lord . . . " (Ezra 3:1-6)

In Nehemiah, too, there is an interesting reference: " – all Israel dwelt in their cities: and when the SEVENTH month came, the children of Israel were in their cities. And all the people gathered themselves together as one man . . . and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded to Israel. And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, UPON THE FIRST DAY OF THE SEVENTH MONTH. And he read therein . . . from the morning until midday . . . and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law . . . " (Nehemiah 7:73ff)

And when the people wept at the hearing of the long-neglected, forgotten law, Nehemiah "said unto all the people, This day is holy unto the Lord your God; mourn not, nor weep . . . this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry, for the joy of the Lord is your strength"

The Best of All Possible Good Wishes

As our Jewish friends, as Israel the nation enters another year, a new New Year , can we express to them a better sentiment than that of Nehemiah, uttered on that long-past first day of Tishri? "The joy of the Lord is your strength" . Not in the devices of which the human mind is capable; not in the resources of human wisdom; not in the accumulation of earthly possession and power: not in these lie the hidden reserves of strength to meet the manifold and varied vicissitudes of Life, and the irresistible challenge of Death. No, but only in the Lord and in the joy of knowing Him as Redeemer and Comforter, Saviour and never-failing Friend. In Him alone is strength for each new day, for each new New Year.