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Happy New Year!
Fireworks pop off and cheers fill the air as the clock strikes midnight. Families and friends gather during the coldest time of the year to celebrate the dawn of a new year, often watching the Times Square Ball Drop in New York City. Auld Lang Syne graces the airwaves, while neighbors (sometimes not so gracefully) belt out the song’s chorus, too.
That’s the New Year celebration most of us are used to enjoying. But when the Jewish people think of the new year, they’re thinking of something far different.
We’re talking about Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year celebration. For starters, Rosh Hashanah doesn’t take place on January 1. It’s a 48-hour celebration that lasts from the evening of the first day to the evening of the third day of Tishrei, the first month on the Jewish calendar. This year those dates fall on September 18 at sundown to the 20th at sundown. This fall celebration doesn’t include fireworks, Times Square festivities, or Auld Lang Syne renditions.
That’s not to say these are joyless celebrations—much the opposite! Feasting, family time, and the sounding of the shofar highlight the jubilation. Since it’s a joyful holiday, the defining food of Rosh Hashanah is fruit—a symbol of the hope held for a sweet new year. For the same reason, challah, a round bread symbolizing the eternal cycle of life, is dipped in honey. But as with all Jewish holidays, this day holds symbolism in reverence and uses the day to focus on one’s spirit.
Each Jewish holiday can essentially be boiled down to a main theme. For instance, Yom Kippur focuses on repentance, and the Feast of Tabernacles is a remembrance of God’s provision. Rosh Hashanah celebrates the Lord’s goodness coupled with the hope of a new year. With such a happy focus, it’s easy to see why this holiday is such a joyful time in Jewish communities.
But Rosh Hashanah did not begin as the new year celebration it includes today. In fact, Scripture mandated this holiday to take place right in the middle of the Jewish year: the first day of the seventh month. But the Jewish calendar changed over time, and the month of Tishrei was no longer the seventh month; it became the first, and thus began Rosh Hashanah’s designation as a New Year holiday.
Called the Feast of Trumpets in Scripture, it was during this celebration that all Israel would hear the blast of the shofar, a ram’s horn. The blast was a call to remember God’s faithfulness over the past year. During this celebration no one was permitted to do regular work but was to present a gift to the Lord (Leviticus 23:23–25).
Doesn’t it feel like you never have a break to just sit, breathe, relax, and reflect?
We would do well to remember this lesson throughout the year. Our lives get so busy. In fact, when are they ever not? Doesn’t it feel like you never have a break to just sit, breathe, relax, and reflect? That’s why we need that shofar blast (at least metaphorically). In our progressive, productive world, business clutters our lives so much that we need to be reminded to carve out time to remember the Lord who gives us the ability to do everything we’ve ever done. When we do, it’s an awesome feeling, just laying our cares before our King and letting Him take care of us as we give Him thanks.
Think about the account of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38–42. Martha welcomed Jesus into her home. When He entered, she made preparations for her guest, being “distracted with much serving.” That doesn’t seem so bad, right? Welcoming Jesus into your home and serving Him sounds like the right thing to do. Yet Jesus didn’t commend her for this. Instead He praised her sister, Mary, for doing the exact opposite: not working out of earshot to serve Him physically but sitting at His feet listening to Him speak.
This is what Jesus wants from us. Physical service is a great thing, but it should never come at the expense of spending personal time with Jesus, absorbing His Word, and resting in His goodness.
Physical service is a great thing, but it should never come at the expense of spending personal time with Jesus, absorbing His Word, and resting in His goodness.
Everyone would do well to learn from the example of Rosh Hashanah, and I’m sure many already do. For many, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day is already a time to reflect on the previous year. But rather than just focusing on the fun highlights, a healthy practice is to note the moments throughout the year that God was at work in your life.
Maybe this has been manifested in satisfying moments—personal milestones, relationships, financial security. Maybe your job has been a blessing to you or you’ve grown closer to your family and friends. It’s easy to thank God for these enriching moments. But maybe your gratitude can come through enduring hard times—illness, injury, grief, sorrow. Maybe you were diagnosed with the coronavirus or another terrible disease that you’ve since overcome or continue to battle. Maybe you lost a friendship or faced emotional pain from a loved one. Though painful, these moments can still direct our attention to God!
So this year, whether you’re Jewish or not, try to celebrate Rosh Hashanah as a second New Year celebration. The key is to remember and acknowledge all the moments God has worked in your life over the past year. With that action in mind, it becomes easier to value God’s goodness in our lives and recognize it in moments we had taken for granted. Happy Second New Year!