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Vayikra/Leviticus 23:24 It shall be for you a day of rest, a remembrance of the sound of the shofar
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Contrary to popular belief, the Torah does not explicitly command that the shofar should be blown on Yom Teruah, the day of blowing, more frequently known by our people as Rosh HaShana. The only specific shofar blowing that is commanded is two chapters later: "On the tenth day of the seventh month, on Yom Kippur, you are to sound a blast on the shofar; you are to sound the shofar all through your land; and you are to consecrate the fiftieth year, proclaiming freedom throughout the land to all its inhabitants" (Vayikra 25:9-10, CJB). Blowing the shofar is a requirement to announce the Jubilee Year. Comparing our verse with the parallel verse in B'Midbar - "In the seventh month, on the first day of the month ... it is a day of blowing for you" (B'Midbar 29:1) - the rabbis deduced that since this text speaks of remembering the sound in the same phrase as shabbat, whereas that text mentions blowing without referencing shabbat, the shofar was to be blown when Rosh HaShana fell on a weekday, but it was only to be remembered when it fell on a shabbat.
Rashi reminds us, "a remembrance of verses of remembrances and verses of shofars", that on Rosh HaShana we not only blow the shofar, but in the Rosh HaShana liturgy we recite verses that refer to shofar blowing and verses that speak of remembrance or remind G-d of His promises to us. "R' Abahu said: Why do we blow with a shofar of a ram? The Holy One, Blessed be He, said: 'Blow before Me using a shofar of a ram so that I will remember for your sake the binding of Yitz'chak the son of Avraham and I will consider it for you as if you had bound yourselves for Me'" (b. Rosh HaShana 16a).
TheBaal HaTurim points to a masoretic note indicating that the word is only used three times in the Hebrew Scriptures: here and Kohelet/Ecclesiastes 1:11 and 2:16. He suggests that together these three refer to the three categories of people and judgements that are part of the traditional theme of the High Holy Days: the wise and the wicked being judged on Yom Teruah and written immediately into the book of life and the book of death respectively, being remembered and then dealt with by G-d; the third - and largest - group being held in remembrance until they are judged ten days later on Yom Kippur. Sforno, picking up another traditional Rosh HaShana theme, remembering that G-d is particularly thought of during the Days of Awe as sitting on the throne of justice (see b. Rosh HaShana 8b), uses the word - from the root , to cry aloud, to sound the trumpet or alarm, to shout for joy (Davidson) - to link to "Sing for joy to G-d our strength; shout joyfully to the G-d of Jacob" (Psalm 81:2); on whichever day Yom Teruah should fall, we can always remember G-d's sovereignty and rejoice before Him that our days are in His hands, that He is a just and faithful G-d.
The Jewish people are noted for our ability to remember past events from our history: the destruction of the 2nd Temple; the crusades; the Expulsion from England (1290), Spain (1492) and many other countries; the pogroms and - in more recent times - family members who died in the Holocaust. We light yarhzeit candles on the anniversary of a close relative's death; we celebrate the feasts - at G-d's command - to remember creation (shabbat), the Exodus from Egypt (Pesach), the giving of the Torah at Sinai (Shavuot) and G-d's provision for our people in the wilderness (Sukkot), each one on its own special day. Portions from the Scriptures are read every day in the synagogue services to remind us of the mighty acts that G-d wrought on our behalf: - the Song at the Sea, who He is; the - the L-rd our G-d is One, and the commands He has given us: making tzitztit - tassels - on the corners of our garments. All sorts of practical things to say and do to remember important moments or words. This is the context that enables Rav Sha'ul, when giving instructions for the L-rd's Supper to a gentile church who were less familiar with the Jewish ways of doing and remembering, to say, "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the L-rd, until He comes" (1 Corinthians 11:26, CJB).
How, then, should we observe the "day of blowing" and what should we remember? We should be sure to blow or hear being blown a shofar; we should remember that Yeshua Himself started His earthly ministry with the words, "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17) and we should repent not only for ourselves but as a part of the larger family of Israel - like Daniel and Nehemiah; we should be remembering and anticipating Yeshua's return. Speaking of that time, Yeshua said, "[The Son of Man] will send out His angels with a great shofar blast and they will gather together His chosen people from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (Matthew 24:31, CJB), which is probably a reference to the prophecy of Isaiah: "On that day a great shofar will sound. Those lost in the land of Ashur will come, also those scattered through the land of Egypt; and they will worship Adonai on the holy mountain in Yerushalayim" (Isaiah 27:13, CJB).
Notice the phrase that Yeshua uses to explain who knows when He will return: "But when that day and hour will come, no-one knows - not the angles in heaven, nor the Son, only the Father" (v. 26, CJB). Judaism uses a lunar calendar, with each month being proclaimed by the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem upon receiving the reliable testimony of two witnesses who have seen the new moon. All the other feasts in the Jewish calendar are at least a week into the month, thus allowing time for messengers to get to each community from Jerusalem. Yom Teruah alone is on the first day of the month bringing with it a high degree of uncertainty as to exactly when the feast would be; you could count the days of the previous month so that you had an approximate idea, but hence the saying about Yom Teruah: "no-one know the day or the hour".
Further Study: Nehemiah 1:4-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6
Application: Are you ready for or anticipating the L-rd's return at any day? The physical blasts of the shofar are a powerful wake-up call - have you heard them recently? Do you remember their message of challenge and anticipation? How can you prepare for the High Holy Days season this year - still some months off - and be ready for Yeshua's possible return?
© Jonathan Allen, 2008
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