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Vayikra/Leviticus 23:24 In the seventh month, on the first of the month ... a remembrance of blowing, a holy convocation
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Although the biblical text nowhere specifies that the shofar is to be blown on Yom Teruah, it does say that the day is to be remembered by acoustic means! The noun - from a root that is not used in its Qal form , "to make a loud noise", possibly from the cognate Arabic verb - is variously translated as "a shout" either of joy or of battle, or "a sound" of a trumpet. The verb is used in its augmented stems for meanings such as "to cry aloud", "to shout" in joy or alarm, "to sound a trumpet" especially in the context of sounding an alarm. So whether here the first day of the seventh month was originally to be remembered by shouting for joy or blowing a shofar is unclear; the halacha from Talmudic times onwards, probably based on ancient oral tradition, has been to hear the shofar blown on Yom Teruah.
ThePesikta de Rab Kahana records a discourse given by Rabbi Levi, citing Rabbi Hama bar Hanina, connecting our text with "Thus says the L-RD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; 'I am the L-RD your G-d, who teaches you to profit, who leads you in the way you should go'" (Isaiah 48:17, NASB). R. Levi then uses a parable in which a prince, on trial before his father the king as judge, is advised by his father to select the best advocate available so that he may win the case. In the same way, R. Levi suggests, G-d advises Israel through the prophet Isaiah to appeal to the patriarchs - Avraham, Yitz'khak and Ya'akov - as their advocates if they wish to gain favour with Him. From our text, the phrase - in the one - designates our father Avraham, for "Avraham was one" (Ezekiel 33:24); the phrase - a remembrance of blowing - indicates Yitz'khak for the Genesis narrative records "And he looked and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns" (B'resheet 22:13); and the phrase - with the first word re-pointed to read 1, the one who is called holy - denotes Ya'akov in the verse "Listen to Me, Ya'akov, even Israel whom I called" (Isaiah 48:12). "When are you to cite the merits of the Fathers, so as to win your case before?" R. Levi has G-d ask; "In the seventh month".
Our people have long sought favour before G-d by relying on the merits of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. One example is the opening stanza of theAmidah:
Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d and G-d of our Fathers, G-d of Avraham, G-d of Isaac and G-d of Jacob; the great, mighty and awesome G-d, G-d Most High, who bestows acts of lovingkindness and creates all, who remembers the lovingkindness of the Fathers and will bring a redeemer to their children's children for the sake of His name, in love. ADP
This practice has support in both the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. The prophet Jeremiah records G-d reporting the matriarch Rachel weeping for the children of Israel who are about to be carried off into the Babylonian exile: "Thus says the L-RD, 'A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more'" (Jeremiah 31:15, NASB). The same verse is then quoted by the gospel writer: "A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; and she refused to be comforted, because they were no more" (Matthew 2:18, NASB) after the slaughter of babies in the area around Bethlehem after the Magi had been warned not to reveal the location of Yeshua to king Herod. Matthew, presumably with the Holy Spirit's guidance, portrays Rachel grieving for and possibly even interceding for the babies who were killed. Many Jewish people travel to Kever Rakhel - Rachel's tomb - either on a regular basis or on pilgrimage to offer prayer to G-d in the merit of Rachel or to ask Rachel to speak for them in heaven. Although the Catholic church has adopted this custom from ancient times, using this text and others to encourage their members in asking the saints to intercede on their behalf and naming their children after "patron saints", Protestant Christian commentators seem reluctant to address this point, unless prefaced by some words to avoid taking Matthew's allusion literally. William Hendriksen, for example, comments, "Figuratively Rachel is here in Jeremiah 31:15 pictured as still being alive. She is, as it were, watching the wretched multitudes gathered in Ramah."2
This all highlights man's desire to call out to someone or something greater than himself. Sensing that there is more to life than just this world, man seeks a connection, an intermediary, to a sphere that he instinctively knows is beyond his natural abilitity. As Qohelet wrote: "[G-d] has given human beings an awareness of eternity; but in such a way that they can't fully comprehend, from beginning to end, the things G-d does" (Ecclesiastes 3:11, CJB). Despite the vain assurances of the atheists that there is nothing out there, man is not a fool and knows better. "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no G-d'" (Psalm 14:1, Psalm 53:1, NASB). The Psalmist can write with confidence: "As for me, I shall call upon G-d, and the L-RD will save me. Evening and morning and at noon, I will complain and murmur, and He will hear my voice" (Psalm 55:16-17, NASB).
As believers, how do we cry out? To whom should we cry? Rav Sha'ul says, "Whoever will call upon the name of the L-RD will be saved" (Romans 10:13, NASB). But are we allowed to call? Yeshua and Sha'ul both addressed this; Yeshua first: "G-d so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16, NIV) and then Sha'ul: "For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same L-rd is L-rd of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon Him" (Romans 10:12, NASB). What is His name and how do we know Him? Peter answers this question for us when the lame man in the Temple has been healed: "Let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom G-d raised from the dead-- by this name this man stands here before you in good health ... And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:10,12, NASB). And is there no other way? Again, both Yeshua and Sha'ul answer the question for us: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me" (John 14:6, NASB) and "For G-d is one; and there is but one Mediator between G-d and humanity, Yeshua the Messiah" (1 Timothy 2:5, CJB).
As we approach Yom Teruah and the Days of Awe - the first day of the seventh month - let us join with our people in genuine and heart-felt repentance; let us open our hearts and cry out to G-d for His forgiveness for our sins and those our our people; let us beg Him to save Israel as He has promised. Let the sound of blowing in our text be the sound of our hearts shouting out to G-d on behalf of our people mingled with our joy in knowing Him ourselves.
1 - Since the biblical text is essentially an unpointed text - that is, consonants only, the vowels having been added to reflect ancient pronunciation and traditional readings by the Masoretes in the period 850-900 CE - the Sages felt free to present different vocalisations of words where necessary to make their point. Although this technique can change the meanings of the words, it doesn't change the text itself and uses only plausible if less likely alternatives.
2 - William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 1973, Banner of Truth 0-85151-192-9, page 184
Further Study: Joel 2:15-19; Romans 9:1-5
Application: Depending on your position, the High Holy Days can either seem daunting or irrelevant. This year, you can engage with this mighty season appointed by G-d for remembering; you can remember and confess your sin, you can remember and rejoice in your redemption, you can remember and cry out for the people of Israel and for the Land. Let your prayers rise before G-d with the smoke of the incense and the prayers of the saints (cf. Revelation 8:4), that He may be pleased to accept them in His Son.
© Jonathan Allen, 2009
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