Saturday, September 12, 2015

Rabbi Jay Ledbetter: Remembering our Hebrew Heritage - Yom Teruah, the Feast of Trumpets

9-25-14 Message to Resurrection Anglican Fellowship –  Rosh Hashanah
Holy Day Torah Portion; Gen 21:1-34,
Haftarah:   1 Sam 1:1-2:10
Suggested Acheron K’tuvim:     1 Thess 4:13-18  


Central question of this message:   What should be remembered?  

Tonight we begin the first of the fall festivals of Leviticus 23, the festival of Rosh Hashanah, as it has now been called. 

But that naming is a more modern invention.  In Scripture it is described as shabbaton zikron teruah (literally a “Sabbath of remembrance teruah - the name of the staccato Shofar blast).

Lev 23:23-25

23 Again the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 24 "Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, 'In the seventh month on the first of the month, you shall have a rest, a reminder by blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation. 25 'You shall not do any laborious work, but you shall present an offering by fire to the Lord.'"

The translators in modern English Bibles always seem to confuse the concept of the shofar (which is made of a kosher animal’s carefully prepared horn) with a trumpet (which is made of metal). 

Not being steeped in the understanding that comes from being Jewish, I suspect that they had a short discussion about the sound that a shofar makes, shrugged their shoulders,  and simply wrote “trumpet” rather than “shofar”, so they could go on to the next word. 

But know this, my holy friends…  the shofar is by no means a trumpet.  The shofar is a holy thing, and is not properly used as any kind of musical instrument. 

A metal trumpet can be consecrated to a holy use, as the silver trumpets were consecrated to Temple service.  They are found in Num 10.

They hammered from pure silver.  They were to be used to summon the congregation, and for telling the separate camps to set out on the journey.  They were to be blown only by sons of Aaron, and thus were very narrow in their proper uses.

Num 10:1-9

10 The Lord spoke further to Moses, saying, 2 "Make yourself two trumpets of silver, of hammered work you shall make them; and you shall use them for summoning the congregation and for having the camps set out. 3 And when both are blown, all the congregation shall gather themselves to you at the doorway of the tent of meeting. 4 Yet if only one is blown, then the leaders, the heads of the divisions of Israel, shall assemble before you. 5 But when you blow an alarm, the camps that are pitched on the east side shall set out. 6 And when you blow an alarm the second time, the camps that are pitched on the south side shall set out; an alarm is to be blown for them to set out. 7 When convening the assembly, however, you shall blow without sounding an alarm. 8 The priestly sons of Aaron, moreover, shall blow the trumpets; and this shall be for you a perpetual statute throughout your generations.

But the shofar is quite different.  Not only is the horn itself sanctified, but those who sound it are likewise to be sanctified. 

The shofar has a large number of legitimate uses, and can be blown by persons who have been properly selected, trained and anointed to that task, regardless of family affiliation, or even nation of origin. 

A shofar blower, according to our traditions, must be bar (or bat) mitzvah, a student of Torah, and be properly trained by a shofar blower before him.  Once he or she has shown proper mastery of Torah and of the shofar, the shofar blower is called up and anointed in a ceremony which inducts him into the ranks of those who blow the shofar.

Apart from those, there seem to be no special requirements apart from being a member in the body – whether by being a natural branch, or a grafted-in branch. And it is my firm conviction that a woman, just as well as a man, can be selected, trained, and anointed to this holy task.

There is more in Scripture written regarding the use of the shofar than is written regarding preaching.  I am not saying that G-d regards preachers less highly than he does shofar blowers, but I am saying that G-d’s Word contains a dramatic and persistent emphasis upon this holy office, and it is not to be entered into lightly.

Rosh Hashanah means literally “Head of the Year”, but even a cursory examination of the origins of G-d’s festivals it is not the “true” head.  The true head of our year begins on the first of the month of Nisan, fourteen days before Passover, in the spring of the year. 

Ex 12:1-4

12 Now the Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 2 "This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you. 3 Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, 'On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers' households, a lamb for each household.

Tonight at sunset is the first day of the seventh Hebrew month, Tishrei. 

But over the last couple of millennia, our people have shifted the emphasis from Passover, to Rosh Hashana, and Yom Kippur.  And that emphasis, I believe, comes from the singular issue of how we have dealt with Yeshua, and the destruction of the Second Temple. 

We find additional instructions regarding this festival in Numbers 29.

Num 29:1-6

'Now in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall also have a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work. It will be to you a day for blowing trumpets. 2 'And you shall offer a burnt offering as a soothing aroma to the Lord: one bull, one ram, and seven male lambs one year old without defect; 3 also their grain offering, fine flour mixed with oil, three-tenths of an ephah for the bull, two-tenths for the ram, 4 and one-tenth for each of the seven lambs. 5 'And offer one male goat for a sin offering, to make atonement for you, 6 besides the burnt offering of the new moon, and its grain offering, and the continual burnt offering and its grain offering, and their libations, according to their ordinance, for a soothing aroma, an offering by fire to the Lord.

It is from this passage that the other name of the festival is derived: Yom Teruah – day of the shofar blast. 

So, we have now three titles for this same festival:  Shabbaton Zikron; Yom Teruah; and now in this later age, Rosh Hashanah. 

What is most interesting about the title Shabbaton Zikron (Sabbath of remembrance), is that nowhere are we told what it is that we are commanded to remember.

Surely it is important that we should remember something, for G-d would not have called it a Sabbath of Remembrance without something in mind.

This question has occupied the minds of our people since the time of Moses, and lacks a definitive answer even today.   But I think I might have some insight into that question for you today.

In this generation, our people have used this occasion to light yartzheit candles to remember the six million of the last generation who were exterminated.  That is proper, and holy, and good.

But is that recent event really what we are to remember?  I think there must be something more than that. 

And since the sound of the shofar is tied directly to that remembrance, then I think we can begin to maybe discern what it might be that G-d might have in mind.  I wonder if our people might have been giving one another hints about the deeper meanings, even without knowing it, for many generations. 

The customary greeting in Hebrew is "l'shanah tovah," which means “for a good year”.  

In Yiddish, we say “Gut Yantev”, or “Good Holy-day” in colloquial English.  This greeting is appropriate for all holy days with the exception of Yom Kippur.  We’re not, technically, supposed to have a “good” Yom Kippur, since that is the day we are to afflict our souls. 

A more extensive greeting in the Jewish community is "L'shana tovah tikatevi”, which means "May you be inscribed for a good year."

This begs a question, “Into what should we be inscribed?”  Our traditions indicate that the inscription we hope for will be that our name will appear in the “Book of Life.”   This is a Jewish tradition which John affirmed as accurate in Revelation chapter 20.

Rev 20:11-15

11 And I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. 14 And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

A proper response to this greeting would be “U’metukah”, meaning, “and sweet”. 

Most certainly, having your name inscribed in the Book of Live would not be anything less than perfectly “sweet”.

The Hebrew people have been, for many generations, trying to figure out the significance of the blowing of the shofar on Yom Teruah, and the connection with what we are to remember on this day. 

Hear the musings of Rabbi Eliezer, as recorded in Midrash Rabba Vayikra 29:1.

It was taught in the name of R. Eliezer: The world was created on the twenty-fifth of Elul. The view of Rav agrees with the teaching of R. Eliezer. For we have learned in the blessing for the Shofar composed by Rav: ' This day, on which was the beginning of work, a memorial of the first day, for it is a statute for Israel, a decree of the God of Yaakov. On it, sentence is pronounced upon countries: which of them is destined to the sword and which to peace, which to famine and which to plenty; and each individual creature is visited on that day, and recorded for life or for death.' Thus we learn that on Rosh Hashana, in the first hour the idea of creating Man entered His mind, in the second He took counsel with the Ministering Angels, [this is the errant theology that some antimissionaries use today to refute the idea that Yeshua was G-d, and with G-d in the creation when He said, “Let US make man in OUR image…] in the third He assembled Adam's dust, in the fourth He kneaded it, in the fifth He shaped him, in the sixth He made him into a lifeless body, in the seventh He breathed a soul into him, in the eighth He brought him into the Garden of Eden, in the ninth he was commanded [against eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge], in the tenth he transgressed, in the eleventh he was judged, in the twelfth he was pardoned. 'The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Adam, 'This will be a sign to your children. As you stood in judgment before Me this day and came out with a free pardon, so will your children in the future stand in judgment before Me on this day and will come out from My presence with a free pardon.' When will that be? 'In the seventh month, on the first day of the month.'

But there is considerable value to the teaching.  I think he was beginning to see something when he said, “This will be a sign to you and to your children…”.

Rabbi Ari Kahn teaches that the first breath of life into Adam in the garden happened on Yom Teruah.  He likens that to the sounding of the shofar on Yom Teruah, as if we are hearing the voice of G-d in it.

That is a good teaching.  For in Exodus 19, we see that G-d’s voice and the sound of the shofar become interchangeable.

Ex 19:16-19

 So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. 17 And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. 19 When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder.  [lit. “voice”]

The translators here, I believe, again miss the best translation.  The Hebrew literally says that when “the voice of the shofar” sounded the long blast – the tekiah godolah (the final blast of the shofar service) – Moses spoke and G-d answered him with “a voice”. 

Clearly, G-d’s voice is closely-associated with the sound of the shofar, particularly with the tekiah godolah – the long final blast.

When you restore the word “shofar” to its most primitive form, and then restore it to the pre-Babylonian pictographic Hebrew, where each letter carries with it a concept.  You can see more of its meaning.  It contains the concepts of “voice”, and “prince”. 

In a very real way, the Hebrew word shofar literally means “voice of the Prince”. 

Which prince?  The only Prince that is closely associated with G-d.  The only Prince that speaks with the very words of G-d to mankind.  That Prince is Messiah Yeshua.

We, as believers, know that the festivals of Leviticus 23 are a roadmap of the kingdom.  We have seen the fulfillments of Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, and even Shavuot.  But the long summer lingers, and we still await the kingdom fulfillment of Yom Teruah.

I believe that on this day of Yom Teruah, we are commanded to remember. 

I believe it is important that we remember our offenses to our fellow man over the last year, and if we have not already reconciled, we must do so now.   Look to Matthew 18:15 for guidance.  And remember to let your words be edifying, as is set forth in Ephesians 4.

Eph 4:1-6

4 I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.

I believe it is important that we remember our offenses to G-d over the last year, and if we have not already repented, we must do so now. 

Let no account, whether on earth or in heaven, remain to be paid by you to the One to whom it is owed.

But I also believe on this day of Yom Teruah, the voice of our shofars here below serve to remind G-d of something as well.

If tradition is accurate, and we were created as a new creature by receiving the breath of life on Yom Teruah; and, if tradition is accurate and redemption from our fall was announced to Adam likewise on that very same day – Yom Teruah; and if the voice of the Prince really is found represented by the voice of the shofar; then there is much significance in not only this day, but also the sound of the shofar.

I believe it is good for us to pause on this day, and during the next ten days as well, to pull out the road maps of our lives, and look at them closely.   

Can you put your finger on that map, indicating where you are today? Can you trace with your finger the road you are on, or where you are headed?  The path is bright, and lined with stars, toward your final destination.  It terminates in unspeakable joy, and unfathomable light, and love.  Raise your spiritual eyes, my holy friends, and look at it.

I believe G-d likewise opens His heavenly map, and is tracing with His finger the progress of our world on it.  Nothing He sees is surprising to Him.  Nothing is unknown, nor unforeseen.

I believe there are very few sounds from this earth that are able to penetrate the gates of heaven, and be heard above.  Certainly one is the whimpering cry of a child in prayer… but also I believe the shofar’s loud voice is clearly heard in the throne room above.

And when G-d hears from heaven the sounds of our shofar blasts, and our songs of praise, He also remembers His promises made to our forefathers, and to us.  The promise is that of salvation by faith, for those who will only but accept that holy gift. 

After the time of repentance and reconciliation, let us then bow before our King, as sons and daughters, in praise of His holy work, completed on the cross, for us.

Let us keep our faith strong, in the face of these coming days of tribulation. 

And we should always be listening to hear the sounds of the heavenly tekia godolah, the final long blast of the shofar, for with that sound the dead shall arise first, and then we will meet them in the sky… and G-d will no longer need to remember His promise, because it will have been fulfilled. 

Here Paul’s account of that wonderful day, as he expressed it to the church at Thessaloniki. 

  1 Thess 4:13-18

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet [actually the shofar] of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.

And so it is that I will greet you now with l'shana tovah tikatevi.

Maybe the more appropriate greeting is rather, l’olam tovah kikatevi.

May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for not only a good year – but for eternity – for that inscription is written in the blood of the Lamb.

Verses for Rosh Hashanah

Lev 23:23-25

Num 10:1-9

Ex 12:1-4

Num 29:1-6

Rev 20:11-15

Ex 19:16-19

Eph 4:1-6

1 Thess 4:13-18

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