Scripture provides us with both the historical background of the moedim along with the sovereign commands of the Most High that instituted them. Our list of traditions begins with the readings from the Word.
Let's consider the millennia-old traditions associated with this moed and see how those traditions can enhance our understanding of it. Some believers to dismiss "traditions of men" as non-Biblical and therefore worthless but before we reject these or any traditions we should consider what Scripture says about tradition.
A New Year?
Yom Teruah is also known as the "head of the year" or Rosh Hashanah. This day has been described as the "Jewish New Year"1. Scripture describes Nisan and the time of Pesach as the "beginning of months" so why is Tishrei (the seventh month) called Rosh Hashanah?
Leviticus 25 describes the sabbath of the Land and the Yovel [Jubilee] year and notes that this fiftieth year begins with the sounding of a shofar on the tenth day of the seventh month (Leviticus 25:9-10). In these verses we see an annual cycle that begins in the seventh month. Just like we have calendar years that start in January, school years that start in August, and fiscal years that start in September, so, too Scripture tells us about several annual cycles.
We see that the "religious" year begins in Nisan (the first month, Exodus 12:2), the "civil" year begins in Tishrei (the seventh month, Leviticus 25:9-10), and the "tree" year begins in Shevat (the eleventh month, Leviticus 19:23-25) when trees begin to bear fruit. These "religious, civil, and tree" labels are the traditional labels associated with these annual cycles and are not explicitly given in Scripture.
The feast of Yom Teruah has several traditions associated with it.
- The traditional greeting is "L'shanah Tovah!" Good [new] year!
- Eating apples and honey or pomegranates and other fresh fruit symbolizes the beginning of a "sweet" new year.
- There is an event or service called "tashlich" in which pebbles or bits of bread are thrown into a flowing river or stream. The pebbles symbolize sin that, once cast into the water of G-d's mercy, cannot be identified or recovered. The bread would be consumed by fish in the water and cannot be retrieved. Fish do not blink and their always-open eyes remind us of G-d's eyes that are always open and watching us.
- There is a traditional blessing for entering into the moed:
Blessed are You, oh Lord our G-d, King of the Universe, Who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.
- Some have the tradition of eating a fish head on this day and the prayer that "we should be the head and not the tail". This prayer ties to two passages in Scripture:
"The LORD will make you the head and not the tail, and you only will be above, and you will not be underneath, if you listen to the commandments of the LORD your God, which I charge you today, to observe them carefully, and do not turn aside from any of the words which I command you today, to the right or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them. (Deuteronomy 28:13-14)
The head is the elder and honorable man, And the prophet who teaches falsehood is the tail. (Isaiah 9:15)
There is another traditional idea associated with Rosh Hashanah. The Mishnah, the core text of Judaism's oral Torah, contains the first known reference to Rosh Hashanah as the "day of judgment." In the Talmud tractate on Rosh Hashanah it states that three books of account are opened on Rosh Hashanah, wherein the fate of the wicked, the righteous, and those of an intermediate class are recorded. The names of the righteous are immediately inscribed in the book of life, and they are sealed "to live." The middle class are allowed a respite of ten days, until Yom Kippur, to repent and become righteous; the wicked are "blotted out of the book of the living forever." (Psalm69:29)
This tradition does not seem to align with the full counsel of Scripture. Believers in Messiah Yeshua know that we are not made righteous by our works. We are saved and given eternal life by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8) and not by our works. We are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb (1 Peter 1:18-19). Our names are written in the Lamb's book of life (Revelation 21:27) from before the foundations of the world (Revelation 13:8, Ephesians 1:4, 1 Peter 1:20-21).
We are not written into the book of life based upon our deeds but based upon the sovereign election (Romans 8:33) and irrevocable calling (Romans 11:29) of G-d.
Messianic scholar Tim Hegg summarized this well in a recent email:
First, the book of life belongs to the Lamb—it is the Lamb’s book of life—the Lamb Who was slain, that is, Yeshua. This means that having one’s name written there is directly connected to those associated with Yeshua, or to use Paul’s expression, those who are “in Messiah.” Second, we see that the names contained in the book of life were written there by God “from the foundations of the world.” Third, those whose names are not written in the book of life are those who worship and follow the beast or dragon, that “man of sin” who blasphemes God and His people, who is given power to wage war against the saints. Finally, we learn that those whose names have been written in the book of life from the foundations of the world are those who persevere in their faith.
Thus, when Yeshua taught “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand” (Jn 10:26–28), or when Paul wrote that nothing “…will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Messiah Yeshua our Lord” (Rom 8:39), they were describing those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Because we have received God’s grace through faith in the Messiah, we need not fear that our name might be missing from the Lamb’s book of life. If our sin has been laid upon Him, and if He is our salvation, then we may rest in the unchangeable truth that our name is written for all eternity in the Lamb's book of life! We need not fear that we might not be “inscribed,” for God Himself has forever written our names there as those purchased by the blood of the Lamb (1Pet 1:18–19). Therefore, when we hear the shofar on this Yom Teruah, let its sounds be a reminder that we await the coming of our Messiah, not as our Judge nor as One Who might condemn us, but as our King Who comes to bring us our final redemption—Who comes to bring us into His dwelling place forever. During these Fall Festivals, let us rest in the all-encompassing greatness of His grace and the eternal life He has given to us! 2
Footnotes1. Rosh Hashanah, New World Encyclopedia, taken 5/28/2012 from http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Rosh_Hashanah [back]
2. L'shanah Tovah email from Tim Hegg 9/8/2010 [back]