“Also thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” – Exodus 23:9
The Jewish New Year begins at sundown on Sunday, September 16th and commemorates the anniversary of the creation of the world. Rosh Hashanah literally means “head of the year.” It is celebrated on the first and second days of the month of Tishri and is considered a day of putting away the curses of the previous year and embracing the blessings of the new one. The shofar is trumpeted. The old things are dead, and a horizon of fresh life gleams ahead.
Yet, Bradley Burston notes in a recent article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, not all the curses of the previous year are caused by others. Sometimes we ourselves have caused the griefs that are seen in the world, and we need to recognize and turn away from our own sins and the sins of those of whom we are a part.
Burston writes, “In Israel, this has been a year of shocking expressions of hatred and acts of terror, of Jews against non-Jews. And in all too many of these, though the victims were innocents, the assailants believed themselves to be defending a godly purpose, or acting according to a wholly worthy principle.”
Burston himself is a Jew. Yet, he recognizes the travesty of cruel injustices perpetrated in the name of the God of Israel. These acts of vandalism and terror have been directed against both Jews and non-Jews in Israel by those filled with anger; a bit of Hebrew graffiti declaring “Jesus is a monkey” on a monastery in the Ayalon Valley; five members of the Hassan family (including two four-year-olds) injured when their car was firebombed in the West Bank; tires slashed and “Death to Arabs” sprayed on a bicultural elementary school in a village where Arabs and Jews strive to live together in peace; a seven-year-old Jewish child in Beit Shemesh spat on and cursed for months by ultra-orthodox Haredi Jews for not dressing “modestly” – that is, not covering herself from head to toe (much as Muslim women must dress) .
Those who represent the God of Abraham and Moses should not do such things.
“We know those people who were caught between the fences, far from homes they cannot return to, vulnerable. We were these people. We know those people attacked for their religion, scapegoats for misplaced rage. We were those people. And not long ago,” writes Burston.
The God of Israel:
We believe that God gave the land of Israel to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob forever (Gen. 13:14-17), and we believe that nothing can thwart the promises of God. The people of Israel have borne the scorn of the world, the destruction of suicide bombers, missile attacks from the Gaza Strip, even after (especially after) the unilateral withdrawal from settlements there in August 2005. There are people in Israel who are passionate for the land and dedicated to serving God with all their hearts, and we trust that God Himself will continually raise up Hezekiahs and Nehemiahs as time goes on, in spite of local and world prejudice.
Unfortunately, there are also the Pharisees – caught up tithing even their herbs, but ignoring the weightier matters of the law: mercy and justice (Mat. 23:23). The Old Testament is often considered to be full of wrath, but “Love thy neighbor” was not an original New Testament idea. Remember how God viewed Ninevah and recall His rebuke of Jonah for not having compassion on those people who could not, “discern between their right hand and their left hand…” (Jon. 4:9-11)? Jesus taught constantly from the Hebrew Scriptures, and he was speaking directly from Moses when he told his fellow Jews to love their neighbors as themselves (Mat. 22:27-40).
“Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.” – Leviticus 19:18
“But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” – Leviticus 19:34
Moses is not alone. Throughout the Scriptures, God calls out for mercy and truth and peace from His people.
“These are the things that ye shall do; Speak ye every man the truth to his neighbour; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates: And let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbour; and love no false oath: for all these are things that I hate, saith the LORD.” – Zechariah 8:16
The Fall Feasts:
Rosh Hashanah is a time of both celebration and repentance. It is a time of spiritual renewal through prayer and deep personal reflection leading up to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, on the 10th day of Tishri (Lev. 23:26-28). Rosh Hashanah is a time to recognize God as King and Judge over all living things – over all the peoples of the world. On Rosh Hashanah we celebrate the creation of the world, when “God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good,” (Genesis 1:31).
The majority of Christians are unfamiliar with most of the traditional Jewish holidays. Yet they hold great spiritual and prophetic significance. In Colossians 2:16-17 Paul says, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come,” [Emphasis added]. When the shofar blows for the new year, also known as the Feast of Trumpets, it is considered a call to wake us up!
As we celebrate Rosh Hashanah, may we truly remember that God is both King of the Universe and King over all the earth. Israel holds a special place in His plan, one that is not finished. Yet, even the pagan king Cyrus (Isa. 45) and the little Sidonian widow Elijah visited (1Ki 17:8-24) are important to God. We who know God must represent Him well, both in the ways we deal with our friends and those we consider our enemies – lest He one day say, “Depart from me, ye cursed,” because we did not fear Him and treated badly those He loves (Mat. 25:31-46).