Happy New Year
The sun has just set and it’s New Year.
Jewish New Year that is: Rosh Hashanah. So, my Jewish readers, I wish you L’Shanah Tovah U’Metukah: A Sweet and Happy New Year.
According to the Hebrew calendar the world was created 5778 years ago and, says the Talmud, the world will last for 6,000 years. The first 2,000 years of history were to be years of desolation, after which the Torah was transmitted to Israel at Sinai and flourished for 2,000 years. The last two millennia of world history, which commenced 1,778 years ago, are supposed to be the Messianic Age, a period of universal peace when the wolf lies down with the lamb and universal peace reigns.
All of which means, if the Sages were right, that in 222 years, we’ll all be giving an account of our lives before the throne of Yahweh King of the universe. No wonder so many pious Jews are anxious for the Messiah to appear. Time is running out!
As Jewish people stand on the threshold of another year, there will be no parties and no jumping in the fountains at Trafalgar Square (or anywhere else for that matter). “Rosh Hashanah”, says Rabbi Ahron Lopianski, “is a day of judgment on who will enter this most exclusive club of eternity along with which deeds, and what is to be discarded". At New Year, say the rabbis, all the deeds committed in the last twelve months will be weighed in the balances of heaven.
Tonight, therefore, if it is found that you did only good and nothing bad in the last twelve months you will be inscribed in the “Book of Life” and admitted to Rabbi Lopianski’s “exclusive club”; if you did only evil in 5777, however, you will inscribed for death. But if you are one of the “intermediate” class, having done a fair bit of both good and bad last year, the good news is, say the Sages, you’ll have ten days until Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, to tip the celestial balances in your favour. This can be accomplished acts of tzedaka, or righteousness, such as giving to charity. You should also seek to make amends with anyone you have wronged and give attention to study of the holy books.
If in the next ten days you go to the beach or a river, you might see Orthodox Jews throwing bread or debris from their pockets into the water. They will be taking part in the solemn ritual of Tashlich, “casting off”, while reciting the words of Micah 7:18,19:
Who is a God like You, Who pardons iniquity and overlooks transgression for the remnant of His heritage? He does not maintain His wrath forever, for He desires kindness. He will once again show us mercy. He will suppress our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.
That is Exodus language. God, says the prophet will deal with Israel’s sins in the way he dealt with Pharaoh and his army at the Red Sea. Israel’s sins are as deadly as the swords and arrows of the Egyptians who pursued them to the Red Sea. What was Israel to do as they stood on the shore of the sea with the king of the world’s greatest superpower in hot pursuit? They had hours, if that, to prepare themselves for death. There was no way they could make themselves worthy of deliverance.
Everything was down to Israel’s God.
Stand fast and see the salvation [Yeshua] of HASHEM that he will perform for you today; for as you have seen Egypt today, you shall not see them every again. HASHEM shall make war for you, and you shall remain silent (Exodus 13:13,14).
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if sin and guilt could be cast away so easily; if transgressions could be carried away or cast into the sea, never to haunt us again? The great tragedy of Rosh Hashanah is that the Jewish people can know their sins are cast away and buried, never to be remembered again. Israel could know the reality that Micah the prophet foretold 2,700 years ago if they would listen to Moses, “stand fast and see the Yeshua of HASHEM.”
Few people have tried as hard as the Jewish people to be righteous. They have fenced God’s laws, adding hundreds of precepts to God’s laws in order to keep themselves from breaking God’s commandments but at start of every year they find themselves having to fast and pray and seek God’s mercy yet again.
Religious Jews understandably long for the Messianic reign of peace. But peace must be preceded by righteousness but we can no more make ourselves righteous than Israel could part the Red Sea or King Canute could turn back the tide.
Ten years ago, I was flying to Israel during the Days of Awe between Rosh Hasahan and Yom Kippur. Finding myself with a religious jewish family, I asked the patriarch of the family if he was keeping Yom Kippur. in Jerusalem, he said yes. "Is your name in the Book of Life?" I asked.
He said he hoped so.
"What can I, a Gentile, do to get in the Book of Life?" I asked.
"Do good things. Do good things."
I felt genuinely sad because I could have received that answer from any other religion. Judaism, I thought, has become just like all the other nations.
In Isaiah 48:22 and 57:21 God declares that there is no shalom for the wicked. Exactly halfway between those verses, in 53:5, the prophet says of God’s righteous servant the Messiah: “He was pained because of our rebellious sins and oppressed through our iniquities; the chastisement on him was for our shalom, and through his wounds we are healed.”
God’s way of true righteousness and peace is attained not through our good deeds but through the good work of God’s righteous servant, Yeshua the Messiah!
Trust in his great work and may your name be inscribed not just for 5778 but for eternity!