Ten Interesting Facts About the High Holy Days
1. The High Holy Days begin with Rosh Hashanah. There are five names for this holiday:
- Usually it is called Rosh Hashanah, which means “head of the year.” This day marks the beginning of the new civil year. It is also the head of all years: the traditional belief is that the world was created on Rosh Hashanah.
- The Bible calls this day Yom Teruah, which could be translated as “the day of blowing,” or “the feast of trumpets” (Numbers 29:1). Another similar title is Zichron Teruah, which means “a remembrance of blowing” (Leviticus 23:24). These names indicate that this is a festival for blowing trumpets. As Psalm 89:15 says, “Blessed are the people who know the sound of the teruah, who walk, O LORD, in the light of your face.” (See also Psalm 98:6)
- Another name for this day is Yom HaDin, “the day of judgment.” The traditional belief is that on this day, God opens the heavenly courts of justice to determine everyone’s fate for the coming year. This is a picture of the final judgment (2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:11-15).
- It is also called Yom HaZikaron, “the day of remembrance.” The previous name of this day leads to this one: since on this day we bring to mind God as Judge of the universe, we ought to take time to remember our deeds over the past year and repent of any sins we have committed (1 Corinthians 10:12;
2 Corinthians 13:5; 1 John 1:9).
- One final name for this day is Yom HaKeseh, “the day of concealment” or “the hidden day.” When we repent, God forgives and in a sense conceals our sins. Additionally, this speaks of the second coming of Yeshua, which is hidden in the sense that the day and hour it will occur is unknown (Matthew 24:36).
2. In 1 Corinthians 15:52, Paul says that the dead will be raised when the last trumpet is blown (see also Matthew 24:30-31). This is a theme associated with Rosh Hashanah.
3. Today is a day for celebrating the coronation of God as King of the universe. This is a consequence of this day’s association with creation. Before God could be King of the universe, He had to create it; once He created it, He became its Ruler. When Yeshua returns, He will then be crowned King Messiah and His Kingship will be complete (Daniel 7:13-14; Zechariah 14:9; Matthew 2:2; Revelation 19:11-16).
4. The sound of the shofar is supposed to spiritually awaken the one who hears it. The traditional prayer in the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah is, “Awake, you who are sleepy, and ponder your deeds” (Romans 13:11; Ephesians 5:14). This awakening is associated with resurrection (Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2; 1 Corinthians 15:20;
1 Thessalonians 4:13-14).
5. Apples dipped in honey are traditionally eaten on Rosh Hashanah. The sweetness of these two foods combined is a fitting taste to celebrate the anticipated sweetness of the new year (Psalm 19:10; 34:8).
6. A ceremony that takes place on the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah is called Tashlich, which means “casting off.” Families or congregations will go down to a body of flowing water, such as a river or lake, and cast small stones, representing specific sins, into the water. This is meant to invoke Micah 7:19, which says, “You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” Just as the water sweeps the stones away from us, so too Jesus “appeared in order to take away sins” (1 John 3:5).
7. Rosh Hashanah is part of a period of time called Teshuvah, which is the Hebrew word for “repentance.” This is a time where we prepare ourselves for the High Holy Days by praying, focusing inward on our deeds, and recognizing the things we need to leave behind in the new year (Matthew 3:8; 2 Corinthians 7:9-10; Philippians 1:6, 3:12-16).
8. On the tenth day after Rosh Hashanah is the next of the High Holy Days, called Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement. The ten-day period between the two is called the Days of Awe, since it is believed that this time of year is when God is especially attentive toward mankind. This closeness naturally ought to invoke feelings of reverence and awe as we seek to encounter God and be changed by Him, as Hebrews 12:28-29 says, “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” It is traditional to make a special effort during this time to reconcile ourselves to God and to the people around us (Matthew 5:23-24; Romans 12:10; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13).
9. Yom Kippur was the only day of the year when the High Priest could enter into the Holy of Holies, in order to make atonement for the people of Israel. Likewise, Yeshua entered into the Holy of Holies in heaven in order to make atonement for us once and for all (Hebrews 9:24-26).
10. Fasting from food and water is one of the commandments for Yom Kippur, based on an interpretation of Leviticus 23:29, “For whoever is not afflicted on that very day shall be cut off from his people.” The New Testament gives us some additional insight about the spiritual discipline of fasting (Matthew 6:16-18).