Happy New Year on September 7? Not for most of you! But for religious Jews, it’s the first day of the seventh Hebrew month, Tishri, which according to the rabbis, marks the beginning of the 5,763rd year since the Creation. In the Bible (Leviticus 23:24,25), the first day of the seventh month is merely designated as The Feast of Trumpets.” However, since the Babylonian captivity, it has been regarded by Jewish people as Rosh Hashanah, the New Year. But instead of a time for partying, it is regarded as a solemn, worshipful occasion.
Even those Jews who do not usually go to synagogue will try to attend on this special day, which initiates the Ten Days of Awe. This is a time for deep spiritual introspection, a time in which Jews are to contemplate their lives, deeds and attitudes, and sort out those things that require repentance. The solemn season culminates in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (this year on September 16), which is regarded in all of Judaism as the holiest day of the Jewish year.
Since the Jewish day begins at sundown rather than sunrise, the holiday will commence on Friday evening, September 6. The waiting congregation in the synagogue will be called to worship by the eerie and exotic sound of the shofar, the ram’s horn. Its hoarse blast is the official signal to begin what is called the “solemn assembly.”
The services will be conducted from a special holiday prayer book called a Mahzor. This book contains a cryptic prayer:
“Our God! and the God of our Fathers! O remember us with a good memorial before thee, and visit us with the visitations of salvation and mercy, from the ancient heaven of heavens; and remember unto us, O Lord! Our God! the covenant, the mercy and oath, which thou didst swear unto our ancestor (Abraham) upon Mount Moriah, and may the act of binding his son (Isaac) upon the altar…[be before thee]…remember to us the covenant of our fathers, as Abraham our father suppressed his compassion to his only son, and he wanted to slaughter him, in order to perform thy will. So may thy compassion suppress thy anger against us; and let thy compassion be added unto thy other measures, and deal with us better than the order of thy Law requires;…turn aside from the fierceness of thy wrath from thy people, from thy city and from thy land…”*
Surely this prayer that God will bring salvation and turn away divine wrath because Abraham offered his son Isaac must be confusing to many Jews. The rabbis have taught that the idea of substitutionary atonement is a strictly Christian doctrine. Nevertheless, the above prayer seems to say otherwise.
Most of our fellow Jews who will answer the shofar’s call to the solemn assembly during this holy Jewish season will not really understand. They will have little idea of how the traditional reading of the story of Abraham and Isaac, as well as the prayer you just read, foreshadow an even greater sacrifice in which God would not spare His only son.
Our atonement is not accomplished because of the event at Mount Moriah, but because of the event at Mount Calvary. Together with all Christians, both Jews and Gentiles, we await a trumpet call to assemble in God’s presence—not the annual sound of the ram’s horn, but the trumpet call of the archangel to assemble for eternal and joyful worship of the One who gave Himself for our redemption.
* Mahzor: Prayer Book For the Day of Atonement, translated by Dr. A. Th. Philips, Hebrew Publishing Co., N.Y., copyright 1931. (Excerpts from pages 85 and 87, bracketed material ours.)