Yom Teruah is certainly the most mysterious Moed (the Hebrew word that means “Appointed Time”) in the bible. There are very few commandments about what to do on this date, and even fewer that overtly tell us why we do it. Adding to the mystery is a flood of misinformation, re-branding, and confusing traditions that need to be sorted through and re-thought.
In Judaism, this day is more commonly called Rosh Hoshana but that’s not by the name Yah gives it in Leviticus 23, nor is it ever referred to by that name anywhere in the written bible. The phrase Rosh Hoshana translates to “head of the year” and is traditionally understood as “Jewish New Year.” However, we learn in Exodus 12:2 that Hebrews are commanded to shift their new year to exactly 6 months earlier. We are supposed to begin the year in the spring!
The Yom Teruah puzzle begins with the brevity of the biblical command:
Leviticus 23:24, “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of solemn rest, a memorial proclaimed with blast of trumpets, a holy convocation.”
Lets compare this one verse with verses that describe the rituals on the more famous holy days.
Pesach (Passover) has a deep and meaningful story behind it, with several symbolic elements familiar to even non-believers. The “Blood of The Lamb” for example, is foundational to the entire story of the Bible and everybody knows the at least the basics of the Hebrew’s Exodus from Egypt. Certainly Christians everywhere understand the power of the Blood, even if they are ignorant of the connections to the original Exodus.
The Feast of Matzah (Unleavened Bread) lasts a whole week, and the context and instructions are very clear as to what to do on that holiday—eat Matzah, and keep leavened bread out of your house. Scripture even details the reason, “because we came out of Egypt in haste” (Deuteronomy 16:3). Next is Shavuot which lasts for 50 days, and even if you aren’t observing every single one of those days, there are extensive commands about how to count it, and a even recipe for the humungous loaves that are baked on the 50th day. There is are two lengthy and colorful plots tightly tied to both the Exodus origin, and the Acts 2 celebration of Shavuot. Even the fall feasts that come directly after Yom Teruah are chock full of commands and imagery—scapegoats and fasting, tents and feasting.
But with Yom Teruah all we get is “a memorial proclaimed with a blast of trumpets”. Since the other Moed have their roots in Exodus, the “memorial” we are supposed to be “memorializing” has to be somewhere in there too. It also should fall in the proper order along with the existing story arch in Exodus. The red-herring (misleading clue) is the English word ‘trumpet’, as there is only one obvious trumpet in Exodus, and that occurs when the Ten Commandments are first spoken—clearly part of the Shavuot narrative which is already memorialized.
Let’s look at the word translated as “blowing”, teruah (Strongs H8643). A teruah isn’t specifically a “blast of a trumpet” it’s more of a loud noise: an alarm, a shout, a battle cry, but also can mean the sound of joyous worship. As far as connecting a teruah to Exodus, however, we don’t find much help in this word since the first use of teruah is right here in the vague Leviticus verse we are struggling to understand. Digging deeper, the core letters of the word are resh and ayin with a waw as a vowel in the center—spelling the word ‘ruah’ (Strongs H7321) which means the same exact thing as ‘teruah’. Ruah is first used even later in the Torah—in Numbers 10, regarding the official use of the silver trumpets–so that’s not helpful in finding the origin story either. However, if we cut the word down to its very root, we are left with just Resh, Aiyn (Strongs H7452) pronounced “ray-ah”, which still implies a similar kind of very loud noise..
This tiny word, these two letters, are at the heart of the mystery of Yom Teruah.
Here is how it is first used in Scripture:
Exodus 32:17-19, “When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted [ray-ah], he said to Moses, “There is a noise of war in the camp.” But he said, “It is not the sound of shouting for victory, or the sound of the cry of defeat, but the sound of singing that I hear.” And as soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain.”
We’ve found the source of the original shout. But why would Yah want His people to memorialize arguably the worst day in Hebrew history? I know Hebrews have a long (and still growing) list of worst days in our collective history, but this seems to be the archetype of the worst-of-the-worst days. Just 40 days before, the people had agreed to a covenant that promised them everything they could ever want: healing, rest, provision, protection, leadership, a perfect constitution for their kingdom, and a finally promise of a land to call their very own. Then, in one day, the High Priest is convinced by faithless Israelites, the people he was supposed to be leading in righteousness, to commit idolatry. (Seriously, you had one job, Aaron.)
The day of the original Yom Teruah meant treason against their King, adultery against their bridegroom, rebellion against their Father—all three. Worse, it occurred at the very same time that Moses was bringing down the physical version of the Words spoken directly from Yah’s mouth just a few chapters prior. These commandments were not simply chiseled into rocks—they were written down by Yah Himself on the very stones that the throne-room of heaven is paved with. Here’s more info, if that is surprising to you. Essentially, the stones were a gift showing His perfect love for Israel, written on a piece of the sky–that’s all. Moses, who has already shown to have some anger issues, smashes this perfect gift into a gazillion pieces. Moses also slays 3,000 of his own tribe-members on this day, because they would rather honor the golden calf than to repent and turn back onto The Way.
When all is said and done, this would seem like a day we would rather forget—not memorialize forever.
I suppose that’s the most cynical version of the story. Let me retell it with my happier goggles on, starting a little further back in Exodus.
In Exodus 18, the people hear Yah’s own voice read aloud the 10 Commandments, and Yah is determined to turn that terrifying audible sound into physical form. This is his pattern. He did this at creation when He spoke the entire world into existence. Jewish sages teach that Adam himself was created on Yom Teruah, which makes sense—as he and Eve (both referred to in Hebrew as adam in the sense of “man-kind”) were the pinnacle of creation. When He was finished making them (us) He didn’t just say “it was good”, He said “it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31) Of course, Adam follows the same slippery slope as Aaron—choosing to rebel as soon as Yah’s back was turned.
Following that pattern, and looking at what Yah had intended when Moses descended, Yom Teruah celebrates the day that Yah’s Word manifests physically onto the earth. The perfect Word which Moses carried down the mountain was not only meant to be a blessing to Israel, it was designed to be a blessing to all humanity. It was meant to be the roadmap of hope to restore Adam back to perfection.
The two stones were meant to be delivered on Adam’s birthday, essentially, to celebrate the re-birth of perfection on earth.
When the first Adam was put in the garden, there was a serpent there tempting him to break the rule. When Moses delivers Yah’s perfect gift, it descends from Heaven into a world that has grown impatient with the unfulfilled promises of God. It arrives to a world where religious leadership had chosen to twist and transform His word into their own likenesses, because the masses demanded it and it seems to profit everyone. But, before I slip back into cynicism, remember who hears the shouts of the people. It was Yeshua (Joshua). Joshua, like Moses, was absent from the story from Shavuot until this point in the narrative. When he descends on this first Yom Teruah, like the manifested Word itself, he also remains perfect. It is Yeshua (Joshua) alone who remains unstained by temptation, impatience, anger, and corruption.
Even though Moses is forced to punish the active transgressors, there are literally millions of Hebrews who are covered by Yah’s Mercy. Personally, if I was there, I’d vote for Aaron to be replaced with Yeshua (who would make a perfect High-Priest, don’t you think?) Thankfully, Yah rules a Kingdom, not a democracy. Yah’s mercy is so great that even Aaron’s transgressions are atoned for. Yah asks Moses to carve out a replacement set of stones (but out of regular old rocks) and writes on them the same words that were on the first. There are still some lingering doubts as to whether Yah would still choose to dwell with Israel on earth, and whether the promise of the land still stands—but Yah’s mercy and love wins out in the end.
His Word is His Word, and when He speaks something it ALWAYS manifests.
This leaves us with an expectation that someday our sins will no longer hinder His perfect will. It leaves us with hope that Yah’s Word will again manifest perfectly on the earth. This is how Yom Teruah embodies the spirit of hopeful expectations that His Kingdom will come to earth as it is in Heaven. This is the prayer of every faithful believer on earth, even if they are ignorant of the holiday that embodies this very promise.
There are four main Yom Teruah-centered events we’ll cover in the next several articles. Each one of them embodies the spirit of a hopeful shout that accompanies the physical fulfillment of His Word as it finds its home here on earth. These shouts also test the heart of mankind–so just like the original golden calf template, not everybody is equally joyful (or even survives) when these shouts occur. It’s important to bhttps://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/jhn/1/1/s_998001e on Yah’s good side, when the shouting starts.
· Joshua’s shout results in the manifestation of Yah’s Word in the destruction of Jericho and the initial and victorious claiming of the promised land. (Joshua 6)
· David’s shout accompanies Yah’s Word returning to Jerusalem after absence and neglect. (2 Samuel 6:15)
· The whole book of Revelation is about one thing, the promised hope of the second coming of Messiah. Revelation is so full of shouts, trumpets, roars, and thunders you’d have to be deaf to not hear Yom Teruah from it’s first Word to the last.
We’ll dive deeper into each of these examples over the next few weeks, as we get closer and closer to Yom Teruah!