What is the spiritual significance to Mormons of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur?


Question: What is the spiritual significance to Mormons of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur?Posted on October 3, 2010 by Marlena

Comments welcome. Please email: comeuntochrist@att.net

This is a wonderful question to ask and answer because it speaks to the very heart of Judaism and Mormonism: basic similarity in doctrine through prophetic revelation. First, let us talk about the High Holy Days’ essential meanings. As this is laid out some of the striking themes will become apparent .

Rosh Hashanah occurs on the first and second days of Tishri, the seventh month of the Hebrew lunar year, in compliance with the law as stated by Abraham in Exodus 12:2. In 2010 it occurred on September 8th of our Gregorian calendar and instituted the Jewish Year 5771 on the Hebrew calendar.

In Hebrew, Rosh Hashanah means literally “head of the year” or “first of the year.” Rosh Hashanah is commonly known as the Jewish New Year. It continues for seven days. It is a time of great celebration among Jews as it is the completion of one year and the beginning of the next  – continuing the cycle of time. In the Talmud, commentary by sages and rabbis upon the Torah books – this holiday time corresponds with the sixth day of creation, or when humanity was created. So it is the birthday of all peoples including the establishment of Adam and Eve upon the earth as natural man and woman.

That makes Rosh Hashanah a time of repentance and accounting for our actions during the past year as we acknowledge God as the Ultimate Judge. The Book of Life is opened before the Divine Being and we hope we are worthy of having our names entered in the Lord’s book. We review the choices we have made over the past year, our actions and our intentions, as we attempt to honestly evaluate ourselves. It is traditional to greet each other with the wish that the person be inscribed in the Book of Life for the coming year.

What difference does our actions make? How can we be better people, more useful to God and to others? Together, these themes speak of renewal, celebration, creation, evaluation, accountability, and responsibility: a complex holiday filled with joy and trepidation.

The only commandment that is given with Rosh Hashanah is the blowing of the shofar (ram or antelope horn- trumpet). There are certain blasts made that are celebratory and that signal alarm if we forget to be mindful of obeying God. It is a ritual act, as the holiday season itself is ritualized.

But deeper meanings can be found in this holiday. To Mormons, repentance is one of the first principles of the Gospel. It means changing our mind and heart and turning to God, asking for and through asking forgiveness, receiving a fresh start. We turn from sin toward our Savior, Jesus Christ. Every Sunday sacrament service is like a Jewish Rosh Hashanah, a celebration of renewal from the death of our sins into the bright and eternal light of Christ through the ministrations of the Holy Ghost. Like the blowing of the shofar, we alert ourselves to watch our actions, our words, our deeds. We remember our past and strive to improve ourselves in the weeks following.  We have a rebirth of love and obedience to the word of God.

The timing of Rosh Hashanah is revealing. It comes ten days before Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.  The Torah does not expressly link Rosh Hashanah to the atonement process that will culminate on Yom Kippur but the 10 day separation is a link that is significant.   So why did the Jewish people come to view Rosh Hashanah as the primary New Year of the Jewish calendar? Perhaps it’s because we came to understand the idea of renewal in a spiritual rather than a chronological sense. This season of teshuvah (repentance) by its nature provides us with the ability to wipe the slate clean and to start our lives afresh.

By placing the season of teshuvah in the seventh month — as far as possible from the chronological beginning of the year — the Torah reminds us that it is our teshuvah, not the calendar, that has the capacity to provide us with that fresh start.  We have the capacity — especially in this season but ultimately in any season — to begin our return to God. “Return us, O Lord, to yourself, and let us return. Renew our days as of old.” (Lamentations 5:21)

Many do not know that on Sept 22, 1827, Rosh Hashanah of that year, the prophet Joseph Smith received the gold plates that became the Book of Mormon. Also, on Sept 9, 1850, just after Rosh Hashanah, the Great Compromise of 1850 was made law, creating the Utah territory and appointing Brigham Young governor.

The biblical account of Yom Kippur describes a day dedicated to atonement and abstinence. Leviticus 23:27 tells us that on the 10th day of the month of Tishrei, “You should do no work throughout that day. For it is a Day of Atonement (“Yom Kippurim“) on which expiation is made on your behalf before the Lord your God.  Indeed, any person who does not practice self-denial throughout that day shall be cut off from his people…”  In 2010 Yom Kippur occurred as of sunset September 17 through moonrise the next evening.

We are also told in Leviticus that on this day the High Priest would perform sacred rites in order to achieve expiation of the people’s sins.  These rites included a lottery to choose two goats–one to be consecrated to God and one to “Azazel.” While the exact meaning of the word Azazel is uncertain, the ritual required the High Priest to confess the sins of Israel on this Azazel-goat, and to set it free in the wilderness so that it “shall carry on it all their iniquities to an inaccessible region.” (Lev. 16:22)  The goat consecrated to God was offered on the altar as a purification offering. 

“The Yom Kippur prayer service includes several unique aspects. One is the actual number of prayer services. Unlike a regular day, which has three prayer services (Ma’ariv, the evening prayer; Shacharit, the morning prayer; and Mincha, the afternoon prayer), or a Shabbat or Yom Tov, which have four prayer services (Ma’ariv; Shacharit; Musaf, the additional prayer; and Mincha), Yom Kippur has five prayer services (Ma’ariv; Shacharit; Musaf; Mincha; and Ne’ilah, the closing prayer). The prayer services also include a public confession of sins (Vidui) and a unique prayer dedicated to the special Yom Kippur avodah (service) of the Kohen Gadol in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. From Wikipedia  

Yom Kippur , the  Day of Atonement is a day set aside to cleanse the soul before the Book of Life is again sealed shut for another year. We must seek reconciliation with anyone we have wronged, receive it, then confess to God and ask for his forgiveness. Observant Jewish men attend synagogue, sometimes for 24 hours, in fasting and prayer. Women also observe at home. Jews are restricted from bathing, eating, drinking sex for this period of time, so that all attention will be put upon the sacred and urgent tasks at hand. The liturgy used includes a magnificent song “Kol Nidre” (all vows). My blogsite, http://judaicaworld.blogspot.com features a short video with music of the Kol Nidre. It is most beautiful and haunting.

While most of the holidays originating in the Bible have their logical place on the agricultural calendar, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur do not necessarily fit that mold.  The rabbis tell us that the 10th of Tishrei was the day on which Moses completed and brought down the second set of commandments from Sinai, signifying that God had granted atonement for the sin of the Golden calf. This rabbinic interpretation lends historical significance to the otherwise unexplained placement of the holiday 10 days after Rosh Hashanah

The High Holidays–the period including Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the 10 days of repentance between them–concentrates a person’s mind on themes of mortality and the meaning of life.  This period is a time to take stock, to do an accounting of one’s life and take action by repenting  of  sins.  This is the crucial message that we take with us from the beginning to the end of Yom Kippur.

May the Lord bless and keep you and shine his light upon you.

Marlena Tanya Muchnick, LDS Speaker, Author

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