Why Fast for Gedaliah?

Why Fast for Gedaliah?

gedaliyahu-eilatmazar

Bulla inscribed, Gedaliah ben Pashur – Courtesy of Dr. Eilat Mazar Discovered at Ir David / Announced 2008

On the third day of the seventh biblical month, the Jewish people will observe a day of fasting. The observance is known as the Fast of Gedaliah. Who was Gedaliah, and why is his name associated with a day of fasting down to this day?

In the aftermath of the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, a few of the poorest of the land were left to be vinedressers and plowmen (II Kings 25:12; Jeremiah 39:10). The majority of the people were taken captive, their cities were left in shambles and their hope was gone. The King of Babylon appointed Gedaliah as governor over the land and the small remnant of Judeans. The Governor tried to reassure his people that all would be well if they would but serve the King of Babylon and live in the land. He encouraged them to dwell in the cities and go about their lives without fear. He told them to gather wine and summer fruits and oil, and store them in vessels and to live without fear. Judeans began to return and inhabit the cities left vacant in the wake of Babylonian aggression. Gedaliah made his home in Mizpah (Jeremiah 40:7-12).

During these dark days, Nebuchadnezzar gave special instruction concerning the prophet Jeremiah. He ordered Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard to, “take him, look after him well, and do him no harm, but deal with him as he tells you.” Nebuzaradan released Jeremiah from his chains and offered him the choice of going to Babylon or returning to his own land to dwell with the appointed Governor of the land among the people. Jeremiah chose to live among his people in the land, in the home of the Governor (Jeremiah 39:11-14, 40:1-6). As it turns out, the two most likely knew each other quite well. Gedaliah’s father, Ahikam, had come to Jeremiah’s aid when he was accused of prophesying against the Temple and the city, pronouncing their ruin (Jeremiah 26:24). Gedaliah’s grandfather,  Ahikam’s father, also played into the story of Jeremiah. His name was Shaphan. It was Shaphan, who in the days of Josiah was part of an incredible discovery story. The High Priest Hilkiah discovered a scroll of the Torah in the Temple and he told Shaphan about it. Shaphan reported the discovery to King Josiah and read the scroll to him. King Josiah sent Shaphan, his son Ahikam, the priest Hilkiah (Jeremiah’s father? cf. Jeremiah 1:1), and two others to go inquire of YHVH about the words of the scroll. They all went together to a prophetess by the name of Huldah who told them of all that was to come (II Kings 22:14-20).

So why do we fast for Gedaliah? What happened to the Governor whose family plays so prominent a role in the life of Jeremiah? He was assassinated by a member of the royal family (Jeremiah 41:1-2)! Gedaliah had been warned of the plot but refused to believe it, but the warning was true. At a meal in Mizpah, eleven men rose up and struck down the Governor and those that were with him (II Kings 25:25; Jeremiah 40:13-41:3). The murder of Gedaliah seemed to mark the end of the Judean commonwealth. According to the biblical record, the murder of Gedaliah occurred in the seventh month (II Kings 25:25, Jeremiah 41:1, 2) and the people of Judah held a fast to commemorate his death. It is kept on the third day of the seventh month, and the stated purpose is “to establish that the death of the righteous is likened to the burning of the House of our God” (Talmud, Rosh HaShanah 18b). According to tradition, this is believed to be the fast to which Zechariah makes reference (Zechariah 7:5; 8:19). The fast of the seventh month is known as the Fast of Gedaliah. It has been kept since the days of Zechariah it would seem!

So as the third day of the seventh month approaches, I am thinking of Gedaliah. He was a good man who had high hopes and best wishes for the restoration of his people and their land in a very dark period of history. He didn’t want to believe that one of his own people would seek his harm. I sit here today as I write this and wonder what conversations took place between Gedaliah and the prophet Jeremiah in his home. Gedaliah’s father had once defended and saved the life of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 26:24). His father and his grandfather had been part of a discovery that led to one of the greatest revivals in all of biblical history. Should we not on this day honor Gedaliah? I say we should. One day, the fast of the seventh month will be among the seasons of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts (Zechariah 8:19). Therefore love truth and peace. Gedaliah certainly did.

NOTE: The Bulla in the photo associated with this article contains the name Gedaliah. This Gedaliah lived at the time of the events described in this article, but Gedaliah ben Pashur was an opponent of Jeremiah. See Jeremiah 38:1.

Understanding Rosh HaShanah in History and Tradition–the “Day of the Blast”

Understanding Rosh HaShanah in History and Tradition–the “Day of the Blast”

Cry aloud to God our strength, raise a shout to the God of Jacob.

This evening at sundown the Jewish holiday popularly known as Rosh HaShanah begins. Literally, rosh ha-Shanah ( ראש השנה) means “head of the year.” It is commonly included on our secular calendars today as one of the “Jewish Holidays,” along with Passover and Yom Kippur, and is widely known as the “Jewish New Year.” Surprisingly though, on the Jewish calendar it is the 1st day of the seventh month, not the first day of the first month–so how could it mark a new year?

Blowing the Shofar

Blowing the Shofar

In biblical times, and on the Jewish calendar today, the “months” are lunar months, marked by the appearance of the “new moon,” 12 or 13 times in a solar year of 365.25 days. Judaism has two ways of marking the beginning of a year. The term “year” in Hebrew, shanah/שׁנה, is related to a verbal root meaning “to change” or “to turn.” Accordingly, one can refer to the “turning” of a year. The seasonal New Year is the first day of the first month, as Exodus 12: 1 puts it:

This Moon/month shall be to you the beginning (rosh, lit. “head”) of months.”

I suppose one could call it the original or primary “Rosh HaShanah,” as it comes with the beginning of the Spring and is therefore tied to the barley harvest and its seasonal ripening. That day is very significant in biblical and Jewish history as many events have taken place on Nisan 1st–the biblical New Year, marking times of “new beginnings” (Exodus 40:2; 2 Chronicles 29:17; Ezra 7:9; 10:17).

The “Jewish New Year” that begins at sundown tonight falls on the 1st day of the 7th lunar month–as Fall begins. It marks the beginning or “turning” of a different kind of year, one that in ancient times had to do with certain calculations regarding the Jubilee, the redemption of bond-servants, and so forth. It is kind of a “legal” New Year, much like our July and Oct “fiscal years” in our society today, having to do with land redemption and various financial arrangements.

In the Torah itself this holy day is never called Rosh HaShanah. Rather it gets a different name–Yom Teru’ah, that is “day of the blast.” Teru’ah/תרועה in Hebrew refers to raising up a loud noise, whether the shout of a human voice, such as a battle cry, or the piercing sound of a shofar or “trumpet” as a call of assembly or alarm–much like our modern concept of a siren.  Thus many Christian groups that keep this day refer to it as the “feast of Trumpets,” though that phrase never occurs in the Hebrew Bible.

There is, however, an association of this day with a “trumpet,” or more properly, a “shofar,” in Psalm 81, coupled with the word teru’ah or “shout.”

Cry aloud to God our strength, raise a shout to the God of Jacob.
Lift up a song, and give out a timbrel, a pleasant harp with psaltery.
Blow in the month a shofar, in the new moon, at the day of our festival,
For a statute to Israel it is, an ordinance of the God of Jacob.
A testimony in Joseph He hath placed it, in his going forth over the land of Egypt (Psalm 81:2-6).

Note the specific and somewhat surprising reference to Joseph–the lost son of Jacob whose name, along with that of his son Ephraim, later becomes associated with the scattered Northern Tribes of Israel (see Ezk 37:15-24). He of course lost his “identity,” and became unknown to his brothers, living among the Gentiles.

The instructions in Leviticus 23, where all the biblical festivals and sabbaths of the Jewish calendar are laid out, are amazingly sparse. Absolutely no hint as to its purpose or meaning is given. It is a “memorial” or “marking” of something, but of what?  There one is simply told:

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, memorial of teru’ah, a holy convocation (Leviticus 23:24).

This is quite literally a “commemoration” announced by a blasting sound–whether of shouting or that of a shofar. The best clues to the ancient meaning of this day are found in Psalm 80 & 81. The connection here to the tribe of Joseph is quite interesting. The Hebrew Prophets have connected the sound of the shofar as a call to the scattered 12 Tribes of Israel to regather in the Land of Israel–perhaps the most dominant theme in the Prophets (Jeremiah 23:5-8; 30:1-3; 33:27-40):

Is. 27:12   In that day from the river Euphrates to the Brook of Egypt the LORD will thresh out the grain, and you will be gathered one by one, O people of Israel. 13 And in that day a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were lost in the land of Assyria and those who were driven out to the land of Egypt will come and worship the LORD on the holy mountain at Jerusalem.

Later, as the messianic and eschatological expectations of both Jews and Christians developed in the Late Second Temple period (300 BCE to 70 CE), the idea of the blowing of a final Trumpet of Judgment began to develop. It came to be associated with a call or warning of impending judgment and even the resurrection of the dead. Paul writes that the return of Jesus in the clouds of heaven and the resurrection of the dead will commence with the “sound of the trumpet of God” or “the last trumpet” (1 Thessalonians 4:16; 1 Corinthians 15:52). In the gospel of Matthew the “elect” or chosen ones, which would make up a kind of “true Israel,” are gathered at the end of days by the sound of a “loud trumpet” (Matthew 24:31).

Since this day of Teru’ah comes ten days before Yom Kippur, the solemn day of “covering” or atonement, the blast of the shofar was thought to signal a call to introspection and judgment. The rabbis believed that “ten days of awe,” between the two festivals are a time when the world stands in judgment and the doors of repentance are open. This view, which has become the standard perspective of Judaism today, predominated. The rabbis emphasize that whereas Passover, which falls in the first month of the Jewish calendar, celebrates the freedom of Israel from slavery in Egypt, this “Day of the memorial Blast,” that falls in the seventh month, is a call to all humankind to stand before God in judgment.

Yom Teruah – A Day Holy to YHVH!

Yom Teruah – A Day Holy to YHVH!

newmoon

A picture of the New Moon from the Old City of Jerusalem, March 2016.

This is my favorite time of the year. We are fast approaching the 7th biblical month, a month called sacred by the first century Jewish historian Josephus.

The Bible refers to this season as the “turn of the year” (Exodus 34:22) and the “going out of the year” (Exodus 23:16). It is a time to reflect on our deeds and to turn to God.

There is something quite moving about being in sync with God’s appointed times (moedim). They are listed in Leviticus 23. In the very first verse we learn that these are the “festivals of YHVH.”

The Jewish people have kept these festivals since antiquity and have developed their own rich traditions around each of these. Non-Jews are beginning to see the great value in studying them and incorporating them into their walk. These moedim clearly have meaning for anyone that seeks to adopt the ways of the Creator.

Beginning at sundown on September 20th, according to the Jewish calendar, and with the sighting of the thin crescent of the new moon, we enter the 7th biblical month. The first day of the 7th month is known in the Bible as Yom Teruah, (a day of blasting, shouting), more commonly known as the Feast of Trumpets, and traditionally as Rosh HaShanah (or New Year’s day).

Anciently, the new month was determined based upon the sighting of the new moon (a thin crescent), while the modern Jewish calendar is determined by calculation. The subject of the Hebrew Calendar is a very interesting and hotly debated subject – but one that is quite rewarding. So whether you follow the Jewish calendar or prefer to spot the thin crescent moon in the sky with your own eyes, this is the Day!

An Ancient Sermon delivered on Yom Teruah

The 8th chapter of Nehemiah contains a sermon that was preached on this very day (Yom Teruah) nearly 2,500 years ago! It is there referred to as “a day Holy to YHVH.” The Torah has two main references to this Festival (Leviticus 23:23-25 and Numbers 29:1-6). The key word for this particular holy day is the Hebrew word Teruah. It is from the root “rua’ – רוע” which means to “raise a shout” and is often associated with a battle cry or with making a loud noise. The ram’s horn trumpet or shofar is often connected to this day of noise.

See the following passages for other examples of the word – Psalm 47, Psalm 66:1; Psalm 81:2; Psalm 100:1, and Joshua 6:5.

This coming Sabbath which follows Yom Teruah is called Shabbat Shuvah – the Sabbath of Repentance, or literally return. From the 1st day of the 7th month, we enter a 10-day countdown towards Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement. I would encourage all of you to examine yourself and seek to make mends. The gates of repentance are always open.

I pray that each of you will meditate on these things as we enter this Holy 7th month. Look for the new moon and when you see it, make some noise!

Shalom as we anxiously await Yom Teruah – the Day of Shouting!

Video on Yom Teruah

Additional Reading on Yom Teruah

https://www.nehemiaswall.com/yom-teruah-day-shouting-became-rosh-hashanah

Meaningful Passover Season

Meaningful Passover Season

Wishing all of our friends an insightful and meaningful Passover season. May the observance of this ancient “festival of freedom,” for ancient Israel contribute to the true liberation of all humans as well as the unfortunate beasts whom we enslave and torture so the vision of the Prophet might be fulfilled.

And they will neither hurt nor destroy in all my holy Mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Creator as the waters cover the seas.

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Happy New Year!–At Least on the Hebrew Calendar

Happy New Year!–At Least on the Hebrew Calendar

Today brings the New Moon or a new month on the Jewish calendar. But it is not  just any new moon. According to the Torah, “This month (literally “new”) shall be to you head of the months…Exodus 12.

Today is the beginning of Nisan or Aviv, the biblical name of this new moon/month. It is literally the day of “New Sheaves,” or as we would say in the Northern Hemisphere–the budding of Spring!

Barley 2013

 

Most people think of the Jewish festival of “Rosh HaShanah,” which comes in the Fall of the year 10 days before Yom Kippur, as the “Jewish New Year.”  In biblical times such was not the case. The New Year fell in the Spring, most often the New Moon closest to the Vernal Equinox, on the 1st day of the 1st month on the Jewish Calendar. This was the beginning of the “Sacred” year, whereas “Rosh HaShanah” was more of a “civil” year, much like our fiscal year markers–having to do with certain economic and governmental cycles.

The term “first day of the first month” in the Hebrew Bible, marking the”New Year,” signals a new beginning, or renewal of life. Thus in Exodus 12:1 Moses tells the Israelites that this day will be the beginning of the “months” for them–leading up to the Passover that falls in the first month.  It is also called the turning of the year, and has to do with the sprouting of the barely, and with what we call “Spring”–at least in the northern hemisphere!

According to the Torah Isaac was born when Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah was 90 (Gen 17:17).  A year earlier, when Abraham was 99, we have an important set of references to what was ahead.  Three “men” appeared to Abraham, one of whom is subsequently revealed to be an “epiphany” of Yahweh. The Yahweh figure tells Abraham explicitly twice:

I will certainly return to you when the season comes around, and lo, Sarah your wife shall have a son (Gen 18:10).

Is anything too hard for Yahweh?  At the set time I will return to you, when the season comes around, and Sarah shall have a son (Gen 18:14).

BirthIsaac

Two precise Hebrew expressions are used here, lending strong emphasis to the precise timing of the birth of Isaac.  There is great meaning in all this.  The first phrase, “when the season comes around,” is literally, “at the time (or season) of life.”  It is a reference to the new year in the Spring, in the month of Abib or Nisan (see Exodus 12:2).  It is worth noting that in the traditional reading of the Torah portions this section is paired with a reading from the Prophets, from 2 Kings 4.  There we read of another extraordinary birth, that of the son of the Shunammite woman during the time of Elisha (2 Kings 4:16).  Truly this month of Nisan is a month of miracles and “new birth” as we shall see.  The second phrase, “at the set time,” stresses the exactitude of the timing of this important event.  It will come at a precise time or season.  These are not merely superfluous passing references.  Three chapters later we read:

And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him (Gen 21:2).

What we learn here is that Isaac was born in the Spring of the year, likely in the month of Nisan, at a “set time.” In the book of Exodus we read of another “Spring” birth–this time the birth of the nation of Israel. Whether the author intended to link the two ideas or not is difficult to say:

Israel is My son, My first-born,
and I have said unto you: Let My son go (Exodus 4:22).

When Israel was a child I loved him,
And out of Egypt I called My son (Hosea 11:1).

Exodus 12:40-41 explicitly states that this “birth” of a nation taking place at this precise time:

Now the sojourn of the children of Israel who dwelt in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years.  And it came to pass, at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, even the very day [i.e., Passover], it came to pass that all the host of Yahweh went out from the land of Egypt.

The reference to the very day is to the 15th of Nisan, the evening of the Passover Seder.  But what about this intriguing reference to 430 years?  Scholars have disputed over the meaning of this chronological note.  It should be noted that the verse, when properly translated, does not say that Israel was in the land of Egypt for 430 years, but rather the that the time of their “sojourning” was 430 years.  What event happened, 430 years earlier, “to the day,” from Israel’s Exodus from Egypt, based on the chronological records now preserved in the traditional Hebrew “Masoretic” text.

Some have suggested plotting this 430 year period of “sojourn” with the Call of Abraham in Genesis 12.  Others have counted the 430 years from the circumcision covenant with Abraham, when he was 99 years old (Gen 17).  Still others have begun the 430 years with the birth of Isaac in Genesis 21.  The Rabbinic source Seder ‘Olam preserves a traditional solution to this question.

In Genesis 23:4 Abraham tells the children of Heth, from whom he purchases the burial cave of Machpelah in Kiriatharba or Hebron, “I am a stranger and a sojourner” with you.   Abraham refers to himself as a ger (stranger) and a toshav (sojourner), even though the Land of Canaan had been promised to him. Abraham never received the Land of Promise in his lifetime; he remained a “sojourner” until the day of his death.  The same is true for Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and their 70 descendants who went down to Egypt.  The question is, precisely when did this “sojourning” of the people of Israel begin?  According to Seder ‘Olam it begins not in Genesis 12, with the Call of Abram to leave his father Terah’s house in Haran, but five years earlier, when he left the city of Ur in Babylon.  Note carefully, when Abram leaves Haran he is 75 years old (Gen 12:4).  But according to Genesis 11:31 “they went forth . . . from Ur of the Chaldees” some years earlier.  This is the actual beginning of their wandering or sojourning.  There is a significant reference in this regard in Genesis 15:7:

And He said to him: “I am Yahweh that brought you out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give you this land to inherit it.”

One might have expected, on the basis of Genesis 12:1-3, for the text to read “who brought you out of your father’s house,” i.e., from Haran.  But in the Genesis tradition, picked up on by the Rabbis, the initial “Call” of Abram was out of Ur in Babylon, not from Haran in the land of Canaan.  In other words, the wandering, or “sojourning” of Abram begins before his call from Haran at age 75.  Also, the Hebrew word here is crucial.  The phrase here translated “brought you out” is from the verb yatz’ah, the same word used in Exodus 20:2 introducing the Ten Words at Mt Sinai:

I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.

That would mean that according to the Masoretic chronology Abram left Ur, which was his own personal “Exodus” from idolatry and paganism, on the very same night, Nisan 15th, which later becomes the Passover.

The precise chronology of the Masoretic Hebrew text confirms this.  Note the following references and numbers (the years are given as AM, “after Man (i.e., Adam),” which correspond to the traditional numbering of Jewish years since Creation):

Abram leaves Ur    Abram 70    Year    2018 AM (Gen 11:31)

Abram leaves Haran    Abram 75    Year 2023 AM     (Gen 12:4)

Birth of Isaac    Abram 100    Year 2048 AM    (Gen 17:17)

Birth of Jacob    Isaac 60    Year 2108 AM (Gen 25:20)

Israel to Egypt    Jacob 130    Year 2238 AM (Gen 47:9)

Exodus    210 yrs later    Year 2448 AM (Ex 12:40)

The total years from Abram leaving Haran at age 75 (2023 AM) until Jacob going down to Egypt (2238 AM) are 215.  To this we add the 210 years of Egyptian slavery for a total of 425 years: from Abram leaving Haran, until the Exodus in the year 2448 AM.  Since Exodus 12:40-41 designates 430 years rather than 425 the conclusion becomes obvious. The five additional years are by default the time Abram spent in Haran.  Accordingly, he must have left Ur at age 70.  Thus, the total years of “sojourning of the children of Israel,” is precisely 430 years, from the Abram’s “going out from Ur” at age 70 (2018 AM), until Israel’s “going out of Egypt” in the year 2448 AM.

One important additional note here.  Why would Exodus 12:40 speak of the sojourn of the “children of Israel” as 430 years when this period begins with Abram?  According to the rabbis Abram stands for the whole people.  The term “Israel” is both a name and a title which includes Abraham and his entire line through Isaac and Jacob.  The Covenant with the Jewish people begins with Abraham.  The Rabbis love to play with letters and point out that the name ISRAEL in Hebrew is spelled Yod, Shin, Resh, Alef, Lamed.  These five Hebrews letters are the first letters of the names of the Patriarchs and their wives, namely Yod=Yitzak (Isaac) and Yaakov (Jacob); Shin=Sarah; Resh=Rebecca and Rachel; Lamed=Leah!

Isaac is born at a “set time,” when the “season of life” comes around.  We have already seen that this is a reference to the beginning of Spring, or the month of Nisan.  In Jewish tradition Isaac, as a miraculous child of promise, was born on Nisan 15th or Passover.  In fact Genesis hints at the festivals and holy days of Israel, later set forth in the Torah, as known in various ways in much earlier times (Gen 1:14; 8:13).  For example, there is a reference to Lot preparing “unleavened bread” or matzos, for the heavenly guests prior to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:3)!  Why matzos?  In the previous chapter Abraham has been told that Isaac will be born “at this season next year” (18:14).  So, in the text of Genesis we know we are in the time of Nisan, when Abram is 99, a year before Isaac’s birth.  Does Genesis imply that God rescued and removed Lot and his family from Sodom around, or even on, the very night of Passover? The text contains several Passover motifs.  The angels keep urging Lot and his family to leave, to hurry, and not to delay.  In a similar way the Israelites make haste to leave Egypt, not even allowing their bread to rise.