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Teshuvah and the Days of Awe: The Shofar Sounds the Call to Repentance

“These are My appointed feasts, the appointed feasts of the LORD, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies.”  (Leviticus 23:2)


Rosh HaShanah traditions: On the first night of Rosh HaShanah honey is served with apples and round loaves of challah (egg bread).  A blessing is recited over the bread, along with a prayer for a sweet new year.  On the second night, a new fruit such as pomegranate is also served and a special prayer thanking God for bringing us to this season is recited.

This coming weekend begins the very special and holy time known as the High Holy Days:  Rosh HaShanah (also called Yom Teruah—Feast of Trumpets)Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) and Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles or Booths)

These feasts and fasts are called moadim in Hebrew, meaning appointed times.

The Book of Leviticus in the Torah specifies the reason for each of these appointed times, when they are to be kept, and how they are to be celebrated.

Although many people, including Christians, consider these holidays to be “Jewish holidays,” they are in fact God’s Holy Days and festivals.

As such, they are entirely relevant to anyone who is interested in knowing Him.

We invite you to share this special season with us!

“These are the LORD’s appointed feasts, the sacred assemblies you are to proclaim at their appointed times.”  (Leviticus 23:4) 


This Jewish man is blowing a shofar fashioned from Greater Kudu horn, at the Western (Wailing) Wall during one of God’s moadim (appointed times).

The Days of Awe: A Time for Self-Examination

Rosh HaShanah (literally, The Head of the Year) begins this Sunday night with synagogue services, special prayers, and the blowing of the shofar.  During the course of the service, the shofar will sound 100 times.

A special ten-day period called the Days of Awe or Ten Days of Repentance begins with Rosh HaShanah and culminates with Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).

This ten-day period is an intense time of introspection and self-examination.  It provides everyone the opportunity to survey the condition of their lives and hearts and get right with God.

Interestingly enough, the very name Israel (pronounced Yis RA el in Hebrew) can be taken to mean ‘right with God,’ from two Hebrew words—Yashar (straight, right, or honest) and El—God.

This is a special time of forgiveness where we both request forgiveness from those we have wronged and extend forgiveness to those who have wronged us.  Jewish tradition, in fact, holds that God cannot forgive us for sins that we commit against another until we obtain forgiveness from the person we wronged.

Indeed, Yeshua (Jesus) Himself identified unforgiveness as a crucial issue.  He said that it would keep us from receiving forgiveness from our Heavenly Father.

“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”  (Matthew 6:14–15)

Since fallen human nature leads to sin and unforgiveness, God provided this special time to focus on repentance and forgiveness.   

ram's horn-shofar-tallit

The shofar (ram’s horn) is sounded before and during the High Holy Days.

Sounding the Shofar in Preparation of Rosh HaShanah

We don’t wait for Rosh HaShanah to blow the shofar.

Because the Hebrew month of Elul before the Days of Awe is regarded as the time to begin the process of asking forgiveness, the shofar has been and is continuing to be sounded in many Orthodox Jewish communities.

It’s piercing, haunting sound stirs our hearts to seek God and repent of the sin in our lives. 

A well-known and greatly respected Jewish sage of the Middle Ages, Maimonides, likened the sound of the shofar to an alarm call that awakens us:

“Sleepers, arise from your slumber, and those who are dozing, awake from your lethargy.  Review your actions, repent from your sins, and remember your Creator!”

Likewise, the Brit Chadashah (New Testament) exhorts us to wake from our spiritual slumber and make the most of our time by loving and following God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, rather than following empty or frivolous pursuits.

“Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Messiah will shine on you.  Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”  (Ephesians 5:14–16)  


A tallit (prayer shawl) and a Jewish prayer book

Selichot Confessions

As the new year is approaching and the month of Elul is drawing to a close, the call to repentance is being felt all the more urgently.

Since Rosh HaShanah is next Monday, special penitential prayers called Selichot (pronounced s’lee-KHOT, meaning forgiveness) began just after midnight yesterday (Sunday).

These prayers will be recited this week at the beginning of the daily morning prayer service.  And they are not short; they add an extra 45 minutes to the regular daily morning service.

A central theme found throughout these prayers is the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy (Shelosh-Esreh Middot), which were revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai and enumerated in Exodus.

The Lord, The Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin.  Yet He does not leave the leave the guilty unpunished….  (Exodus 34:6–7) 


This beautifully embellished door is the front view of a Jewish synagogue in the Old City, Jerusalem.

The Hebrew word selichot is related to slichahwhich is the equivalent expression for excuse me, I’m sorry, and forgive me.

Although we strive to live a pure and holy life before God, all of us sin and fall short of the glory of God.  Each one of us needs to repent and ask forgiveness for the many errors we make that hurt ourselves and others.

“Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the LORD.”  (Lamentations 3:40)

In most Jewish communities, Selichot will continue to be recited in prayer services right through the Days of Awe.

During this season, may we each be challenged to look inside ourselves, asking the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) to reveal hidden sin in our hearts and lives.

Saying sorry can be life changing.

Asking for forgiveness is pivotal to repentance, a closer walk with God and to successful relationships with our family, friends and fellowman.  It is also important to leaving the past behind and moving forward with God’s plan for our lives. 


The call of the shofar is a call to teshuvah (repentance).

The following confession of sins is a portion of Selichot called Al Chet that is recited communally on Yom Kippur:

“Lord I repent and ask forgiveness:

  • For the sin that we have sinned before You by hardness of heart.
  • For the sin that we have sinned before You with an utterance of the lips.
  • For the sin that we have sinned before You with immorality.
  • For the sin that we have sinned before You through speech.
  • For the sin that we have sinned before You through inner thoughts.
  • For the sin that we have sinned before You by insincere confession.
  • For the sin that we have sinned before You by foolish talk.
  • For the sin that we have sinned before You through impure lips.
  • For the sin that we have sinned before You through denial and false promises.
  • For the sin that we have sinned before You through scorning.
  • For the sin that we have sinned before You with food and drink.
  • For the sin that we have sinned before You through gossip.
  • For the sin that we have sinned before You in business dealings.

For all these, O God of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, and grant atonement.

Over the next couple of weeks, let’s join with the Jewish People worldwide and here in Israel, repeating the prayer of the Psalmist David:

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”  (Psalm 139:23–24)