The Bugle and Rosh Hashanah
Long ago when houses were made of wood and straw, and no one dreamed of growing up to be a fireman (because there was no such thing), something happened that might change how you think about Rosh Hashanah.
A young boy whistled cheerfully as he arrived at the entrance of a large market town on a sunny Saturday morning. This was the first time he had ever left his small village and he could barely contain his excitement. As he walked up the main street of the town, the boy’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. Market day was in full swing and vendors lined the street, calling out their wares to passers-by.
Dust blew in his face as the boy weaved through the crowds, dodging people and animals in his path. A fresh fruit stall caught his attention but when he tried to talk to the girl running it, he could barely make himself heard above the noise of the marketplace.
Suddenly a sharp sound pierced the air rising above the din. The atmosphere in the market changed instantly. Everyone stood still and stopped talking. Even the animals grew quiet.
As the sound increased, the young boy looked around, eyes wide and bewildered.
“What is it?” he asked the girl.
“Fire!” she said anxiously. “Don’t you know the sound of a bugle?”
“What’s a bugle got to do with a fire?”
“If there’s a fire, the watchman blows it and the fire is quickly put out.” The girl was becoming impatient with him, but this did nothing to deter the boy’s amazement. He thought of the time his family's wooden barn had burned down and the effort it took to stop it from spreading to their house. How marvellous it would be to simply blow on an instrument to put out fire.
“Where can I get myself such an instrument?” he asked the girl.
She shot him a puzzled look but told him.
Later that day, when the boy left to return to his village, it was with great excitement and a brand-new bugle clutched in his hands. Upon arrival, he called all the people together and excitedly told them about this wonderful bugle that put out fires. To demonstrate, the boy lit the roof of the nearest hut and began to enthusiastically blow on his bugle. Of course, this did nothing to halt the spread of flames and before long the hut had burned to the ground.
The furious villagers called the boy a fool for thinking that simply blowing a bugle was enough to put out a fire. “It is only the call of an alarm, to wake up the people, if they are asleep, or to break them away from their business and work and send them to the well to draw water and put out the fire!"
That story, based on a Jewish tale from long ago, actually emphasizes the importance of blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. But what has this rather far-fetched tale got to do with a Jewish feast?
To discover this, we need to look to its origins in the Bible. The book of Leviticus records God’s instructions to the nation of Israel. “And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “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. You shall not do any ordinary work, and you shall present a food offering to the LORD.” Leviticus 23:23-25
The trumpets mentioned in the Bible are shofars, which are ram’s horns. What we refer to as Rosh Hashanah was originally called the Feast of Trumpets. The shofar has always played a very important part in this feast and nowadays it is blown in the synagogues.
Originally, the shofar was used for many different reasons. Watchmen of the city blew it to signify all was well, to call together the community of Israel or to warn of an attack.
Today, all three calls are sounded when the shofar is blown in the synagogue, but it was for the last one, teruah, that the holiday was named.
If the original purpose of this call was to warn, why would God command Israel to blow the shofar during a time of peace? What was the danger?
Deuteronomy 8 talks about the danger of forgetting God and growing complacent in our need for him. God is teaching Israel to put their full trust in him and not in earthly things. Self-sufficiency and self-righteousness are real dangers and the shofar warns us to remember our need for God.
And the Rabbis make it very clear that it is not enough to only hear the shofar. Just like the village boy who foolishly trusted the sound of the bugle and did not realize that its sole purpose was a call to action, we need to remember that the shofar is an alarm intended to call us to action as well. The bugle drew attention to a physical danger (fire), and the shofar draws attention to the spiritual danger of trusting in yourself instead of God.
In either case, simply listening is not enough.
Jesus turned the warning into a blessing when he spoke to a Jewish crowd.
He said, “Blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice.” Luke 11:28. He was encouraging people to remember that acting upon God’s word (the Bible) is what brings its rescuing power to life.
Jesus declared that He was the Messiah, but he didn’t leave it there. He called all who believed his words to follow him. It was a call to action. The dangers of self-sufficiency and self-righteousness were still very real when he gave that message.
Rosh Hashanah continues to be a relevant holiday because human beings still struggle with these things. What kind of danger will the sound of the shofar remind you of this year? If you believe in Jesus and are following him, what might God be saying to you today? If you are unsure who Jesus is, what would make it worth finding out?
Written by Rebekah Bronn