Happy Rosh Hashanah, and may your name be inscribed in the Book of Life!
We had wonderful Rosh Hashanah services at our Messianic congregation in Manhattan, Sha’ar Adonai, where I had the privilege of preaching on Erev Rosh Hashanah. I decided to preach on Psalm 23, which was the same text I preached on ten years ago when we observed Rosh Hashanah a few days after 9/11. At that time, many people were posting the twenty-third Psalm throughout New York City, hanging it on construction sites, hospitals, and more. Both believers and non-believers knew exactly what passage to read in order to find comfort and hope from God during a very trying moment.
Those days after the attack on the World Trade Center, and that first Rosh Hashanah service afterwards, were unforgettable. Months before the holiday, we had rented a space right next to the Empire State building for services. We decided not to change the location, even though many of us thought that the Empire State building could be the next target of the terrorists. Subways and buses were running poorly and the traffic was horrible as almost every other vehicle was stopped at a bridge or tunnel and searched for explosives. These were difficult days for the traumatized citizens of New York City.
In fact, we almost canceled the service, but decided against it. I remember telling one of our staff, “I will only cancel our High Holiday services when the Lord changes the Jewish calendar.”
We had a great service that night, and I was able to remind people that though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we need not fear evil because the Lord is with us (Psalm 23:4), and when He is with us, we have nothing to fear. That post-9/11 Rosh Hashanah service was the first service that Steve and Carol Fenchel attended in New York City prior to their coming here to plant a Messianic congregation. And here we are ten years later, still loving the Lord and worshipping Him during Rosh Hashanah – having passed through the “dark valley” of terrorism, yet still able to praise God. And ten years later we are now able to look back and see that our faithful Shepherd was guiding and leading us to better and greener pastures. We are safe, though surrounded by danger, because we are His sheep and He has promised to be with us “until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
This commemoration of Rosh Hashanah 9/11 was supremely meaningful to me and for those who went through the trauma ten years ago. I met one Jewish couple who attended our service ten years ago – it was their first time at a Messianic Rosh Hashanah service as followers of Yeshua (Jesus). I asked when they had come to faith and they replied, “A few days ago.”
I was a bit surprised and asked them to tell me their story. They had heard the message of Jesus from some Gentile Christian friends but were not convinced. They had also watched Jonathan Cahn’s TV show (Jonathan is a Jewish believer in Yeshua and pastor of Beth Israel congregation in New Jersey), but they were still not convinced. However, on September 11, their daughter was in one of the Twin Towers, and when they saw what had happened they prayed and asked Yeshua to save their daughter. They promised Him that if He did, they would both become believers in Him. After God did save their daughter, they became believers and found their way to our service just a few days later.
The same Lord who did such wonders during and immediately after September 11 is the Shepherd who continues to seek His sheep. After our service the other night, I was approached by an older couple, which I noticed had been smiling throughout the very lively and joy-filled service. I asked them how they liked the service and they said, “We loved it! This was unlike any Rosh Hashanah service I have ever attended!”
I asked the wife whether that was good or bad, and she exclaimed, “Good!” She and her husband had been brought to the service by a friend who is Jewish and believes in Yeshua. We compared stories about growing up in Brooklyn and Queens, and then talked a bit about the deeper spiritual issues of the High Holidays. It was a great conversation, but I don’t think I will forget the smile on this dear woman’s face when she went on to ask, “Is this the way your services usually go?”
I told her, “Yes – we are a happy bunch!”
As a Messianic Jew, I love to observe the Jewish holidays, but we must remember that the point of Rosh Hashanah in the Jewish community is that it serves as the “gateway” to the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. It is the day Jewish people begin a season of repentance and prayer that will hopefully lead to salvation by the close of Yom Kippur.
Yet as believers in Yeshua, we have forgiveness already! We also know that repentance alone does not save a man or a woman from the consequences of sin – we are saved through the blood of the atoning sacrifice of Yeshua the Messiah!
And this is why we have such joyful services! It’s not because we do not think we need to regularly repent, turning from our sins every day and drawing closer to God. Rather, we rejoice because we know that our sins are forgiven and we have been eternally bonded to God through the sacrifice of His Son, never to be undone – not even by the sins we commit each day as we do our best to walk with Him.
He is our great Shepherd. He leads us, guides us, and provides for all of our needs. And most importantly, He walks with us. He is our ever-present Companion and Joy, and this is why we view Rosh Hashanah as a celebration and a time to rejoice in thanksgiving to God for His goodness.
Again, I want to wish you a Happy New Year! I pray that you will have a spiritually fruitful week as you draw near to God and He draws close to you.