Spring is in the air! Finally, after a long and cold winter, the signs of warmer weather are on the horizon. This also means that the Biblical New Year is coming. Unlike the secular new year which starts in the dead of winter, God’s new year begins in the spring when everything becomes new.
If you are anything like us when we first started keeping the feast days, you might not know anything about the Biblical New Year or its significance. We all celebrated the new year in January and then went on about our lives. Now you might be wondering, what does the Torah say about the new year? How should we celebrate it and how is it important to keeping the feast days?
When is the new year according to the Bible? To answer this question, we have to go back to what is a biblical month. We know that God gave us the sun, moon, and stars not only to give us light during the day and night but to be a sign for the seasons, days, and years.
Genesis 1: 14: “And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, to divide between day and night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and for years.”
The sun rules the day and the moon rules the night. The moon goes through phases that tell us what season we are in and what time of the month we are in. The new moon or the crescent moon starts each month. The sliver of the moon gets larger going from bottom right to top left – the waxing crescent phase. Then the moon becomes full and gradually starts to get smaller starting from the right to the left- the waning phase. At the end of each moon phase, right before the start of a new cycle and new month, the moon completely disappears. This process can take anywhere from 1 – 2 days to reappear as a tiny sliver, therefore restarting the cycle once again.
The first day of the month or Rosh Chodesh means “head of the month”. We see in the Bible that this is a special set-apart day. The blowing of the trumpets was important to signify the start of each new moon/month and special sacrifices that were made (Numbers 10: 10; Psalms 81: 3 – 4; Ezekiel 46: 1, 3, 6). The new moon was also held as a feast day or a day to seek out the prophet (1 Samuel 20: 4; 18; 2 Kings 4: 22 – 23).
The first day of the new moon was a special time when God spoke a message to the prophets for the people(Deuteronomy 1:3; Ezekiel 26: 1; 29:17; 31:1; 32:1). Other important events occurred on the new moon. The Tabernacle was constructed(Exodus 40: 15-17). The Temple was sanctified(2 Chronicles 29:17; Ezekiel 45: 18), and Ezra and some of the Hebrews from the Babylonian captivity returned to Jerusalem on Rosh Chodesh(Ezra 7:9).
The High Holiday Yom Teruah is celebrated on the first of the seventh new moon of the year at the end of the year(Leviticus 23: 23 – 25).
The Biblical New Year
Now, onto the Biblical new year. After nine plagues had fallen on the Egyptians, and right before the angel of death came to kill all the firstborns of Egypt, God started preparing the Hebrews for their departure. Before giving Moses the Passover celebration instructions, God first declares when the new year will begin.
Exodus 12: 1 – 2: “ And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, 2 this month shall be to you the beginning of months: it is the first to you among the months of the year.”
Deuteronomy 16: 1: “ Observe the month of new corn(or new/ Abib), and thou shalt sacrifice the Passover to the Lord thy God; because in the month of new corn thou camest out of Egypt by night. ”
The month of new corn is also known as the month of new, Abib/Aviv, or Nisan. Abib in Biblical Hebrew means “fresh or new ears(of corn)” and in Modern Hebrew, it means “spring”. Barley is said to be in the “Aviv stage” when the heads of grain start to turn yellowish-green and are mature enough to be easily ruined by the weather (Exodus 9: 31 – 32, Nehemia’s Wall “Aviv Barley”). It is during this time that the new year is declared and the rest of the months can be calculated.
The new year is important because 10 days later, the Hebrews would gather their Pascal lamb and on the 14th they would sacrifice it for Passover, then Unleavened Bread and First Fruits occurred, leading into the counting of the omer for Shavuot. The first four High Holidays of the Lord are all based on when the New Year occurred. Which was based on when the new moon occurred. Everything is interconnected in a beautiful way.
How is Rosh HaShanah in the fall different from the new year in the spring?
If the new year starts in the spring, then what is Rosh HaShanah? Many people, including us, when we first started celebrating the High Holidays, celebrated the fifth High Holiday(Yom Teruah) as the Biblical New Year. It is also known as Rosh HaShanah or “head of the year” and it is celebrated in the fall. This day is celebrated as the new year, so much so, that it overshadows the true new year in the spring. Rosh HaShanah began the civil calendar. The new year in the spring began the religious or biblical calendar. Yom Teruah, while it is celebrated on the first day of the seventh month, it is not a new year celebration. It is a day for blowing trumpets, remembering the blessings and goodness of the Lord, resting, and rejoicing.
How do we celebrate the Biblical New Year?
Not only does the Biblical new year signify the beginning of a new year, but it is also the first day of a new month, therefore, all the laws and traditions surrounding the month apply to this day as well.
How do we ring in the new year? Throughout the Bible, we see that there were specific sacrifices that were performed on the New Moon day. Since we can’t perform animal sacrifices because of the lack of a temple, how do we actually celebrate the new year?
Firstly, it’s not commanded that we celebrate the new year, so if you don’t want to do anything extra that’s fine. However, I believe it is important to mark this day because the rest of the holidays are calculated from it. If you do choose to celebrate in any way, here are a few ideas that you and your family could do to help celebrate this day.
Blow the shofar
We are commanded to blow the shofar or to hear the trumpets on the first of the new moon(Numbers 10:10; Psalms 81: 1 – 4). If you can’t blow the shofar yourself, listen to a recording of it. Here is the one we like to listen to each Rosh Chodesh.
Have a party or special dinner
Everyone looks forward to December 31st to party and to watch the ball drop in Times Square. Well, we didn’t, but we had a family party and entered the “new year” at a Watchnight service or with prayer. Just because we don’t celebrate January 1st as the new year doesn’t mean we can’t still have a party. It doesn’t have to be something big, maybe a special dinner or a few snacks with friends and family. Just something fun and out of the ordinary.
Spend extra time in prayer and Bible study
Every Shabbat I try to spend extra time reading my Bible and praying, and recently I have been trying to apply that to each new Biblical month/ year. As we enter into a new Biblical year, it is important to cover this new year/ season with prayer and to thank the Lord for his blessings and favor over the past year. Instead of watching the ball drop, we would spend the last few minutes of each year praying and thanking the Lord. I think we should do this for the Biblical new year as well.
Knowing when the Biblical new year occurs is important for determining the spring feast days. Just 14 days later, Passover begins, and with it the rest of the spring high holy days.
We saw that the new moon was a time when God spoke to his prophets and when the people sought the Lord. God doesn’t change, and I still believe this is a day when God speaks to us.
Observe the true New Year’s Day, wait and prepare in anticipation for Passover. Shalom!