The year 5777 of the Jewish calendar began at sundown this past Sunday. This is called Rosh Hashanah (“Head of the Year”) and marks the start of the High Holy Days, which will climax on October 12, Yom Kippur (“Day of Atonement”). According to traditional Jewish belief, God created Adam 5777 years ago, and that was the beginning of human history.

Rosh Hashanah is a time for self examination and resolution to change your life in a positive direction. Synagogue services include classic Scriptures from the Law and the Prophets, prayers by the leaders and the congregation and a challenge to recommit yourself to faith in God. An important feature of Rosh Hashanah is the playing of the shofar (hollowed out ram’s horn) 100 times to announce the arrival of a new year of opportunity.

Baal Shem Tov was a charismatic Rabbi who lived in eastern Europe between 1700 and 1760 AD, and who is recognized as the founder of Hasidic Judaism. There are many stories about him, his mystical powers and his unique insights. Here is one I like.

A boy entered Baal Shem Tov’s synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and, being ignorant of the prayers, just kept saying the Alef-Beits (the Hebrew ABCs) as printed at the front of the prayer book. He was observed crying and laughing and from time to time clapping, much to the consternation of the serious congregation.

After the Rosh Hashanah service concluded, the Rabbi announced that the Jews of Russia were saved because of this boy. Baal Shem Tov explained that this boy did not know how to pray, and had never learned to read properly. Unable to join in with the congregation, the boy turned to God and said:

“Dear God! I know the Alef-Beits. I’ll spend all day saying these holy letters, and you, dear God, please rearrange them.”

And it was this boy’s prayers that averted the terrible decree against the Jews of Russia.

Here’s a Rosh Hashanah challenge for you. Express all your thoughts and feelings to God. Don’t worry about making sense. If your words and phrases aren’t as polished as Deacon Johnson’s, all the better. Your “prayer” may sound like gibberish, or like saying the ABCs over and over again. Just trust God to rearrange the letters, and you’ll be surprised how he will transform your feeble stammering “prayer” into miraculous change in you and in the lives of those around you.


— Pastor George Van Alstine