Laws pertaining to the Jewish Festivals

Published date19 September 2021
There are six holidays (Yamim Tovim) mentioned in the Torah: a) the first day of Pesaḥ; b) the seventh day of Pesaḥ; c) Shavu'ot; d) Rosh Hashana; e) the first day of Sukkot; f) Shemini Atzeret .

We are commanded to sanctify these days. We do this by not working, by studying Torah, by rejoicing in the festival, and by thanking God for all the good that He has given us. All this leads us to remember the Lord, our God, Who chose us from among all the nations, gave us His Torah, sanctified us with His mitzvot, drew us close to His service, and called us by His great and holy Name.

In this way, we transcend our daily lives and mundane activities. We improve ourselves by perfecting our character and purifying our heart; we strengthen our commitment to Torah and mitzvot; and we recall our vital mission – repairing the world under the sovereignty of the Almighty.

While all the holidays share these basic characteristics, each one also expresses a unique concept that we are privileged to internalize anew each year. The first day of Pesaḥ is the day when God redeemed us from slavery in Egypt to eternal freedom. In order to ensure that we remember that event, we were commanded to eat matza, bitter herbs, and the meat of the Paschal sacrifice on that night, and to tell the story of the Exodus. The seventh day of Pesaḥ is the day when God split the Reed Sea for us, led us through it on dry ground, and drowned the Egyptians who pursued us.

On Shavuot God gave us the Torah, through which we repair the world. Accordingly, we were commanded to bring two loaves of ḥametz (leavened grain) to the Temple on Shavuot. This teaches us that even the evil inclination, symbolized by ḥametz, which causes grain to puff up, can be perfected and purified by the Torah.

The first of Tishrei is the day the world was created. More accurately, it was the sixth day of creation, when man was created. We are commanded to make it a Day of Remembrance (Yom Zikaron), to blow the shofar, and to "wake up" and repent. There is an additional day of awe and holiness – Yom Kippur. Since its prohibitions are stricter than those of the holidays, it is not counted among them.

The first day of Sukkot is not tied into a specific event, but on it, we remember the divine providence we experienced when God liberated us from Egypt, led us through the desert, and enveloped us in clouds of glory. Sukkot takes place at the end of the fruit harvest, giving us the opportunity to conclude the yearly festival cycle by thanking God for the year's fruit.

Immediately following Sukkot is Shemini Atzeret, which is the final celebration of the year. On this holiday we are privileged to experience extra closeness with the Lord, our God. It is thus a fitting time for us to complete the Torah-reading cycle and celebrate it.

Agricultural Seasons and Judgment Days

The names of the regalim (pilgrimage festivals) reflect the agricultural periods in which they take place. Thus we read:

"Three times a year, you shall hold a festival for Me: You shall observe the Festival of Unleavened Bread (Pesaḥ)…at the set time in the month of Aviv (spring), for in it you went forth from Egypt…the Festival of the Harvest (Shavu'ot), of the first fruits of your work, of what you sow in the field; and the Festival of Ingathering (Sukkot) at the end of the year, when you gather in the results of your work from the fields. Three times a year, all your males shall appear before the Sovereign, the Lord" (Shemot 23:14-17).

Similarly, we read:

"You shall observe the Festival of Unleavened Bread…at the set time of the month of Aviv, for in the month of Aviv you went forth from Egypt…. You shall observe the Festival of Weeks, of the first fruits of the wheat harvest; and the Festival of Ingathering at the turn of the year" (Shemot 34:18-23).

It is appropriate for Pesaḥ to be in the spring, when everything begins to grow. Shavu'ot is referred to as the Festival of the Harvest because the harvest of wheat, which provides man with his main sustenance, is completed then. Sukkot is called the Festival of Ingathering because this is when all of the year's crops are gathered and brought home. At these times, people are naturally happy. In the spring, we are happy because of the rejuvenation of the crops after the bleak winter. During the harvest, we are happy because of the abundance of blessing in the crops. During the ingathering, we are happy because of the variety of good fruit which we have been privileged to gather. We were commanded to uplift and sanctify these naturally joyful feelings through the mitzvot of the festivals.

These natural processes reflect the spiritual processes that take place in the supernal worlds. Pesaḥ is a time of beginning and renewal; therefore, we left Egypt then and became a nation. Shavuot is a time when the growth process reaches maturity; therefore, we received the Torah then. Sukkot is a time of joyful celebration of bounty, at the culmination of the year's agricultural endeavors, so we express our great joy for the Divine Presence resting upon us and for all the positive things that result from our living under God's protection.

In other words, each festival represents the conclusion of a stage that we experience in...

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