Fall and Winter Feasts and Holidays
The feasts of Israel are set according to Scripture. They are also called the appointed seasons of the Lord. They are actually a call for a formal assembly. The first of these come in the autumn and is Feast of Trumpets as recorded in Leviticus 23:23-25:
“And, the Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, on the first day of the seventh month (roughly, October), you shall observe a day of solemn (sabbatical) rest, a memorial day announced by blowing of trumpets, a holy, called assembly. You shall do no servile work on it, but you shall present an offering made by fire to the Lord.”
Elul is the Jewish month proceeding Rosh HaShanah or the Jewish New Year. This month is significant because it is month of self-examination and repentance in preparation the New Year. The bad deeds of the old year are weighed against the good deeds. Each person hopes his/her name will be inscribed in the Book of Life for another year. Things are made right between friends, family, and acquaintances. The ram’s horn or the shofar is blown at the end of morning prayers during this time and it is the custom to remember the poor by increasing giving to charities.
Rosh HaShana (Jewish New Year)
Days of Awe
Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement)
Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles)
Simchat Torah (Torah Cycle Begins)
Hanukkah (Festival of Lights; Feast of Dedication)
Yom Kippur is a fasting holiday and considered one of the most holy days of the Jewish calendar. It falls on the Hebrew calendar on the ninth of Tishri. As all Jewish holidays, it begins at sunset on that day and continues until nightfall. It is a day to “afflict the soul” and to make right the sins of the past year.
Jewish people fast and attend synagogue for most of the day. They walk to the synagogue, wear all white, and do not wear leather on their feet. Fasting means they do not eat or drink water. The white clothing is a symbol and reflection of the Scripture from Isaiah 1:18 that although our “sins may be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”
On Yom Kippur sins committed against another cannot be covered until one has tried to make things right with the person that has been wronged. It is customary to visit friends or family that have been wronged in the past year and ask forgiveness. Stolen objects must be returned and gossip must be confessed. Things need to be made right. A ritual bath called mikvah is used on Yom Kippur. It is a symbol for rebirth and for repentance or Tushuvah.
There is also a ceremony called the kaparot that symbolizes atonement. A chicken is taken and waved over one’s head while reciting proscribed verses found the Yom Kippur special prayer book (machzor). Then the chicken or kaparot is redeem for money and given to the poor.
Today there is a phenomenon occurring globally that some people cut themselves with knives or whatever, just to draw blood. The pain inside the human heart is so great that it seems reasonable to some to let blood. This is twisted but stems from our foreboding intuition that our sin must be covered. Emotional pain and sin are often inextricably bound together. Just like pain signals sickness in the body, so pain signals “soul sickness” in the spiritual realm.
When the Temple was destroyed in AD 70, it became impossible for the Jewish people to make sacrifice for their sins with the blood of bulls and goats, etc. It became impossible for them to send a scapegoat out into the wilderness to carry their sins. In the Diaspora, rabbis developed new rituals for covering sin–good works, good deeds, seeking restitution on Yom Kippur. All of these things are good, but do not bear the load of sin.
Life is in the blood (Leviticus 17:11).
“Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood He entered the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Hebrews 9:22).
Chicken blood doesn’t lift the stain and burden of sin, but Lamb’s blood does. His blood was shed once for all sin and all men.
Hanukkah is the Hebrew word for “dedication.” The eight-day Jewish celebration bearing that name — it is also called the Festival of Lights — remembers the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem after it had been recovered by the Jewish forces of Yehuda Maccabee in 164 BC. The Syrian king Antiochus IV Epiphanes (a forerunner of the anti-Christ, foretold in Daniel 11:21), seeking to coerce the Jews into abandoning their religion and culture for that of Greece, had issued edicts forbidding circumcision, observance of Jewish Sabbaths and feast-days. He had defiled the Holy Temple by offering a sow on the altar and raising up in the sanctuary a statue to Zeus.
As depicted in the First Book of Maccabees (an account of Jewish history found in the Apocrypha), a revolt was launched by the priest Mattathias and later led by his son Yehuda (Judas) Maccabee. It led to the defeat of the Syrian forces, and the defiled Temple was cleansed and re-dedicated. Another account relates how during this cleansing there was only enough sanctified oil left to burn in the menorah for one night—yet a miracle occurred, and it continued burning for eight days. The victorious warrior Yehuda ordained “that the days of the dedication of the altar should be kept in their season from year to year by the space of eight days, from the five and twentieth day of the month of Kislev, with mirth and gladness” (I Maccabees 4:59). Today, part of the celebration includes the use of a special eight-branched menorah upon which a new oil lamp or candle is lit each evening. Each light is ignited from the flame of a separate “branch” called shamash—“servant.”