The Torah portion Emor (Book of Leviticus) tells of the rituals the Israelites were to follow to be holy. It re-emphasized the importance of the holiness of the priests, the sacrifice and the tabernacle…. Then, with verse 23:1 we are told about HOLY TIMES … the fixed times of the year which should always be holy through the ages…. “The Eternal On spoke to Moses saying: “Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: These are my fixed times, the fixed times of the Eternal, which you shall proclaim as sacred occasions.” (Lev. 23:1)
These “sacred occasions” or holidays are important because they provide direction for the people and focus on what the religion deems important.
The first holiday mentioned is the Sabbath. We are told that “on the seventh day there shall be a Sabbath of complete rest, a sacred occasion. You shall do no work: it shall be a Sabbath of the Eternal throughout your settlements.” (Lev. 23:3) This is a time to be observed, not only in the Tabernacle or Temple but “throughout your settlements.” This weekly holy time will be a most important time to remember God, creation and the Exodus from Egypt. … and remember EVERY WEEK, not just once a year.
After Shabbat, the Torah lists the “set times of the Eternal, the sacred occasions, which you shall celebrate at its appointed time.” (Lev.23:4)
1 Passover: “In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight, there shall be a Passover offering to the Eternal, and on the fifteenth day of the month the Eternal’s Feast of Unleavened Bread. You shall eat unleavened bread for seven days. On the first day you shall celebrate a sacred occasion; you shall not work at your occupations. Seven days you shall make offerings by fire to the Eternal. The seventh day shall be a sacred occasion; you shall not work at your occupations.” (Lev. 23:5-8)
Even though the current Jewish calendar has the New Year beginning with Rosh HaShanah (the first day of the seventh month) The first month, according the Torah, marks the memory of the Exodus from Egypt…. A beginning for the calendar and the Jewish people. And this “beginning” is to be remembered and celebrated every year. The text also tells us that this is the time of the first harvest and the first sheaf of the harvest is to be brought to priest. The text states that it is to be “ the day after the Sabbath of Passover (then) you shall count off seven weeks.” (Lev. 23:15)
2 Shavuot (the holiday is not mentioned by this name in the text) …The second Holy day falls at the end of the seven weeks. “Then you shall bring an offering of new grain to the Eternal.” (Lev. 23:16) The text also tells us tells us on this day we do not work at our occupations. …. And that “when you reap the harvest of you land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of the field … you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger…” (Lev. 23:22)
Even though not mentioned in Torah, this holiday also commemorates the giving of the Torah. The Torah was given to the Israelites seven weeks (49 days) after the Exodus. So the counting also helps to remember this seven week journey through the wilderness.
3 Rosh HaShanah (this holiday is also not named in the text) This Holy day is covered with a single paragraph. It is to be observed on the first day of the seventh month. “You shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blast. You shall not work at your occupations; and you shall bring an offering by fire to the Eternal.” (Lev. 23:23-24) The text does not give any explanation for this holiday… except that it is a time of gathering and offerings.
4 Day of Atonement … observed on the tenth day of the seventh month. It is a “sacred occasion for you: you shall practice self-denial, and you shall bring an offering by fire to the Eternal. You shall do no work throughout that day. For it is a Day of Atonement on which expiation made on your behalf before the Eternal you God. ” (Lev. 23:27-28) The text tells us that this day is to be “a Sabbath of complete rest.”
5 Sukkot …“On the fifteenth day of the seventh month there shall be the Feast of Booths to the Eternal (to last) seven days.” (Lev. 23:33) “You shall live in booths seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in booths, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I the Eternal you God” (Lev. 23:42-43) As with the other Holy days we are not to work at your occupations on the first and seventh days… and you are to bring offerings by to the Eternal. We are also told to bring the product of the haddar trees, branches of the palm trees, boughs of leafy trees and the willows of the brook.(the meaning of the haddar trees is not known … but today it is meant to mean the citrus fruit….. Hence the origin of the lulav and etrog.)
On the eight day of The Feast of Booths “you shall observe a sacred occasion and bring an offering by fire to the Eternal; it is a solemn gathering; you shall not work at your occupations.” (Lev23.36) This is the origin of Sh’mini Atzeret.
And so we see the origin of the basic Holy days of the Jewish people. We learn that the Israelites have HOLY PEOPLE, HOLY SPACES, AND HOLY TIMES. These Holy times heavily reflect the ideas of l) worship of the Eternal, 2) remembrance of the Exodus, the wandering in the wilderness and the giving of the Torah, and 3) thanksgiving for the harvests or crops of the earth. These holidays have remained at the center of our faith throughout history.
By looking at these Holy days we can get a view of what was important to the Israelites at the time before entering Canaan …. And what the text requests that we should remember today.