The Spring Holy Days


The Spring Holy days:

Leviticus 23:1-5 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to the people of Israel, and say to them, The feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy gatherings, these are My feasts (Note: these are God’s Holy Days, not holidays invented by man). Six days shall work be done; but the seventh day is the Shabbat of rest, a holy gathering; you shall do no work in it; it is the Shabbat of the Lord in all your dwellings. These are the feasts of the Lord, holy gatherings, which you shall proclaim in their seasons. In the fourteenth day of the first month at evening is the Lord’s Passover.

This first month is Aviv, or Nisan, not Tishrei. Nisan is the month which begins the Biblical New Year, the New Year for Holy Days. The detailed instructions on how to observe the Passover Holy Day was given back in Exodus 12: 1-8 And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, This month shall be to you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you. Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for a house; And if the household is too little for the lamb, let him and his neighbor next to his house take it according to the number of the souls; according to every man’s eating shall you make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year; you shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats; And you shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month; and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening. And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, in which they shall eat it. And they shall eat the meat in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it.

From this Biblical account we learn: Passover is to be celebrated on the 14th of Aviv, the first month in the spring, at night; can be a family festival or a communal, with your neighbor; one must eat lamb with Matzah – unleavened bread, and bitter herbs. Also, the Bible says that Passover is one of the three holidays of which it should be celebrated in Jerusalem. It is one of the Shalosh Regalim – the three pilgrimage festivals (the other ones are Shavuot and Sukkot). That is because the slaughtering of animals for sacrificial purposes had to be done at the Temple in Jerusalem.

That is all the Bible says about Passover, so let’s see what transpired to us in the Jewish community:

Anticipating the Passover - Preparations for Passover begin in the preceding month of Adar when select portions of the Bible are read in the synagogue calling attention to the coming holiday. The Shabbat before Passover is called Shabbat HaGadol– The Great Shabbat - because it is the Shabbat before Exodus and the Haftarah – Malachi 3 – speaks of God’s ultimate triumph.

Cleaning the Home - The Bible says that no leaven should be found in the home; therefore, every Jewish family undergoes a thorough home-cleaning prior to the festival. Not only is this done to remove all traces of CHOMETZ - LEAVEN, but also to add a spirit of freshness and festivity to the home. Special attention is given to the kitchen – all cupboards are clean thoroughly, the regular dishes are replaced with the ones especially for Passover, the utensils are koshered by boiling and the oven is cleaned with a blow torch.

The Selling of Leaven – All leaven is gathered and sold to a Gentile neighbor. The food could then be repurchased and used after the holiday. Today, in the spirit of the Talmud and for convenience sake, the rabbis devised a system called MECHIRAT CHOMETZ – which makes it possible to sell the leavened food to a Gentile neighbor, without removing it from the home, provided that it was all gathered and sealed into a special closet or cupboard. On this form one lists all leaven, the rabbi attest to it and signs it and then is given to a Gentile.

The Search for Leaven - called BEDIKAT CHOMETZ - takes place on the night before Erev Pesach. To comply with the Torah command that no leaven should be found in the house, a search for crumbs is performed by candlelight with a feather and a little pan. A few crumbs are purposely scattered so that the commandment could be carried out, especially for children.

Burning of the Leaven – On the 14th of Nisan leaven can be eaten until about 11am. But, before noon, a ceremony is performed called BIUR CHOMETZ. In this ceremony the crumbs gathered the previous night are burned to indicate that there is no more leaven in the house.

Fast of the Firstborn - It is a reminder of the plague that killed the firstborn of the Egyptians and it is done by the firstborn except those under age of 13.

Passover Dishes and Utensils - All kitchen supplies used during the year were to be put away until the Passover festival was concluded. In their place, new dishes, or those kept exclusively for Passover purposes, were used. Silverware and other metal utensils used during the year could be used again provided they were properly cleaned or koshered, i.e., made correct for usage. This could be done by placing the silver in a container and allowing it to boil in hot water. Passover Food - Leavened food - CHOMETZ - is distinguished from unleavened food - MATZOTH - by its method of preparation, must be cooked for no more than 18 minutes. Food that is allowed to ferment is leavened and applies to bread and foodstuff made from the following species of grain: barley, wheat, rye, oats, and spelt. No leavening may be used in baking. Foods marked KOSHER SHEL PESACH - PROPER FOR PASSOVER are permitted for Passover use, since they are prepared under the supervision and sanction of rabbis and comply with the laws of Kashruth. The official in charge of such supervision is called a MASHGIACH - OVERSEER.

Passover proper is only one night with a festive meal called the Seder – order — but the Orthodox Jews, by tradition, celebrate it for two nights with the Seder on both. Some do a family Seder on the first night and a Community Seder on the second, but not in Israel, or by the Conservative and the Reformed Jews. By the arrangement of the calendar the Passover Seder cannot fall on Sunday, Tuesday or Thursday night.

Now, on the 15th of Nisan another Holiday starts, Hag HaMatzoth, the feast of Unleavened Bread:

Leviticus 23:6-8 And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord; seven days you must eat unleavened bread. In the first day you shall have a holy gathering; you shall do no labor in it. But you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord seven days; in the seventh day is a holy gathering; you shall do no labor in it.

Because Passover is the night before and the Seder is eaten with Matzah the feast of Unleavened Bread is lumped with Passover and together is known as simply Passover. Exodus 12:18-19 In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at evening (Passover), you shall eat unleavened bread, until the twenty first day of the month at evening. Seven days shall there be no leaven found in your houses; for whoever eats that which is leavened, that soul shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel.” (Again we do not want to be cut off from our Jewish heritage, relatives and friends).

So, according to the Bible, Passover should last for seven days with a holy convocation on the first and the seventh day, but by tradition one day has been added – because the news of the New Moon did not arrive in some parts of the land until the next day. Accordingly, the eighth day is celebrated only in Diaspora. No work is to be done on the first two and last two days; the intermediate days are called Chol HaMoed — half holidays, and they have no restriction as to work. Last day, the eight day, is Yizkor service – remembrance of the dead. Therefore, I suggest eating the bread of affliction – Matzah - for all eight days in the spirit of keeping with our Jewish friends.

Now, God gave the Jews the commandment, but He also gave them grace, because there were people who could not celebrate Passover because they were unclean or away; so, for the people that say that we leave now in the dispensation of grace, God says, not so fast - He showed grace from the beginning of time, Numbers 9: 10-12: Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If any man of you or of your posterity shall be unclean because of a dead body, or is in a journey far away, he shall still keep the Passover to the Lord. The fourteenth day of the second month at evening they shall keep it, and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They shall leave none of it to the morning, nor break any bone of it; according to all the ordinances of the Passover they shall keep it. So, if for one reason or another you did not keep the Passover on the first month God gives you another chance on the second month. It is called Pesach Sheni, but it is only the Passover and not the Hag haMatzoth, therefore you don’t get to eat matzah for eight days. For the rest who kept the Passover on the first month, it is customary to eat some matzah on that day. This is the only Holy Day that God made this provision, giving people a second chance, signaling the importance of Passover which we, the Messianic believers, can understand because it symbolizes the substitutionary sacrifice of Yeshua on the cross.

God gave us the commandment to keep the Passover on the 14 of Nisan, at nightfall. We now call this holiday, The Festival of Freedom, but if we think about it, the Israelites were still slaves in Egypt on that night and, even though they left the next day, they got only as far as the desert, not much freedom there. Therefore, Passover has to have a deeper meaning because from the human perspective it could only be called the Festival of "Expected" Freedom. God also commanded us to count 50 days from the day after Passover and then celebrate the Festival of Weeks, or Shavuot, in which we were supposed to bring two loaves of chometz, leavened bread. This period of counting of days is interrupted by this extraordinary event, unique, and surprisingly overlooked commandment of God: The Second Passover, or Pesach Sheini. Our God is indeed an awesome God of grace. He will not break off a battered reed and He will not put out a smoldering wick, but he will give you a second chance to believe in the Lamb of God, who was sacrificed by an agonizing death on a roman cross for you and I to receive forgiveness from our sins. On Pesach Sheini God extends His grace and again invites you to believe and receive His gift of freedom from the condemnation of sin, His gift of life and everlasting shalom.

In the modern calendar, on the 16th of Nisan after the first day of the Hag haMatzoth, we begin the counting of 50 days anticipating the Holy Day of Shavuot - The Feast of Weeks.

Leviticus 23:9-11 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to the people of Israel, and say to them, When you come to the land which I give to you, and shall reap its harvest, then you shall bring a sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest; And he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted for you; on the next day after the Shabbat the priest shall wave it; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.

But, since the society back then was mainly agrarian and depended on the seasons for food, the question is, which Shabbat is this? Is this the Shabbat of the Hag haMatzoth Holiday, the Passover, or a regular weekly Shabbat after the sheaf of the first fruits was offered? There is a Talmudic debate about this, but since not many of us gather the grain from the fields, the rabbis established that this Shabbat should be the Shabbat after Passover :

Leviticus 23:15. And you shall count from the next day after the Shabbat, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven complete Shabbats.

This period of 50 days is called Sefirat Ha Omer “Counting of the Omer.” It is interesting to note for now, which I will explain later, that on the first day of the Omer count one should bring in the sheaf of the first fruits of the harvest, but on the 50th day two loaves of baked bread (lehem) with leaven as the first fruits. So, starting with the day after Passover, at evening, after reciting a blessing the Omer is counted. Also, on the first Shabbat after Passover it is customary to start the reading of Pirke Avot, one chapter a week, repeating it until Rosh haShanah.  

The Orthodox communities have a tradition called Behab, to fast on Monday, Thursday and Monday following the first Shabbat after the holiday. That is because the period of holiday rejoicing is more than a week one can easily slip from spiritual celebration to frivolity. Therefore, to atone for this lapse these days are set aside for repentance and soul searching with Selichot prayers. In my family, on the evening after the Hag haMatzoth Holiday ends, we are developing a tradition to repent from our flat thoughts with puffed doughnuts.

Another tradition started during this Omer count. In the Talmudic times 24,000 disciples of Rabbi Akiva died from a mysterious plague. The Talmud says that this was because "they did not show proper respect to one another." Therefore this period of time became a time of semi-mourning, there are no celebrations, no weddings, not even haircuts – a more somber mood. But, on the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer, Lag B’Omer, (the 18th of Iyar) the plague stopped, therefore became a joyful day. On Lag Ba’omer the prohibitions of the Omer period are lifted. It is a time of dancing and singing. Families go on picnics and outings. Lag Ba'Omer in Israel is a school holiday. Hundreds of weddings are held adding a festive character of this holiday. Youngsters and their parents light bonfires in open spaces in cities and towns throughout the country. That is because some say that the disciples of Akiva were killed not by a plague, but in the Bar Kokhba's revolt (in which Rabbi Akiva was a major figure). They say that the plague was actually the Roman occupation. So, in this context, the lighting of bonfires on this evening signifies the bonfires used in ancient times as signals in wartime.

The day is also the Yartzeit - the anniversary of the death - of the famous Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai, the Kabbalist, traditionally known as the author of the Zohar. During the Middle Ages, Lag Ba'Omer became a special holiday for rabbinical students and was even called the "Scholar's festival." It was customary to rejoice on this day through various kinds of merrymaking. The Yartzeit is celebrated with torches, songs and feasting, this being a specific request by Rabbi Simeon bar Yochai of his students. It is a custom at the celebrations in Meron - the burial place - dating from the time of Rabbi Isaac Luria, that three-year-old boys are given their first haircuts, while their parents distribute wine and sweets.

The Shabbat right before Shavuot is called, Shabbat Kallah.

So, the Omer count ends and it is Shavuot or Weeks, or its counter Greek designation, Pentecost (from the Greek word for fifty):

Leviticus 23:16-22 To the next day after the seventh Shabbat shall you count fifty days; and you shall offer a new meal offering to the Lord. You shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of two tenth deals; they shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven; they are the first fruits to the Lord… And the priest shall wave them with the bread of the first fruits for a wave offering before the Lord with the two lambs; they shall be holy to the Lord for the priest. And you shall proclaim on the same day, that it may be a holy gathering to you; you shall do no labor in it; it shall be a statute forever in all your dwellings throughout your generations.” Then again we see God’s mercy and grace in verse 22: “And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not make clean riddance up to the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning of your harvest; you shall leave them to the poor, and to the stranger; I am the Lord your God.

Maimonides writes: "And while one eats and drinks, it is his duty to feed the stranger, the orphan, the widow, and other unfortunate people, for he who locks the doors, eats and drinks with his wife and family without giving to the poor—his meal is not counted as a rejoicing in a divine command but a rejoicing in his own stomach... a disgrace to those who indulge in it."

This Holy day is the second of the Shalosh Regalim festivals with the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and, because the people were supposed to bring of the new meal offering from the first fruits it is also called Hag haBikkurim – the Festival of the First Fruits. Shavuot is called Atzereth (Assembly) in the Talmud, in the sense that it serves as a concluding festival to Pesach. The Ten Commandments -are read in the synagogue on the first day, it is a Rabbinical commandment for everyone to hear them, including infants. Plants and flowers decorate the bimah and the aron ha-kodesh. The book of Ruth, for its description of a summer harvest in Israel, and the famous liturgical poem Akdamut are read before the reading of the Torah on the first day.

It took 50 days from exodus from Egypt for the people of Israel to arrive at Mount Sinai where God gave them the Torah, therefore Shavuot is also called Z’man Matan Toratenu, the Season of Giving our Torah. Milk dishes – Milichik — are the customary foods, symbolizing the Torah which is likened to milk, according to the allegorical interpretation of the book of Song of Songs ("Honey and milk are under your tongue"). The most popular is the Kreplach – three corner pocket of dough filled with cheese.

Today the Shavuot holiday reminds of the contribution of the Torah to the world. Torah was the first to recognize the worth of ordinary people, to establish human rights, public education, environmental responsibility, freedom of information, medical ethics, social action—the whole concept of progress and hope for the future. No other teaching has had a comparative impact on our way of thinking today. It reminds Israel of her obligation to be a "Kingdom of Priests" and a "Holy Nation."

But Jews received another gift on this day, the Ruach haKodesh. Believers were baptized with the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:1: "And when the day of Shavuot is fulfilled, they were all together at the same place. And there was suddenly from Shomayim a sound like the rushing of a violent wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And tongues appeared to them, being divided as fire, resting on each one of them, and all were filled with the Ruach haKodesh, and they began to speak in other tongues as the Ruach haKodesh was giving the ability to them to speak. Now there were in Yerushalayim frum (orthodox)Yehudim from all the nations under Shomayim. And at this sound, the multitude assembled and was bewildered, because they were hearing, each one in his own native language."

Therefore, Shavuot is a picture of a spiritual harvest, a harvest of the first fruits imbued with spiritual power. The first century of the common era's Shavuot was God's first harvest of those redeemed in the blood of Yeshua haMashiah.

On Shavuot two loaves of fine ground flour baked with leaven were presented as offerings of first fruits. The symbolism of these two loaves is revealed by James (1:18) as representing the first fruits of believers. The two loaves are Jewish and Gentile believers. Even though the loaves contain leaven and leaven is a symbol of sin, it does not mean that after we become believers we still can sin but that we come to Him with our sins. God brought together the Jews and the Gentiles to form a new body, a new creation. God redeemed us from the world of sin, from the spiritual Egypt, through the shed blood of His Son, the lamb of Passover. And just as Yeshua, our Passover, was Holy and pictured as matzah, unleavened bread, without sin, so too this new creation in His body was meant to be Holy.

God destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem but He built something else to take its place — it is a spiritual Temple the Beth haMikdash, it is the Ekklesia, where Jews and Gentiles are fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Moshiach Yeshua. Therefore, Shavuot is the fulfillment of Torah true Judaism, the hope of Jewish people and the blessing of the Gentiles so that they might come together in faith as one.

So thus the spring holidays are over and a long 3 months of summer are coming. This period is likened to the "Church" period, the period from the first coming and second coming of Messiah. Unfortunately the Jewish community even in the Church age did not have a rest from anti-Semitism. On the month of Av, the fifth month, many tragedies happened on the same day on Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av.

The 9th of Av is the saddest day in the Jewish calendar and it is commemorated as a 25-hour fast beginning at sunset of the previous evening. It is mentioned in Zechariah 8:19 as the “fast of the fifth” month. In the synagogue the customary greeting is omitted, the curtains of the Ark are removed, the Books of Lamentations and of Job are read on the eve of the fast and throughout the day. The Morning service is recited without tallith or tefillin. Included among the lamenting elegies recited in the synagogue, called Kinoth, are poems by medieval liturgical poets, such as “Ode to Zion” by Yehuda Halevi.

Following are some of the events in history that took place on the 9th of Av:

- 1312 B.C.E. - Spies return after 40 days in the Land of Israel with reports of obstacles. Jewish people cry in despair and give up hope of entering the Land of Israel. The sin of the spies caused Hashem to decree that the Children of Israel who left Egypt would not be permitted to enter the land of Israel.
- 586 B.C.E. - Destruction of the First Temple by Babylonians.
- 70 C.E. - Destruction of the Second Temple by Romans under Titus.
- 135 - Capture by Romans of Beitar, last Jewish fortress to hold out in Bar Kochba rebellion; Jerusalem was ploughed up and turned into a non-Jewish city—Aelia Capitolina.
- 1095 - First Crusade declared by Pope Urban II. Ten thousand Jews killed in first month. Crusades bring death and destruction to thousands of Jews and totally obliterate many communities in Rhineland and France.
- 1290 - Expulsion of Jews from England, accompanied by pogroms and confiscation of books and property.
- 1492 - The last date by which all Jews who would not be baptized and converted to Catholicism had to leave Spain. Over 300,000 chose to leave; others succumbed and converted in order to remain. Most of those that remained secretly retained their Jewish identity for generations and they were known as Marranos; but many were caught by the Inquisition and burned at the stake.
- 1914 - World War I began, which gave rise to a renewed anti-Semitism and Nazism, and culminated with the Holocaust. Large Jewish populations were uprooted; ghettos and concentration camps were formed. 6,000,000 Jewish children, elderly, women and men were killed.
- 1942 - Deportations begin from Warsaw Ghetto to the Treblinka concentration camp. - 1994 - Bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires kills 86 people and wounds some 300 others.


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