Scripture tells us…
‘And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years”‘ (Gen 1:14).
When the rabbinic mind approaches this text it does so with the assumption that there is more. The text speaks of ‘lights’, a ‘sign’ and ‘set times’. The word that is ‘seasons’ in the English translation is, in Hebrew, mo’adim, meaning ‘set times’. In Hebrew it is מועדים. Buried within the word is another word, עד (ed), ‘witness’. The text reveals that these ‘lights’ in the heavens (the moon and the stars) are both ‘signs’ and a ‘witness’. This is the ‘hint’ that invites the reader in… draws us to ‘dig’ a little deeper. This text that at first encounter speaks of the division of night. Time is not an endless rhythm of day after day, night after night. Rather…. into time is built-in ‘time-out’ and day now speaks of the heavenly bodies as a witness to an encounter that occurs within the rhythm of day after day. This encounter that is with ‘fixed times,’ within the ongoing rhythm of time, within the cycle of days and nights, has a specific purpose.
The word mo’adim, here in Genesis 1:14, witnesses to the set times: the festivals, that occur within the rhythm of time and effectively elevate Time from the realm of ‘everyday’ to the realm of the sacred. Within the rhythm of creation, the text reveals, God intended us to find markers ‘built in’ that witness to the sacred. Within the rhythm of time these sacred markers recur at ‘fixed times’, and so, we have here also a ‘built in’ rhythm inviting anticipation and expectation.
Genesis 1:14 reveals to the religious heart the deeper meaning that Time is not an endless rhythm of day after day, night after night. Rather, that into time is built-in ‘time-out’. [Time is not only experienced as ‘the ticking of a clock'.]
These periods of ‘time out’ are the set times, mo’adim, the festivals of the Lord. [The Hebrew word ‘mo'ed' also means festival.] God calls upon us to set aside set times and seasons for sacred times (Gen 1:14). When we do so we allow Time to sanctify us. In the reality of time – in the span of the creation and our living – we are given opportunities to step aside and enter into another dimension, another realm. When we do so both humanity and time are made sacred.
Those “fixed times,” the festivals, are:
Sabbath: On the seventh day there shall be a sabbath of complete rest, a sacred occasion (Lev 23:3).
Pesach/Passover: “This month shall be for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you” (Ex 12:2).
Shavuot: “From the day that you bring the sheaf offering you shall count off seven weeks …on that same day you shall hold a celebration; it shall be a sacred occasion for you” (Lev 23:15,21).
Rosh HaShanah: “In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts. You shall not work at your occupations; and you shall bring an offering by fire to the LORD” (Lev 23:24,25) – Rosh HaShanah.
Days of Awe: Ten days of repentance and reconciliation from Rosh HaShanah – Yom Kippur.
Yom Kippur: “Mark, the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of Atonement” (Lev 23:27).
Sukkot: “Mark, the fifteenth day of the seventh month …you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days. You shall observe it as a festival of the Lord for seven days in the year; you shall observe it in the seventh month as a law for all time, throughout the ages” (Lev 23:39,41).
Hanukkah: “Early in the morning on the 25th day of the ninth month, which is the month of Chislev,
… they rose and offered sacrifice.
…So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days” (1 Macc 4:52, 56).
Purim: “These days of Purim shall never cease among the Jews and the memory of them shall never perish among their descendants” (Esther 9:28)
While Sabbath is a festival which is fixed within the cycle of the days, occurring as it does every seventh day, the other festivals are marked by the cycle of the moon. Each month in the religious calendar begins on the sighting of the new moon. Therefore the ‘head of the month’ (Rosh Hodesh) is celebrated each month. Rosh Hodesh is a time to celebrate spiritual renewal. Many festivals occur on the 14/15th of the month, the eve of the full moon e.g. Passover, Sukkot, Purim.
The festival of Hanukkah, on the other hand, celebrating the re-dedication of the Temple after the Maccabbean victory over the Greeks, is celebrated over the darkest period of the month from the last quarter of the old moon to the first quarter of the new, and remembers the ‘miracle’ of the oil which, sufficient to supply the Temple menorah for one day, continued to illuminate it for eight days. The Hanukkah festival celebrates the ‘miracle’ of God’s intervention in our lives.
The regalim (Pilgrim) festivals:
Passover – Unleavened Bread.
14th day of the 1st month.
The Feast of Weeks.
Seven weeks from Passover,
celebrating the beginning of grain harvest.
The Feast of Tabernacles or Booths.
15th day of 7th month.
“Three times a year—on the Feast of Unleavened Bread, on the Feast of Weeks, and on the Feast of Booths—all your males shall appear before the LORD your God in the place that He will choose” (Deut 16:16; cf. Ex 23:24).
Mishnah. All are bound to appear [at the Temple], except a deaf man [heresh], an imbecile and a minor, a person of unknown sex [tumtum], a hermaphrodite, women, unfreed slaves, the lame, the blind, the sick, the aged, and one who is unable to go up on foot. who is [in this respect deemed] a minor? whoever is unable to ride on his father’s shoulders and go up from Jerusalem to the Temple Mount. [This is] the view of Beth Shammai. But Beth Hillel say: Whoever is unable to hold his father’s hand and go up from Jerusalem to the Memple Mount, for it is said:Three regalim (Mishneh Hagigah 1.1).