The Fall Feasts

This year September brings with it three Biblical Feasts - Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkoth.  The first two - Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur - are known as the High Holy Days, the most holy feasts on the calendar.  Just as understanding the Spring feasts is important for our faith's foundation, so, too, is understanding the Fall feasts.  Not only are the Fall feasts Biblical mandates, but they hold prophetic meaning which has yet to be fulfilled.  (The Spring feasts have all been fulfilled through Yeshua's first coming.)

Leviticus 23:24-43, is the first mention of the three Fall feasts.

The first of the Fall feasts is Rosh Hashanah.  It is the Feast of Trumpets as well as the Jewish New Year on the civil calendar.  It begins on the first day of Tishri, the seventh month of the religious calendar and is observed for two days.  It is a day of sabbatical rest - a memorial day to be announced by the blowing of rams' horns (trumpets) and a holy assembly.

The festive meal is a wonderful tradition in celebrating Rosh Hashanah.  A round challah is used and symbolizes fullness and completion.  After it is blessed it is broken and dipped into honey and eaten with a bite of apple symbolizing our prayer for a good and sweet New Year.  Personally, the honey also reminds me that the Word of God is like honey to our mouths.

Immediately following Rosh Hashanah are the seven Days of Affliction which anticipate Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  For the most part, modern-day Jews do not adhere to this, but rather to the ten Days of Awe, when they say that God opens the Book of Life and if a person prays hard enough and does enough mitzvahs (good works) and charity, their name will be written and sealed in the Book.  There are also other Orthodox and mystic traditions that we won't explore here, as they have no Biblical foundation and can lead to gross error.  (Over the centuries, and especially since the destruction of the second temple and the end of the sacrificial system, many non-Biblical traditions have entered into Jewish celebrations.  Some of these traditions have been initiated in order to seek God's forgiveness through prayer, fasting and acts of charity, rather then through the ultimate and complete sacrifice Yeshua has made for us all.)

On the tenth of Tishri, Yom Kippur is observed.  This is a most solemn day, observed nationally with fasting and prayer.  This was the only day that the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies, and only after following very precise rituals.

Yom Kippur was also the day that two goats were selected for very special purposes.  One of the goats was for an offering.  The other goat was made Israel's scapegoat.  The high priest would place his hands on the head of the scapegoat and transfer the sins of the nation on to it.  The scapegoat would then be led off into the wilderness.  Leviticus 16:1-34, holds this account.

During traditional Yom Kippur services, there is a prayer that is recited in hopes of addressing every sin a person has made in the prior year so their name will be written in God's Book.  It is called the Al-Chet and lists forty-four conditions in which we may have sinned (ex.: For the sins we committed before You under duress and willingly.)

The third of the Fall feasts is Succoth.  It begins on the fifteenth of Tishri and continues for eight days.  Booths are built and covered on three sides and the top with palm branches, making sure to leave some spaces open so you can see the stars at night.  It is one of three feasts that was (and will be) required to be celebrated at the Temple in Jerusalem by all men.

“Three times a year shall all your males appear before the Lord your God in the place which He chooses: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths. They shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed:” - Deut. 16:16

Each of these feasts brings back wonderful childhood memories for me.  There were the goose bumps at Rosh Hashanah when the shofar was sounded and the sweetness of eating apples dipped in honey.  Yom Kippur was indeed a very solemn day spent in the synagogue, praying for sunset so we could eat.  The Lord never wastes an opportunity and He used my day of captivation to nudge my curiosity.  I could see from the Bible passages referencing Yom Kippur that God had commanded animal sacrifice, but here we were sitting in synagogue simply praying for forgiveness.  When my parents didn't have a satisfactory answer to my question of “When did God change His mind about the sacrifices,” I became even more determined to find the answer on my own.  But as children often do, when the day was done and my stomach was full I put my curiosity back on the shelf.

With the Day of Atonement out of the way for another year, our congregation would begin building a booth in the courtyard of the synagogue.  Oh, how I loved hanging clusters of grapes, apples, and any other fruit we had to adorn the inside of the Succah.  Our congregation would hold services in the Succah during the week and when it was all over we kids would strip the fruit off the walls and ceiling like a swarm of locusts.

As the years went on and we grew up we stopped going to synagogue quite as often as when we were little.  We did, however, show up for the High Holy Days.  But, after I accepted Yeshua (Jesus), I was a little confused about just how to celebrate the High Holy Days in light of my newfound relationship with the Messiah.  I knew that I didn't need to fast and pray for atonement as the Lord had already taken care of that for me.  And I was also being told by some very well-meaning Christians that I no longer needed to “be Jewish.”  So in my uncertainty I simply stopped observing the feasts altogether.  But that nagging in my soul never did leave me.

Over the years, in His gentle way, the Lord has shown me that those who celebrated these feasts prior to Jesus were celebrating as a memorial in advance of His coming.  Now, as believers in the Messiah, we are not to abandon the foundations of our faith, but we should celebrate the feasts with joy and thanksgiving for what our Messiah has done for us.  We can even observe the fast of Yom Kippur, not to make atonement for ourselves or secure our place in heaven, but as a way to strengthen our relationship with God and break through spiritual blockades.

However you may choose to celebrate the Biblical feasts, always remember the One who died that you may have life.  And above all, celebrate with joy!

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