The central theme of the message which brought Jewish people together and bound us to one another is Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one God." In this affirmation, there are many inferences to be understood. Some would look no further than the interpretation that He alone is deity. This truth is more profound than any man can ever fathom. One of the main ideas to grasp, arising from the Sh'ma, is that He alone who is God is God over all peoples. He is not merely a tribal deity who received homage from the Hebrews; but rather, He is the Lord and Master of all creation and the sustainer of life for all mankind.
A Chosen People
Those of us who are Jews should be honored that He has chosen us and identifies with our people by describing Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Holy One of Israel. Some who were intoxicated with a spirit of levity have said, "We are the chosen people, and He has deigned to allow the world to treat us with persecutions. Let some other people have the honor of being chosen."
To be chosen by God does not mean that our Creator owes us a life of privilege, pleasure and ease. The lives of His servants, such as Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and Elijah, were filled with peril and persecution. None of them found any particular enjoyment in the distress of circumstances. The message of their lives is that God enables man to transcend the dangers of life. Being chosen means that God selected the Hebrew people to honor the Name of the Holy One of Israel and to bring the divine message to all mankind. The people of Israel were to witness and testify to all nations.
"Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall I there be after me."
One of the means through which Israel was to teach redemption and righteousness was our calendar. Our people were to share a common life. In this common life, there was to be a schedule of events which was to typify God's dealings with men, testify to the identity of God, teach man what the Almighty One expected, and serve as occasions when man could express his thankfulness and appreciation.
One of the lessons which the Hebrew calendar gives us for contemplation is the lesson of creation. According to the calendar, we are in the 57th century. The understanding of the rabbis who worked out this chronology was that God caused the world to begin approximately 2,700 years before the time of Moses, our teacher. This computation by the learned men was largely based on Biblical genealogies. Whether or not we agree that more than 50 centuries have elapsed since creation, the lesson of the calendar is apparent—that creation took place as an act of God, not as a series of random accidents.
When the Jewish people observe the Sabbath, it's an acknowledgment that God's creation is complete or perfect. It is true that as we observe the world today, the human condition is hardly perfect or complete. It might further be observed that human housekeeping on this planet has hardly been tidy. Nevertheless, the message to us of the Sabbath is that when God created this world and all that is in it, including man, He looked and saw that it was good. Though man has defected from his original goodness and, because of sin, brought suffering and misery to himself and to all the family of man, we are continually reminded by the Sabbath that what God created was good, complete, and whole or perfect. It is the will of God as shown to us in His creation that man should be good, complete, and whole.
Passover—the Feast of Redemption
Originally in Israel the year began with the month of Nisan. After the Babylonian captivity, Jews adopted the Chaldean method of reckoning dates. Thus, Tishri came to be regarded as the first month in the year. Nevertheless, in the calendar observances as decreed by the King of Heaven, Nisan stands as the head of the months.
"In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the Lord's passover."
Instead of the Feast of Trumpets being our Rosh Hashanah, Passover should mark the initiation holiday of the New Year.
The Feast of Passover signifies redemption. The Jewish nation emerged when God redeemed the people of Israel from Egypt with His strong right arm. Until that time, the descendants of Abraham had been just a tribe, then a people of slavery; but the true inauguration of their nationhood came at Passover when they left Egypt. The theological term, "redemption," is one which is borrowed from the commercial world. It means to buy back. In the divine sense, the Creator of Israel had to obtain the people of Israel from Pharaoh in much the same way that each person must be regained from sin before he can truly belong to the Almighty One. Pharaoh had to give his consent in order that the transaction be right. The reason why the Almighty had to secure Pharaoh's consent was that Jacob and his people left the land that they were told to occupy and took up residence in the land of Egypt. In becoming part of the Egyptian commonwealth, the Hebrews were bound to accept the role assigned to them by the ruler of Egypt. Now, one might argue saying that Jacob and his sons went into the land of Egypt because of a famine in the land which God asked them to occupy. Indeed, it was a natural cause that brought them to Egypt and a natural cause that kept them as they shared the prestige of their brother Joseph. The fact that this was so natural to do does not change the fact of the matter that Jacob was told to occupy the land of Canaan. It merely shows that oftentimes disobeying God is the natural thing for man to do in the circumstances which nature brings upon him. Sin is natural to man, not unnatural or abnormal.
The price that was paid to purchase the Hebrew people out of Egypt was a yearling lamb for each family.
"And ye 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, wherein they shall eat it. And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it."
This meal they shared with their neighbors, whether the neighbors were Israelites or Egyptians. Pharaoh was convinced that he could no longer hold the Hebrew people when he saw that the price God exacted for keeping these people was the death of the firstborn in every Egyptian home. The effect of redemption, however, was not merely to release the Israelites from the bondage of Egypt, but to release them to the opportunity of servitude to the Lord God Almighty. The redemption event closed the era of bondage, but it also opened up a new dispensation of time. Those who had formerly been slaves of Pharaoh would now become servants of the Most High.
The paschal lamb that was used of God to signal rescue to His people from Egypt and to prevent death from claiming a victim in each of the families who obeyed God is the central theme of the Passover observance. Even to this day we have a lamb on our Passover table as symbolized by the z'roah. The afikomen or matzoh fragment is also intended to represent the paschal lamb.…
Each person at the Passover feast is served an olivesized piece of the unleavened bread which is identified as the afikomen. He then partakes of a cup of wine with this bread in a ceremony which is astoundingly similar to the Communion Service of many Christian groups. There are many references made to the Passover lamb in the course of the Passover celebration. In the beginning, God instituted the Passover lamb to teach certain spiritual truths. One idea which was reinforced by the sacrifice of the lamb is one which is later clearly stated in the book of Leviticus.
"For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul."
"Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission (of sin)" (Hebrews 9:22). It is not that the All-Righteous One of Israel favored bloodshed or the waste of life. Nor is it, as some suggest, the fact that the primitive Hebrews satisfied their blood lust by killing an innocent animal. The butchery of sacrifice wasn't intended to be beautiful. The aesthetic value could be only negative. The shedding of blood in sacrifice was to serve as a substitute for natural consequences, and the natural consequence of sin is death. Thus, in a substitute, the worshipper could see the effect of his sin and transgressions and thereby be warned. The message imparted by sacrifice was that: sin is the cause of death. It also served to show that through faith in a God-ordained sacrifice, a substitute could be put to death in order to expiate or cleanse sin.
The visitation of the Malach ha-Moves (Angel of Death) was within the borders of Egypt. Each home received a call wherein death claimed a soul, but when the Malach ha-Moves came to the home of a Hebrew, the imprimatur of blood on the doorposts showed that the life of a lamb had already been poured out as a substitute. Since the claim of death was paid by a divine decree, those within the household were safe. Redemption means safety and rescue in the midst of death.
Feast of Unleavened Bread
The Feast of Unleavened Bread is observed as part of Passover Week. Frequently, it is confused with Passover. However, the Feast of Unleavened Bread has its own particular spiritual significance. Whereas Passover speaks of the Festival of Redemption, the Feast of Unleavened Bread reminds mankind of the need to live a life without sin. In Bible typology, leaven or chometz is representative of sin.
In early days, yeast was not used each time that bread was to be baked, but rather the process of leavening was similar to our present method of making sourdough bread. After the dough had risen and had been punched down several times, before the round loaves of bread would be formed, a large chunk of the leavened dough would be separated from the mass of dough used for baking. This lump of leavened dough would be put in a cool place, and the next time bread was to be baked, it would be worked into the mass of flour and water to provide leavening. Once the dough was risen and ready, a new lump would be separated to use the next time, thus the regular cycle was established. Each batch of bread had a little bit of its substance from the batch that was baked before.
In this, leaven represents sin. Our first father, Adam, sinned and infected all who would come after him with human nature or sin. Every person has inherited this human nature. The word chometz not only means leavening, but it means bitter or sour. When sin entered the human race, it was the cause of bitterness among men. Leaven also typifies sin. Inasmuch as chometz causes the bread to be puffed up, so sin causes a man to have an inflated ego. The message of the Feast of Unleavened Bread is that the cycle of sin can be broken. Man can be free from the guilt, the penalty, and the power of sin. Bitterness caused by sin can be extracted from the life that has been redeemed, and man can have a new beginning, a new birth—as it is called in the Bible. The Feast of Unleavened Bread is God's message that man can be free from sin.
Shevuoth—The Feast of Pentecost
Seven weeks after the Feast of Firstfruits in the Jewish calendar, we have what appears to be a harvest festival. However, the meaning of this holiday goes beyond the celebration of the ingathering of the grain crop. The number seven signifies completeness. Inasmuch as creation was completed on the seventh day, Shevuoth is an indication that the work which was begun at Firstfruits, the ingathering of all the grain, is now completed. At Firstfruits, the Kohen-Ha-Godol (high priest) presented select sheaves of grain as a token. At Shevuoth or Pentecost, there are two baked loaves of bread presented to show that the total harvest has been gathered. At Firstfruits the grain which initiates the opening of the ground is presented. At Shevuoth all that has opened the ground and come to fruition is gathered in. However, the sheaves of the firstfruits were pure grain untouched by leaven. The two loaves representing the whole harvest were an amalgam of grain and leaven set on the table before the Lord. It is especially commanded that these two loaves representing two entities be made of a mixture of meal and leaven.
Earlier, we mentioned that leaven represented sin. Ordinarily, chometz or leaven was not acceptable in the sacrificial offerings excepting for the twelve loaves that were baked for the Table of Shewbread. Each one of these loaves represented one of the twelve tribes, so a loaf of bread represents an entity.
It is thought by many that the two loaves presented on Shevuoth represent the whole population of the world: one loaf representing the Hebrew people, and the other loaf representing the Gentile people. The harvest represents the ingathering of people. The Messianic interpretation is that when Messiah comes, He will gather both Jews and Gentiles to Himself in a new covenant of peace. The prophet Isaiah speaks of Messiah when he says that "He will come as a light to lighten the Gentiles."
"I the Lord have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a convenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house."
Isaiah 42:6, 7
Christians observe Shevuoth as the Feast of Pentecost. To them it represents the birth of the Christian Church and commemorates the time when the Holy Spirit came upon the Jewish believers gathered at Jerusalem to observe Shevuoth. On that day five thousand Jewish people became confirmed followers of the Man of Nazareth.
Rosh Hashana—The Feast of Trumpets
The first of Tishri is commonly called Rosh Hashana. We Jews greet one another with the salutation, "L'shana tova tikatevu." We call it our new year; nevertheless, as we have seen earlier, it is the seventh month and the year begins in Nisan. This holiday rather should be called the Feast of Trumpets. It is a time of holy convocation, and the beginning of the Ten Days of Awe wherein all Jewish people are to examine their hearts for sins and wrongdoings which must be confessed before God and for which restitution must be made to their fellow men.
In ancient times, the trumpet or shofar was sounded to signal danger or to call attention to a central and important impending event, such as the arrival of a monarch, or the proclamation of important community news. The message of the trumpet was, "Assemble yourselves together. Prepare for that which is imminent." To the Jewish people today yom tov is a time when the citizenry will seek to purchase new apparel and to wear their finest clothes in preparation for the presentation of each person before the Monarch of Monarchs, the Regent of Heaven. It is a solemn assembly, to which all Jews are summoned. As the Feast of Trumpets is celebrated each year, Jews are reminded that they shall be called before the Holy One for the purpose of giving an account of themselves. The trumpet is a reminder that there is a holy ledger kept, and each person must give an account of his actions and attitudes. In Christian theology, the trumpet is symbolic of the return of the Messiah, who will call all of his people to Himself to give an account of their earthly stewardship. The New Testament teaches that the sounding of the trumpet signals the Messiah's return.
Yom Kippur—The Day of Atonement
Yom Kippur is, without reservation, the most solemn and most important day in the religious calendar. The existence of the Nation Israel depended on the national and personal link with the Eternal One. All of humanity has become tainted with the sin of ungodliness. The Prophet Isaiah shows the practical effect of this sin when he says that our sins have separated us from God.
"Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear."
Isaiah 59:1, 2
The purpose of the Day of Atonement is forgiveness for the sins. Our sins have put a barrier between man and the Eternal One and must be expunged and expiated to have oneness with the Almighty.
In original Judaism, as it was set forth in the Torah, the Holy One gave a prescription for the redemption of sin. Each Israelite was to afflict his soul. He was to repent and show his contrition. He was then to have part in the confession of iniquity and the offering of a suitable sacrifice as performed by an intercessor. Even in the earliest times there was established a place of worship in the tabernacle. This tabernacle or tent with its yard was the province of operation for the Kohanim (Priests). Originally, Israelites were not allowed into the worship area, and the Kohanim were not allowed in the innermost place, which was called the Holy of Holies. This innermost part of the tent was sealed off, and there the mercy seat was centered. The Shechina of God abode there, and its sanctity was undisturbed, except once a year when the Kohen-Ha-Godol (chief priest) was commanded to present himself to God in the Holy of Holies so that he might serve as a mediator. As the mediator he represented God to man. He stood between God and man with sacrificial blood showing obedience in symbol and through this obedience and faith, reconciliation was effected. According to our Torah, the Messiah would come and be a mediator between the Creator and His creation. Moses, our teacher, prophesied this in Deuteronomy.
"The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me: unto him ye shall hearken; According to all that thou desirest of the Lord thy God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not. And the Lord said unto me, They have well spoken that which they have spoken. I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him."
The Messiah was to come as a Prophet, Priest, and King. His work as a Priest was to offer one eternal sacrifice that would be an everlasting basis of reconciliation. In fulfillment of this, Jesus of Nazareth offered Himself as an eternal sacrifice. He gave Himself to be Kapporah and functions as a High Priest that reconciliation might come to the world.
Succoth—The Feast of Tabernacles
There is a great feast called the Feast of Tents or of Booths, which represents the ingathering. The prophet Zechariah talks about the time after the Messiah returns when all Gentiles of all nationalities will come to Jerusalem to observe Succoth or the Feast of Tabernacles.
"And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles."
This is the Feast of Ingathering or Reaping. The harvest of God is the gathering together of people of all nationalities who will worship Him. When our Messiah comes or returns, as we believe the Bible teaches, all nations shall worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Yet, we do not have to wait until the Messiah comes to begin the work of salvation for there are souls of every nation to be gathered in. This salvation and reconciliation can be found now by the individual who is willing to obey God and trust in His provision, the Messiah Jesus.