Tuesday, April 23, 2013

TorahBytes: The Feasts of the Lord (Emor)

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, These are the appointed feasts of the Lord that you shall proclaim as holy convocations; they are my appointed feasts." (Vayikra / Leviticus 23:1-2; ESV) 

As far as I know every culture has special occasions that help define that particular culture. Feasts, festivals, and holidays provide people with collective memory and shared values. The western world, which has become more distanced from its religious past, has either redefined its religious holidays, such as Christmas and Easter, or has created new ones, such as Earth Hour and the Super Bowl. 

The culture of ancient Israel as designed by God includes key events described in this week's Torah portion. These "feasts of the Lord" are the weekly Shabbat (English: Sabbath), the day of rest; the night of Pesach (English: Passover) followed by the week-long festival of Matzah (English: Unleavened Bread), commemorating the exodus from Egypt; the day of Shavuot (English: Weeks), which acts as the anniversary of the giving of the Ten Commandments; Yom Truah (English: Day of the Blowing of the Shofar), used to mark the New Year and prepare the people for the next two holidays, which are Yom Kippur (English: Day of Atonement), the national day of humility and repentance and the week-long Sukkot (English: Booths), to remember the days of Israel's living in the wilderness prior to entering the Promised Land. These occasions include prescribed sacrifices and gatherings of the people. Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot were also harvest festivals, requiring pilgrimage to Jerusalem each year.

These special days and observances gave Israel a sense of national community, caused the people to remember its history, and draw the nation's attention to God. The weekly Shabbat observance and yearly holy days provided a regular rebooting of Israel's awareness of who they were and what life is truly all about. To neglect these days would lead to a loss of identity and direction.

For many in the Jewish community today these and other special occasions continue to act as community identifiers. For some Jewish people, Judaism may have no other practical application apart from one or more of these days. The more religious within the community hold to the misconception that by observing these and other special days, they are preserving an unbroken line from Moses until now. I use the word "misconception," because the inability to offer sacrifices due to the Temple's destruction two thousand years ago makes truly keeping these God-given feasts impossible. Like much of Judaism since then, feast observance is a mixture of things reminiscent of Temple days and a great many man-made traditions. Differentiating between God's directives and human tradition would make these observances that much more meaningful and beneficial.

As Jewish followers of Yeshua, my family and I seek to continue our people's traditions albeit through a biblical filter. We acknowledge the feasts as part of our history and seek to discover the essence of God's intentions in these special occasions as expressed in Scripture, engaging in those things that are truly biblical and distancing ourselves from those things which are not. While we cannot actually observe the feasts as God intended, like the rest of the Bible, they contain essential aspects of God's revelation. 

More and more Christians have become interested in the feasts. Recovering the biblical roots of New Testament faith is essential to understand what the coming of the Messiah is all about. The reality of the God of Israel can only be known within the context of his revelation through the whole Bible. But as for the feasts themselves, they can no longer be truly observed due to the Temple's destruction. Still, studying them and engaging in activities designed to teach the truths of God as revealed through them can be most worthwhile.


eva said...

We "observe" some of the feasts, even though we are not Jewish. We usually share a meal and read scriptures that pertain to the particular feast from old and/or new testaments. There is so much i don't understand, but love it when these times direct my focus to my Saviour! The hardest for me is Shabbot..i find that my mind has a harder time finding rest than my body does. How do you observe these days?

Alan Gilman said...

It would take too long to fully describe how my family observes the feast days. As I mentioned in this TorahBytes message, we seek to put everything (not just the feasts) through a biblical filter. This means that through the years we have changed what we do and do not do.

Anonymous said...

Mr Gilman,
I have been reading your posts for years now and love that you are speaking to us from the perspective of the Jewish heart as we Gentiles seek to honor and understand the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob better. As I read this short post about the Feasts, I was excited and looking forward to what you had to say. My family has been "honoring and observing" the feasts for almost three years, learning more than we can contain in some instances and loving the whole experience, however, I was very disappointed to come to the end of the post. It felt like a big build up and then a HUGE let down when you did not really explain any more than what you reiterated to the commenter above. I, we, do understand your time is valuable and that you are busy, but your reply seemed a bit like a cop out or an outright avoidance of an answer, afraid of opening a can of worms or offending sensitivities. Please understand my heart, I do not mean that to be harsh, rather, I mean it to say that there are thousands of people that you reach each week with your words and insight and they are starving for practical ways to honor and serve their Father in Truth and obedience according to scripture, happy, even excited to abandon the ways of men and men's traditions - but they aren't sure which is what. Please don't leave us hanging! This is too serious for that! Perhaps is it worth another post or two?? Bless you for your diligence!

Alan Gilman said...

To Anonymous,

I agree with you that this is a serious topic. It certainly deserves to be dealt with more thoroughly. Let me try to summarize what I think is a biblical approach to the feasts. You will see that I don't think it is my place to tell people the specifics of what to do. At some point, I could share the details of what my family has done and not done through the years. That may be helpful to give people some practical ideas. But that will have to wait for another time.

1. The feasts as given by God were meant for the people of Israel under the Sinai Covenant in conjunction with the sacrificial system.

2. The coming of Yeshua the Messiah along with the subsequent Destruction of the Temple makes the keeping of the ceremonial aspects of the Sinai Covenant redundant and unnecessary as an obligation before God.

3. The feasts as celebrated today are reminiscent of the biblical feasts, but are not true representations of them.

4. Studying the Scriptural passages of the feasts teach us about God, his character, and his ways.

5. Any participation in feast celebrations should be done in light of the Messiah's coming.

6. We need to be careful not to make believers who do not participate in these celebrations feel that they are second class or that those who do are somehow closer to God, more holy, or godlier.

7. Lack of awareness of the feasts exposes a lack of Scripture knowledge. Teachers of the Bible do need to become as familiar with the passages regarding the feasts just like any other portions of Scripture.

8. Some forms of contemporary feast celebrations are helpful in connecting people with the Scripture teaching of the feasts.

9. Each person needs to seek God as to how to implement these things in their lives.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Gilman,
Thank you and bless you for the reply and for understanding my heart about it, that I wasn't meaning to hurt or offend you in any way. I, we, thank you for taking the time to further explain and expand what you had initially said. And regarding your reply!! ...I am in 100% agreement with you, at least on face value and probably a wee bit deeper. I was going to say that I especially agreed and understood #??, but re read tour list and realized that each if your points is deep and truth and just as important as the others. Perhaps someday we will meet and care share our hearts. You are a far bit further north than I - Canada to Texas to be exact! May the Creator and Father continue to bless you and lead you as you share Him and His Love with this world. Shalom. Prairie