The Mysteries of the Moedim
When I was growing up, whether those around me were religious or not, we all understood that Yom Kippur was the holiest day of the year. All we needed to do was to listen to Kol Nidre, the sounding of the shofar, to fast if we were old enough, and then all would be well for the next year. It was only many years later that I learned the truth about God’s Moedim (His Appointed Times). We are now celebrating the first day of Sukkoth which was and still is considered less important by most of the Jewish community. Just this past week, I read an article about it on a Judaica website. One of the subtitles said: Is Sukkot a High Holiday? Their answer was an emphatic “No.” They wrote: “The two major Jewish holidays commonly referred to as the High Holidays (or ‘Yamim Norayim’ in Hebrew) are Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur; however, Sukkot is one of the Shalosh Regalim or the Three Pilgrimage Festivals.” I was so frustrated when I read that, and thinking how sad is it that they don’t read the Torah, they have no idea about its true significance, and they are putting words in God’s mouth.
Nowhere in the Torah does it say that any one of God’s Appointed Times is higher or greater than the rest. They are all equal and all contain special, even mystical messages about God’s love, His provision and why we can trust Him. That’s why they are called Chukkim. Going to Synagogue one day a year on Yom Kippur is like going to church one day a year at Christmas. It may soothe our guilt; we may feel better about ourselves, but it does nothing to bring us closer to our Creator.
Leviticus 22:26 – 23:44, which we read on the first day of Sukkot, describes the Seven Feasts fixed for us by our Creator. They begin with the weekly Shabbat. Most of my friends and my very large extended family do not observe Shabbat, probably because of what religion has done to it. Orthodox Judaism has added so many injunctions that Shabbat has become more of a burden than what it was meant to be – a sign of God’s existence. Other religions have either changed the day or completely ignored it and in so doing, they are ignoring Him, replacing the God of Israel with their gods and replacing His day with their special days. Without realizing it, His order is turned to chaos.
The rest of the Moedim are also Shabbats and the message emphasized on each of them is that we are not to perform any “salaried work” on certain days. In this way, we would learn to trust Him and understand that He is the One who provides for us. When we don’t and we worry about how we will earn our living, the stress can lead to physical and emotional illness.
Who is supposed to keep these Moedim? Are they only for us, the Jews? No… the Torah says that there is only one Torah for the native-born citizen of the land and the ger, the stranger living among us…like Rabbi Akiva, who was a proselyte, or the prophet Obadiah, also a proselyte, or Ruth, the great grandmother of King David, a Moabite. It’s a condition of the heart, a desire for a relationship with the Almighty…not a conversion to another religion for their own purpose.
The next Appointed Feast in our portion is Pesach. It’s only one day. We begin the evening before with our Seder where we read the magnificent story that reminds us that we are never to forget the fact that we were slaves and our exodus from Egypt to freedom. It’s an amazing picture that serves as the prototype of how all our future generations would live in the diaspora so that hopefully we would learn from the mistakes of our ancestors. The formula goes something like this: We move to a foreign land where we live simply at first, work hard and try to hold onto the precepts of our forefathers; we prosper, and multiply and when we grow fat (i.e., prosperous) we spoil our children not wanting them to suffer as we did, we forget our Creator because prosperity blinds our eyes, and we begin to believe that we got there on own strength. We become entranced with the foreign way of life because it’s more fun and we want to be like them, uttering the words, “Let God choose someone else for a change”; instead of being an example to our host nation about the one and only Creator, we choose to become like them, to fit in and not make waves. They soon grow jealous and turn against us, to the point of wanting to destroy us; so we cry out – NOT for our heavenly Father, Avinu Shebashamayim, but to be able to return to our comfort, however our cries are to no avail until finally, our heavenly Father turns His eyes back toward us, when He knows we’ve had enough, and once again He rescues us. And so the pattern repeats throughout the centuries, mimicking the original story of Pesach.
Pesach, just one day, is followed by Chag haMatzot, which consists of seven days of eating unleavened bread – called matzah and eating no leaven. That’s it. But once again, Orthodoxy has taken this festival captive adding one regulation after another that would discourage anyone without enough resolve, because the burden is just too great. The Creator‘s message in the Torah however is simple: humble yourselves and trust Him. Leaven represents our pride that won’t allow us to trust anyone but ourselves. The Torah’s message, to humble ourselves, is so that we won’t fall like Pharaoh did, whose pride destroyed him and his entire nation.
The last of these three Moedim is Shavuot…a festival of Thanksgiving, of the ingathering of the harvest, to thank the Creator for His provision. But do we? Instead, we created new gods and our version of this appointed time, depending upon which group we follow.
Now we find ourselves in the second set of Moedim, beginning with Yom Teruah, the Day of the sounding of the shofar, reminiscent of those blasts of a heavenly shofar as Moses ascended Mt. Sinai into the cloud of lightning and thunder atop the burning mountain. It sends chills to the body. The Shofar is a call for us to pay attention. Symbolic heavenly gates open and we, as one people, gather together to seek God’s forgiveness for not being the community that He created us to be and for not keeping our word when we said, “All that you say we will do.”
We are too selfish, too self-centred, preferring to follow our own path instead of His. We don’t like what He tells us to do even if it’s for our good. We sing the Kol Nidre on Erev Yom Kippur as a promise to not make vain oaths during the next year and to ask forgiveness for the ones we made during this past year. That’s what Yeshua was referring to when he said, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no; anything other than these is evil.” Do we think that God cares that we fast on Yom Kippur when we think nothing of breaking our word, or worse, His Word?
And now we come to the end of the Moedim, the festival of Sukkoth, which our rabbi called, “The End and a New Beginning”. That is a perfect picture of what God has set into motion for us. Whenever we think that we’ve done something so bad causing us to cry out, “Oh no, it’s all over. I’ve blown it this time”, all we need to do is to turn around, to face Him, face ourselves, face our neighbor, to make things right with Him, ourselves and them and we get to begin again. We may suffer the consequences, but we are not a lost cause.
Our prophet Zechariah, in the haftarah portion, told us that in the future, GOD would gather all the nations to Jerusalem for war. He allows our enemies to rise against us because we refuse to pay attention to the One who made us, who formed us as a people in the womb of that foreign nation, Egypt. The plagues that hit Egypt were like birth pains which finally allowed Israel to be born into freedom. The world has been experiencing birth pains over the millennia which are growing in intensity. We are experiencing another set at this very moment. Are we in the final set of birth pains right now? Is this when God will set His Feet on the Mount of Olives and the valley will split in two with a great earthquake? Who knows? Maybe, but Yeshua, like Zechariah, said that only our heavenly Father knows the day. We must have thought so when Hitler was trying to annihilate us about 80 years ago and the Sephardic Jews might have thought the same during the Inquisition in Spain over 500 years. But you and I don’t need to concern ourselves with where we are in human history; all we need is to know what Zechariah 14:9 says, “And the LORD shall be King over all the earth; in that day, Adonai Echad, u’Shmo Echad, the LORD shall be One, and His name one”. Our Creator is the only God and His Name, YHVH, is the only Name for all humanity to call upon.
There’s a precious mystery about this time of year and it alludes to a Book of Life. If there was a very wealthy man living in your neighbourhood and every week he would walk up and down the streets and write in his book the names of those who he thought would be worthy enough to inherit some of his wealth, wouldn’t we be on our best behaviour, wanting desperately to get his attention so that our name would get into his book? How much more should we desire to obey God’s Torah… His principles, and rejoice because our names are written in the Creator’s Book of Eternal Life? Let’s think of that when we feel unworthy.
There are so many stories from people who have had near-death experiences and have described the most wondrous sensation of Shalom, peace beyond measure, on the other side of death. They know that death is only a door and that we are awaiting the redemption of mankind and His planet. This body is like a sukkah, a temporary dwelling and at the resurrection of the dead, beginning at the Mount of Olives, we can look forward to having a permanent, eternal body, whatever that will look like. That’s a picture of Sukkoth. If I were to choose one of His Moedim to be a little more special, it would be Sukkoth. Zechariah 14:16 tells us that all those of the nations who were left after they warred against Jerusalem would have to come up each year to keep the feast of Sukkoth, to worship, and to bow down in homage to the King, Adonai Tzevaot.
The Moedim, God’s Appointed Seasons are not just for us as individuals, rather they are for the community of humanity. These are times of heightened awareness of the reality of His existence. No one else but Him holds the solutions for restoring this planet; after all, He created it and us.…our part is to focus our lives on obeying His Commandments, celebrating His Moedim, learning how to trust Him and giving Him thanks for His provision. He will do the rest!