Holiday Cycle

by Jacques Abourbih

“Three times in a year shall all thy males appear before HaShem thy G-d in the place which He shall choose; on the feast of unleavened bread, and on the feast of weeks, and on the feast of tabernacles;” Parashat Re’eh (Deut. 16:16)

Yesterday while reading this passage in the parashah it struck me that the Torah speaks of only the Shloshah Reghalim (Pesah, Shavuot and Succoth) when all the children of Israel will behold the face of Hashem, yet the Torah does not mention Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

In his book “The Way of the Boundary Crosser”, the Sacred Seasons, Rabbi Gershom Winkler explains the connection between the different seasons and times of our calendar emphasizing that Rosh Hashanah, the Ten Days of Teshuvah, Yom kippur, Succoth and Shmini Asseret are one unit in the cycle of our sacred times.

These holidays occur in autumn “the time of the year when we need to let go of our earlier phases of life-journeying, (and) prepare ourselves for fresh possibilities in our lives …”.   Rosh Hashanah comes as the day to reflect on one’s action of the year just past, followed by the Ten Days of Returning (Teshuvah). Yom Kippur—a time of letting go of the negative ways of being in this world and of just being human.  Sukkot—the time that celebrates all our achievements we have harvested from our past good works. Finally, the cycle ends with Shmini Azeret that brings closure for the past year, opening opportunities for new and different ways in the new-year-to-come by finally breaking away from the voices and the barriers of the past that holds us back.

All five are inclusive in the third cycle that the Torah lists as a period worthy of special pilgrimage to the place designated by G-d “to behold the Creator, and being seen by the Creator” (TB Shabbat 55b)

There is another dimension to this five-part holiday cycle collectively identified as Succoth in the Torah. Whereas Pesach and Shavuot prescribes Korbanot (sacrifices) that are particular to the Jewish people, the Succoth cycle sacrifices concerns itself with all the people of the world (see Shir Hasherim Rabbah 1:15—the Midrash Rabbah on Song of Songs.)

This concern for all people starts on the afternoon of Yom Kippur with the reading of the Book of Yona (Jonas), where G-d commands the rebellious prophet Jonas to go to Nineveh and plead with her people to repent. The lithurgy of this time of the year directs worshipers to beseech Hashem the Creator on behalf of all humanity, not just Israel, all people not just Jews, on behalf of all creaturs–not only humans.