Why are holidays important? A holiday, as we call it in English, is defined by The American Heritage Dictionary as “A day on which custom or the law dictates a halt to ordinary business to commemorate or celebrate a particular event.” Another definition is very simply, “A holy day,” meaning a day set aside to remember something religious. The holidays that we find in the Holy Scriptures give us a great opportunity as Believers to commemorate Biblical history and the work of our Messiah.
In the opening verses of Leviticus 23, we are told, “The LORD spoke again to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, “the LORDS’s appointed times which you shall proclaim as holy convocations—My appointed times are these”’” (vs. 1-2). The Hebrew word for “appointed time” or “appointed festival” (ATS) is moed, and its plural form is moedim. It has a variety of meanings, including: “appointed time, place, meeting,” and “sacred season,” “set feast,” or “appointed season” (BDB). It is to be a special time between God’s people and Him. The ArtScroll Chumash tells us,
“…Moadim are the days which stand out from the other days of the year. They summon us from our everyday life to halt and to dedicate all our spiritual activities to them….The Moadim interrupt the ordinary activities of our life and give us the spirit, power, and consecration for the future by revivifying those ideals upon which our whole life is based, or they eradicate such evil consequences of past activity as are deadly to body and spirit and thus restore us to lost purity and the hope of blessing.”
It is important that the “Tent of Meeting,” where Moses and Aaron and the elders of Israel met the Lord in the wilderness, is called the ohel moed. It could be understood as the “Tent of Appointment.” Numbers 20:6 says, “Then Moses and Aaron came in from the presence of the assembly to the doorway of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. Then the glory of the LORD appeared to them.” Using this as a frame of reference, if we truly want the glory of God to appear before us, then the importance of meeting Him when He wants cannot be overstated.
The term for “convocation” (Leviticus 23:1-2), also often used to describe the appointed times, is the Hebrew miqra. It specifically means “convocation, convoking, reading,” in reference to a “religious gathering on Sabbath and certain sacred days” (BDB). It is derived from the verb qara, to “call, cry, utter a loud sound,” “make proclamation,” and “summon” (BDB). The appointed times call us together to rejoice in the Lord, focusing on Him, and make mention to one another of the work that He has done for us.
Many Messianic Believers, especially those who place a high prophetic emphasis on the pattern of the Biblical appointments, define the festivals of the Lord as rehearsals. Certainly, when we celebrate the Biblical holidays we not only remember the historical events in the life of Ancient Israel such as the Passover and Exodus, or the giving of the Ten Commandments, but we also recognize the prophetic fulfillment, both past and future, of Messiah Yeshua in them (Colossians 2:17). We essentially “rehearse” what is to come, in preparation for the Messiah’s return, and we learn important lessons about God’s ongoing plan of salvation history (Ger. Heilsgeschichte).
Another Hebrew term that is often used in Scripture to describe the Biblical feasts is chag, which AMG defines as “a feast, a festival.” It is derived from the verb chagag, “to hold a feast, a pilgrim feast, to celebrate a holy day…It is usually used in the context of rejoicing and describes festive attitudes and actions, often while on the way to worship or when celebrating a feast.” One of the clear elements of the appointed times is celebration. The moedim are to be times of great rejoicing in the Lord.
The Biblical holidays as outlined in Leviticus 23 may be divided up into three general seasons: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. Thus, when someone refers to Passover, he or she may not just be referring to Passover, but also the Festival of Unleavened Bread that occurs immediately thereafter. In the listing below, we give you a brief reference of each of the Biblical holidays in Leviticus 23, and the extra-Biblical celebrations that we believe are beneficial and edifying to the Body of Messiah.
Shabbat: Shabbat is the first appointed time given to us. Shabbat (or Shabbos) is the seventh-day Sabbath. It is to be a weekly outward sign that is to distinguish us as God’s people as we rest from all our work sundown Friday evening to sundown Saturday evening. The Sabbath is often closed with a traditional service known as Havdalah, preparing those who kept it for the next working week (cf. Genesis 2:3; Exodus 20:8-11; Leviticus 23:1-4; Deuteronomy 5:12-15).
The Spring Holidays
Pesach: Pesach or Passover commemorates God’s deliverance of the Ancient Israelites from slavery and His subsequent judgment on the Egyptians. The prime element of Passover is the lamb and how the blood of the lamb protected the Israelites from the death of the firstborn. It is important that we understand Passover to properly understand Yeshua’s sacrifice at Golgotha (Calvary) as our Passover Lamb, who delivers us from slavery to sin to eternal life in Him. It is important to understand the Passover meal as it relates to the Messiah’s Last Supper. And, it is important to understand God’s judgment upon the gods of Egypt as it relates to His future judgment upon the gods of this world during the Tribulation period (cf. Exodus 12-14; Leviticus 23:5; Numbers 28:16-25; Matthew 26:17-35; Mark 14:1-31; Luke 22:1-23; John 13:1-20; 1 Corinthians 5:7).
Chag HaMatzah: Chag HaMatzah is the Festival of Unleavened Bread. It occurs for one week following Passover, in remembrance of the Ancient Israelites leaving Egypt and having to eat matzah or unleavened bread, the bread of haste. Items without leavening or yeast are to be eaten during this time. Since matzah is without leaven, for Believers in Yeshua it represents His sinless nature for us and how we must remove the sin from our lives. Since Unleavened Bread occurs in conjunction with Passover, it is often not distinguished as a separate holiday (see Scripture references for Pesach).
Shavuot: Shavuot (or Shavuos) or the Feast of Weeks is more commonly called Pentecost, a Greek-derived name meaning “fiftieth” (Grk. pentēkostē). The Feast of Weeks was originally established as an agricultural festival where the first of the wheat harvest would be presented to God as an offering. Shavuot is also the time when it is traditionally believed that the Torah was given to Moses on Mount Sinai. Following the giving of the Torah, the Ancient Israelites worshipped the golden calf and Moses destroyed the two tablets of the Ten Commandments. Shavuot or Pentecost is also the traditional time when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Believers at the Upper Room in Jerusalem following Yeshua’s ascension into Heaven (cf. Exodus 19-33; Leviticus 23:15-22; Deuteronomy 16:9; Acts 2:1-47).
The Fall Holidays
Yom Teruah: Yom Teruah or the Day of Blowing, remembered as Rosh HaShanah or the Civil New Year in Judaism today, was established to be a holy convocation celebrated by the blowing of trumpets. The convocation involved special offerings and preparing the people for the ten Days of Awe before Yom Kippur. The Day of Blowing has special significance to us as Believers in the Messiah as we will be caught up in the air to meet Him at the blast of the trumpet at His Second Coming (cf. Leviticus 23:23-25; Matthew 24:29-31; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
Yom Kippur: Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement. On the Day of Atonement we are commanded to afflict ourselves by fasting, and reflect on our sin. It was the only time when the high priest was permitted to enter into the Holy of Holies and spread the sacrificial blood upon the Ark of the Covenant. Yom Kippur has special significance to us who know Yeshua because it is likely that a future Yom Kippur will be when the Day of the LORD occurs, when His judgment is poured out upon humanity at the Battle of Armageddon (cf. Leviticus 23:26-32; Numbers 16:29-34).
Sukkot: Sukkot (or Succos) is the Feast of Tabernacles, also called the Feast of Booths. The Israelites were to dwell in temporary houses known as sukkas or huts covered by leafy branches. The Feast of Tabernacles commemorates the Ancient Israelites’ journey in the wilderness and how God wanted earnestly to tabernacle with them. Sukkot is also a likely time when Yeshua the Messiah was born, and it will be celebrated by all the saints in Jerusalem after His return. Tabernacles will be a critical holiday for all the nations to celebrate during the Millennium (cf. Leviticus 23:33-43; Numbers 29:12; Zechariah 14:1-21; John 1:14).
Shemini Atzeret: Shemini Atzeret (or Shemini Atzeres) or the Eighth Day of Assembly is often overlooked as its own separate holiday, coming after the seven days of Sukkot. Shemini Atzeret represents the desire of our Heavenly Father to stay with us for one more day, as we reflect back on the tabernacling during Sukkot. It symbolizes how we will live with Him forever in the New Jerusalem (cf. Leviticus 23:36b-37a; Revelation 21:3-4).
Other Holidays In and Out of the Bible
Chanukah: Chanukah (or Channukah, Hanukah, Hanukkah, etc.) or the Feast of Dedication is an eight day holiday commemorating the work of the Maccabees and their defeat over the Syrian Greeks in 165 B.C.E. The Syrian Greeks had conquered the Land of Israel and desecrated the Temple, sacrificing a pig and erecting an altar to the god Zeus in it. Chanukah celebrates how the Temple was rededicated. There was only enough consecrated oil to light the candelabra or menorah in the Temple for one day, but instead it lasted for eight days (cf. Daniel 8:21-25; 1&2 Maccabees; John 10:2-23).
Purim: Purim or the Feast of Lots commemorates the story of Esther, the events of which occur after the Persian Empire conquers the Babylonian Empire, which has a large population of Jews dispersed from the Land of Israel. Purim celebrates the defeat of the evil Haman, who had planned to kill all the Jews, and how God’s sovereignty and protecting hand prevailed through the Jewess Esther, wife of the Persian emperor, and her cousin Mordechai (cf. Esther).
Tishah b’Av: Tishah b’Av or the Ninth of Av is an extra-Biblical fast day when the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem is remembered. Historically, the Ninth of Av has also been a day when terrible, tragic events have occurred to the Jewish people, such as their eviction from Spain in 1492. It has been a time to remember the past and terrible events like the Crusades or the Holocaust.
Simchat Torah: Simchat Torah (or Simchas Torah) or Joy of the Torah occurs on the same day as Shemini Atzeret. It was added by the Jewish Rabbis to celebrate the ending of the reading of the yearly Torah cycle, and to rejoice in the forthcoming reading of the next Torah cycle.
Modern-Day Israeli Holidays
Yom HaShoah: Yom HaShoah or Holocaust Memorial Day is when the 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust are formally remembered. It specifically commemorates the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
Yom HaAtzmaut: Yom HaAtzmaut is Israel Independence Day when the State of Israel was established as an independent country in 1948. Israel’s past wars and military heroes are remembered and honored.
Yom Yerushalayim: Yom Yerushalayim or Jerusalem Day commemorates the recapturing of the Old City of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War.
 William Morris, ed., The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (New York: American Heritage Publishing, 1969), 628.
 BDB, 417.
 Scherman, Chumash, 682.
 BDB, 896.
 Ibid., 895.
 Warren Baker and Eugene Carpenter, eds., The Complete Word Study Dictionary: Old Testament (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2003), 312.
 Ibid., 313.
 For a thorough analysis of the appointed times, along with a summary of various customs, traditions, and specific liturgies associated with them, consult the Messianic Helper series by Messianic Apologetics.