The Biblical holidays seem to be divided into two separate cycles; we have the “Three Festivals” (Pesach-Passover, Shavuot-Festival of Weeks and Sukkot-Tabernacles – Exodus 23:14), and we have the “High Holy Days” (Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot). Aside from the fact that these two cycles both culminate in Sukkot, they seem to be unrelated. But upon closer examination we will see that these two cycles are actually one and the same.
On a superficial level we can immediately see that Pesach and Rosh Hashana are associated with each other; on Pesach we were redeemed from Egypt, and the tradition teaches that our ancestors stopped working for the Egyptians on Rosh Hashana. Shavuot and Yom Kippur are even more closely associated; on Shavuot we heard the Ten Commandments and on Yom Kippur we received the second tablets.
But the connection runs much deeper. The set of Pesach and Shavuot directly parallels the set of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. On Pesach God took us out of Egypt and acquired us as His servants (Leviticus 25:55). On Shavuot, when we received the Torah, God gave us the details, He taught us how we are to live our lives as His servants. Likewise, on Rosh Hashana we proclaim God as our King, and on Yom Kippur we get to the details. Through the repentance on Yom Kippur we bring every detail of our lives back in line with
the general truth of God’s absolute sovereignty that we acknowledged on Rosh
So Pesach and Rosh Hashana emphasize the general concept; that God is our King and we are His servants, while Shavuot and Yom Kippur emphasize the details that follow the general concept; how every aspect of our lives should line up with the truth that God is our King. The difference between these two sets is that Pesach and Shavuot have God moving towards us; He took us out of Egypt to make us His servants, and He gave us the Torah to teach us how to live as His servants – while Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur have us moving towards God; we acknowledge God’s sovereignty and we attempt to bring our lives to conform with that basic truth.
Sukkot is the culmination of both cycles. Sukkot commemorates Israel’s journey in the desert. Israel’s journey in the desert represents both God’s protection of Israel and Israel’s trust in God (Leviticus 23:43, Jeremiah 2:2). The clouds of glory that surrounded us were an embrace from God that impacted our nation to the core. It was in that setting that we absorbed the teachings of God (Deuteronomy 32:10) which enable us to fulfill our mission as God’s servant throughout history. It was there that we became who we are.
On Pesach and Shavuot God moves towards us, providing us with the materials that we need to become God’s servants. On Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur we move towards God to accept those elements that are foundational to our status as God’s servants. On Sukkot God’s motion towards us and our motion towards God meet under the canopy of the tabernacle. In the shade of the tabernacle we experience God’s embrace all over again, and the truths of Pesach-Rosh Hashana and Shavuot-Yom Kippur are infused into the core of our beings. When we emerge from the tabernacle we come forth as a nation that is formed anew by God with the praise of God in our hearts and on our lips (Isaiah 43:21, Psalm
102:19). We are then ready to step forth into the world to fulfill our duty as God’s servant.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal