Biblical Festivals/Holidays



Any discussion of the Biblical feasts or holidays should begin with Shabbat. It is first mentioned in the account of Creation, Genesis (B’resheet) 2:3. It is the first Holiday to be mentioned in the chronological account of the appointed times in Leviticus (Vayikra) 23, and it is also first in importance. It is so important, that Elohim included it in the Ten Commandments, and set it apart as one of His “appointments,” not just once a year, as with other feasts, but once every week. Reading Scriptures that mention Shabbat will point out the methods of observance on this important appointment with YHVH.

“YHVH said to Moses, ‘Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘These are my appointed feasts, the appointed feasts of YHVH, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies. There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a Shabbat of rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a Shabbat to YHVH’” (Leviticus [Vayikra] 23:1-3).

“Remember the Shabbat day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Shabbat to YHVH your Elohim. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days YHVH made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but He rested on the seventh day. Therefore YHVH blessed the Shabbat day and made it holy” (Exodus [Sh’mot] 20:8-11).

“Shabbat” means rest.

This is the central element of this feast, and one of the actions we must take to properly observe it. In His infinite wisdom, Elohim told us to take time to recharge ourselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Jewish tradition states that as Elohim presented the commandments, He told Moses: “I have a precious gift stored away in my treasures for you, and its name is Shabbat. I desire to give this gift to Israel. Go and inform them of it” (Talmud: Shab. 10b). We are so busy with our schedules, that it is hard to accept this gift by fitting in a time of rest. Elohim understands this . . . that left to our own devices, we would keep going and going until we burned out and were of no use to anyone. Elohim, who made us from the dust of the earth, knows that rest is necessary for us to function at our most creative, enthusiastic, healthy, and spiritually sound, peak. In the flesh, there is always “one more thing to do,” but when we give in to that pitfall of “busyness,” we fall for one of satan’s traps (a popular definition of this word is used as an acronym: b.u.s.y. = being under satan’s yoke). Our forefathers recognized this when they said: “More than the Jews have preserved Shabbat, Shabbat has preserved the Jews.” This is one of Elohim’s blessings to His people that has allowed them to achieve excellence in countless fields of endeavor, despite persecution. Obeying the Shabbat laws has also kept the Jewish people a readily identifiable entity for Elohim’s use.

Yeshua recognized the gift of Shabbat when He said, “The Shabbat was made for man, and not man for the Shabbat” (Mark 2:27). In Matthew (Mattityahu) 22:37-40 Yeshua summarized the commandments as He quoted Deuteronomy (D’varim) 6:5 which is the continuation of the Sh’ma.

“Yeshua replied, ‘Love YHVH your Elohim with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew (Mattityahu) 22:37-40

The first three Commandments deal with our vertical relationship with Elohim, by obeying them it shows that we love Him with our whole being. The last six deal with our horizontal relationship with our fellow man. The fourth, which is the Shabbat commandment, is the hinge that binds our love for Elohim and man together. When we separate our common workdays from the Shabbat, we express our love and gratefulness to YHVH. We love our Heavenly Father and want to please Him by our gratitude and obedience. Honoring Shabbat acknowledges Him as the Creator of the universe: “And Elohim blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating He had done.” (Genesis [B’resheet] 2:3).

The fourth commandment also allows us to express our love for others, since we are to let our sons, daughters, servants, and strangers join in our rest. We demonstrate weekly that we love them as we love ourselves. The Shabbat rest is for everyone. When Yeshua declared it was made for man, He used the word Ha’Adam that translates into the generic term for humanity, both Jew and Gentile alike. This idea is made clear in Isaiah (Yesha’yahu) 56:6-7:

“And foreigners who bind themselves to YHVH to serve him, to love the name of YHVH, and to worship him, all who keep the Shabbat without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant — these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”

Another key element of Shabbat observance, taken from commandment four, states: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

Exodus (Sh’mot) 20:8 implies that, of all the Ten Commandments, this is the one that is most likely to be ignored and/or forgotten.

Its inclusion on Elohim’s “top ten” list, and the unique preface, preclude any right to ignore Shabbat if we are to obey the other nine commandments. Elohim realizes it would be easy for man to ignore this commandment, especially in today’s culture, since it is the only commandment with no threat of civil punishment or loss of reputation. In this sense, observing Shabbat can serve as a true test of obedience, motivated only by a desire to please Elohim in all things.

In the B’rit Hadashah (New Covenant), the Ten Commandments are transformed into ten promises we are to believe and embrace when the Ruach HaKodesh speaks to our hearts. This can be understood when we look at the Hebrew translation. Words for a command such as “lo tinaf” — “don’t commit adultery,” can be interpreted as a future promise of “you won’t commit adultery.” In the same way, when Elohim’s law is written on our hearts, we won’t want to disobey them, since our new nature will want to please our Heavenly Father.

This doesn’t give us the liberty to disregard Elohim’s express statute . . . as believers in the Messiah, we have the same need to honor the clear distinction between the common week days and the Shabbat day set aside for rest. The only exception is that now this commandment is written on our hearts instead of tablets of stone. Shabbat observance is not legalism; we are not attempting to earn our salvation through Shabbat, but rather to show that because we are redeemed, we now have a desire to please Elohim by gratefully honoring what He has established.

Another purpose of Shabbat serves as a sign:

“Then YHVH said to Moses, ‘Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Shabbats. This will be a sign between Me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am YHVH, who makes you holy. Observe the Shabbat, for it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; whoever does any work on that day must be cut off from his people. For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day is a Shabbat of rest, holy to YHVH. Whoever does any work on the Shabbat day must be put to death. The Israelites are to observe the Shabbat, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between Me and the Israelites forever, for in six days YHVH made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and rested” (Exodus [Sh’mot] 31:12-17).

The Hebrew word “ot” for “sign” indicates a pledge or token of what is promised. Elohim gave us certain promises, and Shabbat is a visible token of His commitment to keep His promises. This is a picture of ancient treaties between a king and a lesser nation. The king would have his sign engraved in the middle of the treaty as a guarantee he would keep his part of the covenant. Elohim had already made agreements with Abraham and his descendant’s years before. Now, in Exodus (Sh’mot), in the midst of a legal document, Elohim reminds His people that He intends to remain their Elohim, and has called them to be set apart from the nations. It is His doing and for His purposes. Leviticus (Vayikra) 26 mentions keeping Shabbat in connection with blessings to come from obedience, and curses for disobedience:

“Observe My Shabbat and have reverence for My sanctuary. I am YHVH. If you follow My decrees and are careful to obey My commands, I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees of the field their fruit” (Leviticus [Vayikra] 26:2-4).

“If in spite of this you still do not listen to Me but continue to be hostile toward Me, then in My anger I will be hostile toward you, and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over” (Leviticus [Vayikra] 26:27-28).

He spoke through Isaiah (Yesha’yahu), promising joy and calling Shabbat a delight:

“If you keep your feet from breaking the Shabbat and from doing as you please on My holy day, if you call the Shabbat a delight and YHVH’s day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in YHVH, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob (Ya’akov).” The mouth of YHVH has spoken” (Isaiah [Yesha’yahu] 58:13-14).

For all believers, Shabbat is a picture of how Elohim has blessed us; it should be a joy and delight for us. He also connects it with His deliverance:

“Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that YHVH your Elohim brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore, YHVH your Elohim has commanded you to observe the Shabbat day” (Deuteronomy [D’varim] 5:15).

Just as the nation of Israel was redeemed from bondage in Egypt where they had no rest, we as believers are redeemed from bondage to sin.

“I am YHVH your Elohim, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high” (Leviticus [Vayikra] 26:13).

Yeshua set us free from slave labor . . . He is Lord of the Shabbat, and it is through Him that we find our rest. “For the son of Man is Lord (Adonai)of the Shabbat” (Matthew [Mattityahu] 12:8).

Shabbat is a picture of our life as believers in Messiah:

“So there remains a Shabbat-keeping for Elohim’s people. For the one who has entered Elohim’s rest has also rested from his own works, as Elohim did from His” (Hebrews 4:9-10).

Just as the redeemed Israelites wanted to return to Egypt, our fleshly desire to be constantly “doing” urges us to set aside the Shabbat rest for worldly behavior. We are called to faith in trusting Elohim that six days of labor each week is sufficient to accomplish what needs to be done. We need a weekly reminder of this. We assemble that day to thank Him for the rest He has given us from the world and it’s sin. The early believers in Yeshua understood this, and continued to honor Shabbat:

“Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Shabbat in obedience to the commandment” (Luke 23:56).

Worshipping Him on Shabbat lets our minds, hearts, and spirits be refreshed and renewed from a week of worldly turmoil. How do we honor Elohim’s command by keeping Shabbat holy? Are we free to interpret our own meaning of holiness? There is no specific list in Scripture covering all the “do’s” and “don’ts” for this special day. The Jewish sages and rabbis developed a long list of restrictions and Shabbat regulations to handle every imaginable situation. Their goal was to erect such a hedge around the Shabbat commandment, that no violation of holiness could ever occur. They understood, from warnings in Scripture, how failure to honor Elohim on this day resulted in devastation. The prophets have said that Shabbat-keeping was an indication of Israel’s spiritual condition.

“Yet the people of Israel rebelled against Me in the desert. They did not follow My decrees but rejected My laws — although the man who obeys them will live by them-and they utterly desecrated My Shabbats. So I said I would pour out My wrath on them and destroy them in the desert” (Ezekiel [Yehezkel] 20:13).

“But if you do not obey Me to keep the Shabbat day holy by not carrying any load as you come through the gates of Jerusalem on the Shabbat day, then I will kindle an unquenchable fire in the gates of Jerusalem that will consume her fortresses” (Jeremiah [Yirmeyahu] 17:27).

Some went too far in their interpretations, for example, in modern times, the prohibition to push elevator buttons to make it start and stop, therefore, in many hotels in Israel, Shabbat elevators automatically stop at all floors. Other man-made restrictions put more of a burden than a blessing on keeping the Shabbat, losing sight of the blessing of joy and delight. Going to the opposite extreme, in the name of liberty, can be equally unproductive. “Resting” does not necessarily mean enjoying our favorite sport or entertainment. Remember Isaiah’s words:

“If you keep your feet from breaking the Shabbat and from doing as you please on My holy day, if you call the Shabbat a delight and YHVH’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in YHVH, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob (Ya’akov).” The mouth of YHVH has spoken” (Isaiah [Yeshayahu] 58:13)

When we struggle with what is and isn’t proper and holy, we need to ask the Ruach HaKodesh to show us how to maintain balance. Genuine needs for health and well-being overrule restrictions to not lift a finger to help others. This is well illustrated when Yeshua healed on the Shabbat.

“Then Yeshua asked them, ‘Which is lawful on the Shabbat: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?’” (Mark 3:4)

“ . . . Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Shabbat” (Matthew [Mattityahu] 12:12).

There are many personal ways to honor Shabbat in our homes. Knowing the traditional elements and their symbolism can help us decide which to incorporate in our home life. The first step is preparation. This idea is so important that Friday became known as “preparation day.”

“It was Preparation Day, and the Shabbat was about to begin” (Luke 23:54).

The Shabbat officially begins at dusk, and traditionally is ushered in by lighting at least two candles. By rabbinical interpretation, this should take place eighteen minutes before sunset, so the “work” of kindling a fire will not actually have been done on Shabbat.
It is the woman who lights the candles, as a reminder that Eve (Havah), the first woman, extinguished the light of eternal life by disobeying Elohim. However, believers can remember that Elohim chose another woman, Miriam (Mary), to give birth to the “light of the world,” Yeshua. Candles remind us of ancient days when lamps were lit in the house to provide light in the evening. On Friday nights, the lamps were lit before sundown and left burning. Often, the house would have only two rooms, thus a light for each. Our two candles also symbolize the two injunctions for Shabbat: “remember” and “observe.” We can also use them to remind us to thank Elohim for creation and redemption. They are also a picture of the two-fold nature of Elohim’s promise to Abraham (Avraham):

“ . . . I will bless you . . . and you will be a blessing to many others” (Genesis [B’resheet] 12:2).

Lighting the Shabbat Candles:

(The Hebrew transliteration is the traditional Blessing, while the English portion is the Messianic version of the Blessing)

Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu, Melech ha’olam,
asher kideshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu,
l’hadlik ner shel Shabbat.

Blessed are You, O Lord our Elohim, King of the universe,
who has sanctified us in Your Word, given us our Messiah Yeshua,
and commanded us to be a light to the world. Amen

After candle lighting, comes the “Kiddush,” the cup of sanctification. Wine or grape juice can be used. The man of the house usually says the blessing, takes a sip, and then passes the cup to all the family members. This symbolizes spreading the joy of Shabbat, since the fruit of the vine has been associated with joy and life in Judaism. For believers, it is a weekly reminder of the shed blood of Yeshua for our redemption.

Kiddush – The Blessing for the Cup:

Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha olam,
borei p’ri ha-gefen.

Blessed are You, O Lord our Elohim, King of the Universe,
Creator of the Fruit of the vine. Amen

The “Ha’Motzi,” blessing the Challah (bread) follows the Kiddush. Challah is often baked in two braided loaves. When Elohim provided manna for the Children of Israel, He sent a double portion on Friday, and none on Shabbat, so they would not gather on Shabbat. We also remember that Yeshua was born in the town called “Bet Lehem,” “house of bread,” and that He explained to us:

“I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die” (John [Yochanan] 6:48-50).

The Challah is usually covered with a white cloth, a symbol of the dew on the ground when the Israelites woke each morning. Elohim’s love is fresh to us each day, just as the dew. The Challah is traditionally passed around whole, with each person breaking off their own piece. As the Shabbat table represents YHVH’s altar, it is forbidden in the Torah to use knife (iron) on YHVH’s altar.

“And there you shall build an altar to YHVH your Elohim, an altar of stones; you shall not use an iron tool on them.” (Deuteronomy [D’varim] 27:5)

Also, in Judaism, it is the eternal hope for peace, and a knife, representing an instrument of war, is not used on the Challah. This is a reminder of the future promise of Isaiah (Yesha’yahu)

“They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore” (Isaiah [Yesha’yahu] 2:4).

When we each break off our own piece, we remember that our “daily bread” does not come from man, but from Elohim alone to each one of us.

HaMotzi – The Blessing for the Bread:

Baruch atah Adonai, eloheinu melech ha olam,
ha-motzi lechem min-ha-aretz.

Blessed are You, O Lord our Elohim, King of the Universe,
Who brings forth bread from the earth. Amen


“That you may distinguish between holy and common, and between unclean and clean”.
(Leviticus [Vayikra] 10:10)

According to tradition, the Shabbat officially ends when three stars become visible in the evening sky. This can be a family activity, enjoyed in anticipation of the closing ceremony of Shabbat, “Havdalah.” Havdalah means “separation,” and officially begins the new week. Just as the holiness of Shabbat is ushered into the home with a ceremony, so it should have an official closing, as a distinction between what is holy and what is worldly. The blessings and Scriptures read at this time extend this idea of separation of light from dark.

Havdalah uses the elements of wine and candles, but in a different form than Shabbat. When the wine is poured, it is allowed to overflow the cup, a symbol of Elohim’s overflowing blessing to us. It also shows the fullness and completion of our week, and the hope that the week to come would also overflow with blessings. Wine was often costly in ancient Israel, so a house where it flowed like water was regarded as truly blessed. As believers, this is a reminder of Messiah’s blood poured out for us.

Another element that is used in the Havdalah ceremony is a box of fragrant spices, or “besamim” that is passed around for each person to smell. This ritual began around the second century BC to compensate for the sadness of Shabbat’s departure. The sweet fragrance of the spices would leave a lasting aroma of Shabbat in the often harsh week to follow. Today, besamim is a reminder of the incense burned when the high priest ministered in Temple times, and of the One High Priest ministering for us in heaven today. When incense was burned in the holy of holies, it was a symbol of our prayers being a fragrant aroma as they ascended to Elohim.

The candle used for Havdalah is braided with three strands. As believers, we light the candle, which provides more light than an ordinary candle, to remember the light of Messiah that blots out the darkness of sin, and as a reminder of the Triune nature of Elohim.

To close the Havdalah ceremony, the candle is extinguished in the wine.
As the Shabbat was opened at dusk with greetings of “Shabbat shalom!” now we close with “Shavuah Tov Um’vorach!” — “May the week ahead be good and blessed!”

About The Author

Rabbi at Bet Shalom Messianic Congregation | + posts

Rabbi Amnon and Rebbetzin Lynette Shor are international conference speakers on prophetic subjects, the Middle East conflict, Biblical holidays, and Jewish cultural life. Rabbi Shor has appeared on many radio and television programs which include CBS, CBN, TBN, and Jewish Voice. He has also worked with Promise Keepers as the international liaison to Israel and the Middle East, and with the Road to Jerusalem Ministry as global spokesman.

Rabbi Amnon Shor, was born in Israel to an orthodox Jewish family. His grandfather Zachariah was a Rabbi in the local synagogue. Rabbi Shor learned the Old Testament and the Jewish Law from early childhood. After his service in the Israeli Army, where he fought the Egyptian Army in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, he set out to see the world working for EL-AL Israel’s Airlines , where he met his wife of 41 years Lynette. They have three children and seven grandchildren.

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