Six days shall work be done; but on the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation; ye shall do no manner of work; it is a sabbath unto the Lord in all your dwellings. These are the appointed seasons of the Lord, even holy convocations, which you shall proclaim in their appointed season…
There is no difference between [the laws of] holidays and Shabbat except only for okhel nefesh [certain types of food preparation which, though forbidden on Shabbat, are permitted on festivals].
Chapter 23 of Vayikra/Leviticus is kind of a calendar drill, not only reminding us of the commandment (straight from the Top 10) of having one day of rest out of every seven days – that is, Shabbat – but also listing the five major holidays of the Jewish year. These are the shalosh regalim (three pilgrimage festivals) of Pesah (a.k.a. Passover), Shavuot, and Sukkot, and the two major holidays in the Yamim Nora’im (Season of Awe), Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Other Jewish Holidays like Hanukkah and Purim were of Rabbinic origin, but the five listed in this chapter have been commanded and observed since biblical times.
When interpreting the scripture, especially regarding the behavior expected of us today, the Sages of our tradition have to make deductions based on the few words that are available in the text. A couple of the deductive tools they apply involve the proximity of texts and similar phrases used in different contexts. For example, In these two verses (right next to each other) we see the phrase mikra kodesh (holy convocation) used to describe both Shabbat and these other major Jewish holidays.
The rabbis deduce from this, as well as from explicit language forbidding melaha (creative work), that all the restrictions and required actions that apply on Shabbat also apply on Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur, with one exception: The Mishnah, in tractate Beitzah, teaches that activities involved in okhel nefesh (literally, “soul food”) – food prepared specifically for celebrating the holiday – are permitted. Whereas on Shabbat one should not cook, it is permitted to cook on these holidays, with some modification. While we are discouraged from carrying things on Shabbat from one place to another, on holidays it’s okay to carry food to someone’s house for a holiday meal.
So next time you encounter one of these major Jewish holidays, take advantage of the break that it affords you from the hustle of modern life. This, too, is a holy time for you.
And bon appetit!
Question of the day: Have you ever had the experience of taking a day off that actually recharges you and boosts your creativity in the days that follow? Please tell me about it in the comments below.