The Feast of Pentecost or Shavuot has many names in the Bible: The Feast of Weeks, the Feast of Harvest, and the Latter Firstfruits. Celebrated on the fiftieth day after Passover, Shavuot is traditionally a joyous time of giving thanks and presenting offerings for the new grain of the summer wheat harvest in Israel.
The name “Feast of Weeks” was given because God commanded the Jews in Leviticus 23:15-16, to count seven full weeks (or 49 days) beginning on the second day of Passover, and then present offerings of new grain to the Lord as a lasting ordinance. The term Pentecost derives from the Greek word meaning “fifty.”
Initially, Shavuot was a festival for expressing thankfulness to the Lord for the blessing of the harvest. And because it occurred at the conclusion of the Passover, it acquired the name “Latter Firstfruits.” The celebration is also tied to the giving of the Ten Commandments and thus bears the name Matin Torah or “giving of the Law.” Jews believe that it was precisely at this time that God gave the Torah to the people through Moses on Mount Sinai.
Rosh HaShanah (ראש השנה) is the Jewish New Year. It falls once a year during the month of Tishrei and occurs ten days before Yom Kippur. Together, Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are known as the Yamim Nora’im, which means the “Days of Awe” in Hebrew. In English, they are often referred to as the High Holy Days.
In Hebrew, the literal meaning of Rosh HaShanah “Head of the Year.” It falls in the month of Tishrei—the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar. This is believed to be the month in which God created the world. The first months of the hear, Nissan, is believed to be the month in which the Jews were freed from slavery in Egypt. Hence, another way to think of Rosh HaShanah as the birthday of the world.
Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) is one of two Jewish High Holy Days. The first High Holy Day is Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year). Yom Kippur falls ten days after Rosh Hashanah on the 10th of Tishrei–the Hebrew month that correlates with September-October on the secular calendar. The purpose of Yom Kippur is to bring about reconciliation between people and between individuals and God. According to Jewish tradition, it is also the day when God decides the fate of each human being.
Although Yom Kippur is an intense, solemn holiday, it is nevertheless viewed as a happy day, since if one has properly observed this holiday, by the end of Yom Kippur they will have made a lasting peace with others and with God.
There are three essential components of Yom Kippur:
Sukkot is a seven-day harvest holiday that arrives during the Hebrew month of Tishrei. It starts four days after Yom Kippur and is followed by Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. Sukkot is also known as the Festival of Booths and the Feast of Tabernacles.
Sukkot hearkens back to times in ancient Israel when Jews would build huts near the edges of their fields during the harvest season. One of these dwellings was called a “sukkah” and “sukkot” is the plural form of this Hebrew word. These dwellings not only provided shade but allowed the workers to maximize the amount of time they spent in the fields, harvesting their food more quickly as a result.
Sukkot is also related to the way the Jewish people lived while wandering in the desert for 40 years (Leviticus 23:42-43). As they moved from one place to another they built tents or booths, called sukkot, that gave them temporary shelter in the desert.
Hence, the sukkot (booths) that Jews build during the holiday of Sukkot are reminders both of Israel’s agricultural history and of the Israelite exodus from Egypt.
Simchat Torah is a celebratory Jewish holiday that marks the completion of the annual Torah reading cycle. Simchat Torah literally means “Rejoicing in the Law” in Hebrew.
Throughout the year, a set portion of the Torah is read each week. On Simchat Torah that cycle is finished when the last verses of Deuteronomy are read. The first few verses of Genesis are read immediately afterward, thereby starting the cycle again. For this reason, Simchat Torah is a joyous holiday celebrating the completion of the study of God’s word and looking forward to hearing those words again during the coming year.