If you were to ask most any American, “What is a pilgrim festival?” I’ll bet their answer will be “Why, that would be Thanksgiving, the fourth Thursday of November.”
But that isn’t really a pilgrim festival, is it?
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For us religious types, a pilgrim festival is one where we are required to congregate at our respective house of worship, be that a synagogue, a church, or a mosque.
You know, I have been reading the Bible for over 25 years, nearly every, single day, and have gone through it at least 2 dozen times, and what is wonderful about this book is that even when you have read it as often as I have, not to mention all the studies I have been involved with requiring me to research throughout the Bible, you can still read something you have read over and over, and see a new truth in it.
So, nu? What am I leading to? It’s this: I have always known that there are three pilgrim festivals in Judaism: Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot.
If you do an Internet search for “Jewish pilgrimage festivals” on Google, you will get any number of “hits”, from Britannica’s site to the one called My Jewish Learning to Wikipedia, and so on, and they will all tell you that the Jewish pilgrim festivals are Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot.
Now here’s the thing that hit me just the other day as my daily reading had me in Leviticus, Chapter 23…there are actually 6 pilgrim festivals in Judaism!
That’s right! Not 3 or 4 or even 5, but there are 6 times that God says we are to have a holy convocation, which translates to being physically at the Temple.
That means from the time after we entered the land, which was when the first Shavuot began, people were required to go to the Tent of Meeting (first at Gilgal, then Shiloh, then Jerusalem) until we had Solomon’s Temple. But, after 73 AD, when Roman soldiers destroyed the temple, we had nowhere to go to fulfill the commandments regarding pilgrim festivals.
Here’s an interesting side note: although Pesach (Passover) was celebrated before we entered the Land, Shavuot and Sukkot were not to be celebrated, and Habikurim (First Fruits) also had to wait until we were established in Canaan. God stated, specifically, that these were to be celebrated AFTER we entered the Land (see Leviticus 23:9).
So, this was quite a revelation to me- all these years I was teaching that there are three pilgrim festivals because that is what I was taught, but I was wrong.
Let’s go to the Book of Leviticus (CJB) and see what God says is to be a holy convocation:
Pesach is a pilgrim festival for two reasons: one, because all sacrifices had to be made at the place where God put his name (Deuteronomy 16:6), and secondly because we are to have a holy convocation on the first day of Hag HaMatzot.
It certainly looks to me that God wants us to congregate together on the first day of Hag HaMatzot (Festival of Unleavened Bread), then again on Shavuot, then again on Rosh Hashanah (originally called Yom Teruah, Day of Trumpets), then again on Yom Kippur, and finally on the first day and the eighth day of Sukkot, which is called Yom Atzeret, also known as Simchat Torah.
Now, some may say that some of these holy convocations were included with the required presence at the temple, so they don’t really count as a separate pilgrimage. Maybe there’s some truth to that, but God specifies 6 holy convocations, and for me, that means there are 6 separate and unique times we are to be at the temple.
So, this certainly begs the question: How could I have read and studied the Torah for so many years, and never seen, which has always been right in front of my face, that there are really 6 pilgrim festivals, not just three?
My answer is that I have been doing what so many people do, which is reading the Bible but only seeing what I have been told is there.
Most people, if you ask me, are at the height of spiritual ignorance because they don’t read the Bible at all. The next level down is those who hear others tell them what is in the Bible, but don’t bother to verify what they are told.
The level I was on all this time when reading Leviticus 23 and never noticing the true number of holy convocations was the level where I am reading the Bible but only seeing what I already know it says.
This is probably why so many people who do read the Bible miss so much of what is in there- we have blinders, blinders that were placed on our eyes by religion, which told us what the Bible says, So, even though we are looking right at it, we only see what we have been told is there.
This is why it is so important to pray to God and ask for Holy Spirit guidance each and every time we read the Bible, so that we can be freed of the blinders religion has placed on our eyes.
The scary thing is that now I have to wonder: How many other things in God’s word have I read and not understood properly?
The comforting thing, though, is that now that I know this has happened, I will be doubly careful and much more aware of what I am reading.
The bottom line for all of us is to recognize the potential that no matter how many times we have gone through the Bible, we may still be reading something but not seeing it.
Let me finish with telling you what I will be doing, and suggest you do the same: from this moment on, I am reading with both eyes open, and accept the fact that as well as I know the Bible, I may not know it all correctly.
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That’s it for today, so l’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!