The Meaning of Jewish Holidays

Why are Jewish holidays different from all other holidays?

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Judaism understands that the entire purpose of our existence is that we enjoy being able to receive and partake of the greatest good possible. The key words in all of this are "enjoy" and "good." Consequently, God's relationship to us is one in which He is the giver par excellence, and we are the receivers of the best He has to offer. What flows from this is the Jewish perspective that the way we partake in the purpose we were created for is to be engaged in a relationship with God. And it is with this perspective that we can gain a comprehensive understanding of the Jewish holidays.

A full appreciation of the holidays begins with understanding them in the context of the relationship between God and the Jewish people. In a word...a marriage. The unique depth, intimacy, love, and bonding in marriage provides the best possible analogy for the spiritual connection that is present in the relationship between God and the Jewish people. In fact, King Solomon's Song of Songs, a deeply passionate and poignant tribute to the longing and love of a husband and wife, is understood to be an allegory for the love between God and the Jewish nation....

"On Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot [the three holidays when the Jews visited the Temple in Jerusalem] the curtain was opened so the people could see the two Cherubs on the Ark of the Covenant embracing. It was then announced to the people, 'God's love for you is like the love of a man and a woman.'"

-- Talmud

A Word about Marriage

Beyond the physical and beyond even the emotional, there is a profound spiritual dimension to marriage. When two people get married, more is taking place than just the first part of sharing a life together; marriage is a spiritual transformation. The souls of two people who marry become blended together as one.

"Therefore a man will leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife and they will become one flesh."

-- Genesis 2:24

When the Torah speaks about two people becoming "one flesh," it means that marriage is a metamorphosis of essential identity; it is the shift from one's essence being perceived in terms of "I" and "mine" to "us" and "ours" in the deepest and most actual way. It is in the realm of the soul--of the ultimate reality of two people's being--that Judaism sees the difference between a married couple and an equally fulfilled and happy unmarried couple. The marriage ceremony, then, is a sort of re-engineering of two people's spiritual DNA. It is the vehicle through which a new spiritual reality is brought into being--and the only way to describe this new reality is oneness. ...

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Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf

Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf is the award-winning author of eleven books, including the Rosh Hashanah Yom Kippur Survival Kit and Judaism In A Nutshell: ISRAEL.