Kabbalah For Dummies
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In Kabbalah, holy days are especially focused spiritual experiences with the continual awareness that God is the center of everything. The major Kabbalah holy days, which are the same holy days on the Jewish calendar, are observed beginning at sundown and ending at sundown.

Every week:

  • Shabbat. Shabbat is the weekly day of rest and the holiest day on the calendar of the Kabbalist. It's observed one day a week from Friday beginning just before sundown and through Saturday beyond sundown. (Check a sunset chart for your community to know when Shabbat begins on any given Friday).

Every month:
  • Rosh Chodesh. Literally, the "head of the month," Rosh Chodesh is the first day of any new month, and is marked by special prayers. In ancient times, Rosh Chodesh was a significant festival day when each new month would be established based on the arrival of the new moon.

Fall holy days:
  • Rosh Hashanah (the New Year): Rosh Hashanah begins an intense ten-day period of prayer and introspection known to Kabbalists as the Days of Awe. This holiday is observed in the early fall, and is celebrated on the first and second days of the Hebrew month of Tishre.

  • Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement): Yom Kippur is a day of praying, fasting, and exalted celebration that's observed ten days after Rosh Hashanah. It marks the end of the Days of Awe.

  • Succot (Booths): Succot, which is called the Season of Our Joy, is an eight-day holiday celebrating the gifts received from God. During this holiday, as its name implies, Kabbalists eat, study, receive guests and sometimes even sleep in temporary huts or booths, recalling the temporary housing used by the Children of Israel in the wilderness. It begins on the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Tishre, which is also the fifth day after Yom Kippur.

  • Shemini Atzeret (the Eighth Day of Assembly): This special festive holy day marks the end of the High Holy Day period that begins in the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah. Shemini Atzeret immediately follows the last day of Succot.

  • Simchat Torah (rejoicing in the Torah): A joyful holiday marking the end of the yearly cycle of reading the Torah publicly each Shabbat and the beginning of a new cycle. It's held on the eighth day after the first day of Succot.

Winter holy days:
  • Chanukah (the Festival of Lights): Chanukah celebrates the dedication of one's life to God and the recognition of God's miracles. It's an eight-day holiday that's marked by the lighting of candles and meditation on the light of the flames. Chanukah begins on the twenty-fifth day of the Hebrew month of Kislev.

  • Purim (lottery): Purim celebrates the miraculous elements within every moment of every day and focuses on the awareness of God's hidden hand in all of history. It's marked by the public reading of the biblical Book of Esther on the fourteenth day of the Hebrew month of Adar, in the late winter.

Spring holy days:
  • Pesach (Passover): Pesach, known as the Festival of Freedom, is a commemoration and celebration of the Children of Israel's exodus from ancient Egypt, and it's a time for spiritual preparation for receiving the Torah. Pesach is an eight-day holiday beginning on the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Nissan. (In Israel, Pesach lasts only seven days.)

  • The Counting of the Omer: Kabbalists count each of the 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot in recollection of the counting of a barley offering when the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem. Kabbalists use the 49 days, which are seven weeks of seven days each, to meditate on the meaning of each of the ten sefirot.

  • Lag B'Omer: Tradition records that a plague halted on the thirty-third day of the Counting of the Omer, transforming the day into a celebration. Also, the author of the Zohar, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, died on this day, so his greatness is recalled on Lag B'Omer each year.

  • Shavuot (the Festival of Weeks): Shavuot commemorates God giving the Torah at Mount Sinai. Kabbalists observe this holiday by staying awake all night and studying holy texts. Shavuot falls 50 days from the first day of Pesach.

Summer holy days:
  • Tisha b'Av (the ninth of the month of Av): Tisha b'Av is a day of mourning and fasting in remembrance of the calamities of Jewish history, including the destruction on two occasions of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Tisha b'Av is usually observed in August.

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Arthur Kurzweil is known as America's foremost Jewish genealogist. The author/editor of several books, he lectures extensively on the subjects of Judaica, magic, and mysticism.

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