Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508) was a preeminent Jewish thinker, scholar, and prolific Biblical
commentator. The subject of the three major Jewish festivals is broached in Exodus chapter 23.
Attendance in Jerusalem’s Holy Temple during those holidays is compulsory: “Three times in the year all
your males shall appear before God Almighty.”

“Three times you shall keep a feast unto Me in the year.”

Abravanel writes, as we have ascertained in an earlier blog, that the Ten Commandments are really a
start place for many more divine commandments. In that vein, when the Bible obligates Hebrews to
observe Sabbath, it also alludes to the observance of the three major Jewish festivals.

Passover comes first: “The feast of unleavened bread shall you keep. Seven days you shall eat
unleavened bread…” Abravanel explains that, in fact, the eating of unleavened bread is only compulsory
on the first day of Passover. The verse just cited means that should a Hebrew desire to eat bread during
the seven-day holiday, that bread must be unleavened.

Another detail about Passover emerges: timing. “At the time appointed in the month of Aviv, for in it
you came out from Egypt.” Aviv, in Hebrew, means springtime. The genius of the Jewish calendar
combines the lunar and solar months in order to safeguard that Passover will always be celebrated in
the spring. When the Hebrews ascended Jerusalem’s holy mountain, they did not arrive empty-handed.
Each visitor brought animal sacrifices to the Temple.

The feast of harvest came next, followed by the third and last holiday – the feast of ingathering. “And the feast of harvest, the first fruits of your labor, which you sow in the field, and the feast of ingathering,at the end of the year, when you gather in your labors out of the field.”

Abravanel teaches that the second festival coincides with the wheat harvest. Hence, Jews must offer the
first fruits of grain to the attending priestly class in Jerusalem.

As for the third major festival, it refers to the feast of ingathering. At that time, Hebrews brought wine,
oil, plus a vast array of produce to the Temple. Lest readers get the wrong idea, Abravanel warns, and
assume that the major festivals were celebrated in people’s hometowns, an explicit verse disabuses that
false notion: “Three times in the year all your males shall appear before God Almighty.”

“Before God Almighty” requires clarification. What does the phrase impart? It stresses the main point of
visiting the Holy Temple. That is, the major festivals are not for the purpose of gorging on food and
delighting in other mundane activities. Rather, visitors to Jerusalem were meant to foster an intimate
relationship with the Maker, cleaving to Him. Proper demeanor toward God resembles a servant before
his master.

How appropriate, then, to celebrate each festival in otherworldly repose and devotion to the One
Above! Priests and Levites residing in Jerusalem assisted their brethren to better understand holy
teachings, further enhancing the Holy City’s spiritual experience for all visitors.

See Abravanel’s World for a full discussion of the Jewish festivals, including one of Abravanel’s most
resourceful efforts to find a connection between the third festival (“the feast of the ingathering”) and a
seeming unrelated commandment pertaining to dietary laws – “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s