Before proceeding to discussions of the seven annual Principal Feasts in the remainder of Lev 23, verse 3 emphasizes, by its placement in the chapter, the equal or greater importance of the regular, weekly, Saturday Sabbath. As we will see, there are Sabbath days embedded within some of the Feasts. These days are in addition to the weekly Sabbaths. If a Feast Day Sabbath falls on a Saturday, the rituals for the two, already fairly similar, are combined into one.
In the Bible, the term “Sabbath” (Heb. Shabbat, Shabbos, or Shabbes) means “rest“, or “ease“. A Sabbath Day, therefore, is a “day of rest or ease.” As a child, I was taught that “Sabbath” means “seventh.” That is a myth! Sabbath and its Hebrew equivalents aren’t even close to meaning seventh; nevertheless, the weekly Sabbath is always on Saturday. The concept of a “Christian Sabbath” on Sunday has no Biblical support and is merely a product of the heretical theology that claims that Israel permanently forfeited God’s Promises and was subsequently replaced in God’s Kingdom by the Church.
This is a good time to introduce the Jewish concept of “days“, which we’ll need to understand going forward. Most Christians understand that the Jewish day starts and ends somewhere around the evening hours. It is actually much more complicated than that, and I have tried to illustrate it in the above slide.
Every Jewish day officially ends at sundown, which is defined by ancient Jewish law as the instant that a priest standing on the Temple ramparts signals that the last sliver of the sun has dipped below the western horizon. If for weather or other reasons (like, there is no Temple!) that instant could not be observed, then estimation was allowed. In present days, it’s all determined by computer, with latitude, longitude and altitude all taken into account.
Here is where it starts to get strange! It turns out that the next day doesn’t start when the previous day ends. It doesn’t start until nightfall, officially the instant at which a priest, standing in the same location, can first distinguish three “medium-magnitude” stars in the sky. Try doing that in a modern, brightly lit city sky! As to how one defines a star’s magnitude, that’s obviously very subjective. But again… computers to the rescue.
So, what do we do with the twilight period between sundown and nightfall? Technically, it belongs to both days–or to neither of them. Let me give an example: Right now, as I sit here at the keyboard, it is not quite 5 pm on a Friday evening where I am. Today, where I am (based on my latitude, longitude and height above standard sea level), will formally end at Sunset (Shkia), 6:54 pm local time. The twilight, or dusk, period (Tzait Hakochavim) will last 72 minutes, and end at 8:06 pm.
Tomorrow is Shabbat. Anything that is illegal for a Jew to do on Shabbat, must be completed by 6:54 pm today, at the absolute latest. Tomorrow, dusk ends at 8:05 pm. Anything illegal for a Shabbat must not begin until that time or later. Thus, the twilight time acts as a safety factor to make sure one does not violate Shabbat! This is part of what we call “building walls around Torah.” We will run across this twilight thing again…