Havdalah Means ‘Separation’

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Worshipping the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob through a pagan idol was not acceptable.

We’ve noticed a trend happening in the greater Messianic Community in our area. It seems that some families, who were once Torah observant, are now returning to Sunday church services and are embracing, once again, the man-made traditions that they forsook years ago—including Christmas. Because our community (especially our children) are witnessing this eager return to holidays that are incompatible with the Worship of our God, I felt compelled to remind us why we should stay away from these traditions.

Shortly after receiving the Torah and proclaiming “All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do!” (Exodus 24:3), the children of Israel enter into a sin that is so great that God nearly destroys them all. Because Moses has been on Mount Sinai for 40 days, the people have Aaron make for them a gold statue of a calf which they proclaim, “…is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!” (Exodus 32:4); and with this idol they proceed to hold a feast for Hashem.

Because Israel accepted Hashem as their God, they are now obligated to obey Him. They understood His commandment that they were not supposed to make idols of anything ‘in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth’ (Exodus 20:3,4) and worship them. What’s more, in this feast that they held for Hashem, they identify the golden calf as the god who delivered them from Egypt. The mixing of ‘opposing’ religious practices is called syncretism; and this is what Israel had done. They mixed the worship of a Holy God with pagan idolatry.

The book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) takes place just prior to Israel’s entrance into the Promised Land. In this book Moses recounts all that took place over the past 40 years in the wilderness. His audience is no longer the people who came out of Egypt but rather, their children. The monumental task of conquering the Land and ridding it of it’s pagan occupants now rests upon their shoulders. In addition to reminding them of the errors of their forefathers, Moses gives this new generation earnest warnings to be obedient to the Torah of Hashem and not to be enticed by the pagan ways of the people currently in the Land.

1 “These are the statutes and rules that you shall be careful to do in the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess, all the days that you live on the earth. 2 You shall surely destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. 3 You shall tear down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and burn their Asherim with fire. You shall chop down the carved images of their gods and destroy their name out of that place. 4 You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way.”
— Deuteronomy 12:1-4 (ESV)

29 “When the Lord your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, 30 take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.’ 31 You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.

32 Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.”
— Deuteronomy 12:29-32 (ESV)

This first generation in the Land seemed to make it with minimal issues against God; but once they died, the following generation quickly fell away from Hashem.

8 Then Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of one hundred and ten… 10 All that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel.

11Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals, 12 and they forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the Lord to anger. 13 So they forsook the Lord and served Baal and the Ashtaroth. 14 The anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and He gave them into the hands of plunderers who plundered them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies around them, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies. 15 Wherever they went, the hand of the Lord was against them for evil, as the Lord had spoken and as the Lord had sworn to them, so that they were severely distressed.
— Judges 2:8,10-15 (NAS)

From this point on, throughout the Tanakh, we find Israel dabbling in idolatry over and over again. They just can’t seem to get it right—do not mix the holy with the profane!

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The Altar was defiled when a statue of Zeus was placed on it and sacrifices were made to this pagan idol.

During the intertestamental period (the 400 years between the Old and New Testaments), when the story of Chanukah takes place, we find another kind of mixing. When Antiochus IV Epiphanes captured Jerusalem and the Temple he erected, on the Altar, what is called a ‘desolating sacrilege’ and ‘The Awful Horror’ (1 Maccabees 1:54). It was a pagan idol which most believe was a statue of the chief Greek god, Zeus. In the Temple and throughout Jerusalem, pagan idols and altars were erected and pagan sacrifices were made. The Holy Temple and the Holy City of Hashem had been defiled.

One of the highlights of the Chanukah story is when the Maccabees recaptured the Temple and cleansed it of all the defilement. They torn down the Altar and built a new one according the Torah; and once they had made all of the furnishings and utensils for the Temple rituals, they dedicated the Altar to Hashem (1 Maccabees 4:36-59). The Maccabees understood that mixing the holy with the profane, whether forced or voluntary, is an abomination to Hashem. Pagan idolatry has no place in the worship of the God of Israel.

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On Christmas, the birth of Christ is celebrated with pagan symbols and imagery.

We choose to separate ourselves from the Christmas and Easter holidays because they are a mixture of holy concepts and pagan symbols. The birth and resurrection of Christ are good and holy; but when these events are celebrated in a way that mimics the celebrations of pagan deities they become an abomination to the God of Israel. It’s also interesting to note that we are not commanded by God to ‘celebrate’ these two events. Can we? I think so, but not in the same way that the pagans worship their gods. We can recognize the birth of Messiah during Sukkot and His resurrection on Yom Habikkurim—two Biblical feast days.

In doing a brief investigation of Christmas and Easter, one will quickly find that most of the traditions associated with these two holidays have pagan origins. To participate in them and then say that they are ‘a feast to unto the Lord’ is an abomination. The fact that December 25th is the birthdate for a number of pagan gods is also quite alarming. Pagan gods like Mithras, Horus, Attis, Dionysus, Hercules, Perseus, Helios, Bacchus, Apollo, Jupiter, Sol Invictus and Tammuz. How can we, the children of a Holy God, say that our Messiah, Yeshua, shares a birthdate with these heathen gods? It is not true. Participating in a birthday celebration on December 25th and proclaiming it ‘a feast to the Lord’ is an abomination.

During the days that fall between Thanksgiving and Christmas we are immersed in the ubiquitous icons and imagery of the Yuletide season. For those of us who used to celebrate Christmas, sometimes a familiar holiday song or smell can spark a happy memory. But we must take captive our thoughts, our feelings and our emotions and weigh them against the Word of God. If they do not align with Scripture, then they must be jettisoned. When we allow our feelings to dictate what we do instead of the Word of God, we become our own god.

Every Saturday evening we symbolically close Shabbat with a traditional ceremony called Havdalah. In the ceremony we have a variety of symbolic items. Wine representing the joy of Shabbat. Spices representing the sweetness of Shabbat. A multi-wicked candle that gives off a huge flame which is symbolic of the start of the new week because God’s first act of creation was to create light. On Shabbat we are reminded that Hashem brought us out of Egypt; we weren’t delivered by a golden calf. We are also reminded that Hashem created everything in 6 days and on this day, the 7th day, He rested—therefore we rest.

Havdalah means separation because in performing this ceremony we symbolically separate Shabbat from the other 6-days of the week. When we observe Shabbat, we physically set ourselves apart from the rest of the world and from other religions. In observing Shabbat we are also proclaiming that we follow Hashem the God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We are a holy people, set apart to serve Hashem and to serve Him alone.

If you find yourself tempted to by the sights, the sounds, the smells—the allure of Christmas traditions; it might be helpful to recite the Havdalah blessing and be reminded that we have been separated from this world; and be reminded of the sobering fact that our God does not tolerate mixtures.

The Havdalah Blessing

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, King of the universe,
Who makes a distinction between holy and profane,
Between light and darkness,
Between Israel and the heathen nations,
Between the seventh day and the six working days.
Blessed are You, Adonai,
Who makes a distinction between holy and profane.

The Set Your Heart Messianic Blog is the website of Messianic Bible Teacher, Michael Gonzales, a leader at the Front Range Messianic Community in Arvada, Colorado.