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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Happy New Year! Year 5773 That Is ...

by Saint Mark (bio)

It’s that time of year again. For those who do not know, this week marks the beginning of a new Jewish year. The 5,773rd year, to be exact. As you may know, the Jewish new year comes less than two weeks before a Mormon holy day, General Conference, which is where the Prophet of God and the Apostles of Jesus Christ, among others, will speak to the world and give the Lord’s counsel for our times.

In honor of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, I thought it would be fascinating to consider the intersection between Jewish holy days and holy events in the history of the LDS Church.

Disclaimer: This is my own research and should not be considered LDS Church doctrine or Jewish doctrine or anyone’s doctrine other than my own.

Teaching at a Jewish private school, I gained an initial interest in the subject after learning and celebrating all of the various Jewish holidays. Whether it was participating in a Purim play where Haman‘s name was received with audible revulsion as if it was Hitler’s name being conjured or eating bitter herbs in rememberance of the Passover or sharing in the stories of students’ Sukkot building endeavors, I realized that the days that these holy days occurred may have temporal significance beyond the borders of the Judaic faith. And, as you’ll see, they do.

1820 - The First Vision

Pesach, or Passover, began sunset of Wednesday, March 29th and concluded sunrise of Friday, April 7th in 1820. Passover is a Jewish holiday and festival. It commemorates the story of the Exodus, in which the ancient Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt.

1820 was when Joseph Smith had his First Vision. We don't know the exact date that Joseph Smith prayed in a grove and saw the Father and His Son, but we do know that it occurred on a spring morning. My assumption is that it happened during the week of Passover and most likely on Thursday, April 6th. Why April 6th? See below.

Personally, I feel this would manifest great symbolism by the All Mighty if the First Vision did occur during Passover. Why? Because Passover ushered in the freedom of the Israelites from the chains of Egyptian slavery. The First Vision also ushered in a new dispensation of freedom of the spirits of mankind from the chains of apostasy. Each ushered in an eventual exodus; Mormons just took a few more years to get going.

1823 (September 21-22) - The Angel Moroni Visits Joseph Smith

An ancient prophet named Moroni visited Joseph Smith three times in the night and showed him the gold plates, or the Book of Mormon, in a vision. This is extremely poetic, as Moroni was the last steward of the holy record. This happened on a Sunday night and into Monday morning on the third night/day of Sukkot. The fact that this visitation occurred during Sukkot is appropriate, as Sukkot is a Biblical holiday celebrated on the 15th day of the month of Tishrei (late September to late October). It is one of three biblically mandated festivals Shalosh regalim on which Jews were commanded to make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem.

What would eventually bring temples to this dispensation? The translation of the Book of Mormon by Joseph Smith. Through his translation, he would inquire and receive priesthood authority that eventually included temple keys and authority.

1827 (September 22) - Joseph Smith Receives the Gold Plates

After four years of annual tutorials by the Angel Moroni, Joseph Smith received the gold plates from the Angel Moroni at the Hill Cumorah in upstate New York. He also received, among other items, the Urim and Thummim, which was used in translating the Book of Mormon. This occurred during Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year of 5588, a Saturday.

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year. It is the first of the High Holidays or Yamim Noraim, celebrated ten days before Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah is observed on the first two days of Tishrei, the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar.

Joseph Smith receiving the record during Rosh Hashanah, or a "day of sounding," is significant because the transfer of the Book of Mormon from angel to man was akin to a shofar being trumpeted, declaring that the gospel of Jehovah was being restored, line by line or page by page. The "words from the dust" were arising and coming forth.

Moreover, today statues of Moroni adorn LDS temples around the world partly because of this moment. He is represented as blowing a horn as if he is announcing the coming forth of the gospel of Christ. (see Matthew 24:31)

1828 (June) - The Lost 116 Pages

This is extremely speculative, but it is possible that Martin Harris' loss of the 116 pages of the Book of Mormon manuscript may have coincided with Tzom Tammuz on June 29, 1828, a Sunday.

Tzom Tammuz is a historic day of calamity in the Jewish tradition.

"Going all the way back to Biblical times, Moses descended Mount Sinai on this day and, upon seeing the Golden Calf broke the first set of Tablets carrying the Ten Commandments (Shemot 32:19, Mishna Taanit 28b).

In the First Temple Era: The priests in the First Temple stopped offering the daily sacrifice on this day (Taanit 28b) due to the shortage of sheep during the siege and the next year 3184 (586 BCE), the walls of Jerusalem were breached after many months of siege by Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian forces.

In Melachim II 21:7 we find that King Menashe, one of the worst of the Jewish kings, had an idol placed in the Holy Sanctuary of the Temple, according to tradition on this date. The Talmud, in Masechet Taanit 28b, says that in the time of the Roman persecution, Apostomos, captain of the occupation forces, did the same, and publicly burned the Torah - both acts considered open blasphemy and desecration. These were followed by Titus and Rome breaching the walls of Jerusalem in 3760 (70 CE) and Pope Gregory IX ordering the confiscation of all manuscripts of the Talmud in 4999 (1239).

In later years this day continued to be a dark one for Jews. In 1391, more than 4000 Jews were killed in Toledo and Jaen, Spain and in 4319 (1559) the Jewish Quarter of Prague was burned and looted.

The Kovno ghetto was liquidated on this day in 5704 (1944) and in 5730 (1970) Libya ordered the confiscation of Jewish property."

Today, it is a day of fasting the Jewish people perform, remembering pivotal downfall moments for God's chosen people. Just as the tribes were scattered by Babylon and the group that was one would be divided from here on out and just as the commandments of God were broken and required reconciliation, the Book of Mormon that was once a unified record would be divided from its first 116 pages (i.e. The Book of Lehi, some have speculated) by that one unfortunate mistake by Joseph and Martin.

1829 (May or June) - The Melchizedek Priesthood is Restored

Again, this is extremely speculative because we do not have the exact date that Peter, James and John conferred the Melchizedek Priesthood upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery near the Susquehanna River, but it could have occurred during Shavuot (June 6th - 9th, Saturday sunset - Tuesday sunrise).

The festival of Shavuot is a Jewish holiday that occurs on the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Sivan (late May or early June). Shavuot commemorates the anniversary of the day God gave the Torah to the entire Israelite nation assembled at Mount Sinai, although the association between the giving of the Torah (Matan Torah) and Shavuot is not explicit in the Biblical text. The holiday is one of the Shalosh Regalim, the three Biblical pilgrimage festivals. It marks the conclusion of the Counting of the Omer.

Having the Melchizedek priesthood restored on Shavuot would be an appropriate intersection because Shavuot is a day of celebration of God giving something sacred to his people. Whether it is the written Torah or the keys of God's higher priesthood being restored to the earth, both are sacred and imperative to the work of God on the earth. As we know, scriptures are the written recording of the words spoken by God's prophets and priesthood is the authority to act in the name of God on the earth. Thus, the fact that the keys of priesthood authorizing man to speak in the name of God are brought forth on the same day that God's word as text was received is not coincidental.

Also, the eleven witnesses of the gold plates may have seen the gold plates during Shavuot as well, since it happened on a day in June 1829. This would also be appropriate for witnesses to see with their own eyes and feel with their own hands God's extension of the Torah or first five books of the Old Testament. To have mankind receive God's further promise on the day that celebrates the day God gave his old or original promise would be divine symmetry which I do not think is lost on the Author and Finisher of our faith. If God is into chiasmus, He has got to be into symmetry.

1830 (April 6) - The Church of Jesus Christ is Organized

The organizing of the Church of Jesus Christ occurs on the anniversary of Christ’s birth (though debate abounds here and here) and on the day before Ta'anit Bechorot and two days before Pesach, or Passover.

Ta'anit Bechorot is a unique fast day in Judaism which usually falls on the day before Passover (i.e. the fourteenth day of Nisan, a month in the Jewish calendar. Passover always begins on the fifteenth of the Hebrew month). Usually, the fast is broken at a siyum celebration (typically made at the conclusion of the morning services), which, according to prevailing custom, creates an atmosphere of rejoicing that overrides the requirement to continue the fast. Unlike most Jewish fast days, only firstborns are required to fast on the Fast of the Firstborn.

It is fitting that a celebratory holy day would follow the completion of the work to restore the gospel and Church of Jesus Christ to the earth. I wonder if there was Jell-O at the party?

1836 - Kirtland Temple Dedication and Visitations

March 27th - On what would be our Christian version of the Shabbat HaGadol, as our Sabbath is on Sunday and the Jewish Sabbath is on Saturday, the first temple in nearly two millennia was dedicated to God in Kirtland, Ohio on March 27, 1836.

Shabbat HaGadol is the Shabbat immediately before Passover. There is a special Haftarah reading on this Shabbat of the book of Malachi. This Shabbat may be called the haftarah (Malachi 3:4-24), the prophetic portion, because the book of Malachi speaks of the "great day" of God on which the Messiah will appear. Traditionally, a lengthy and expansive sermon is given to the general community in the afternoon. I believe there were multiple lengthy and expansive sermons during the dedication of the Kirtland Temple. Moreover, the outpouring of the Spirit that occurred on that day has become legendary.

Joseph Smith, Jr.
"Brother George A. Smith arose and began to prophesy, when a noise was heard like the sound of a rushing mighty wind, which filled the Temple, and all the congregation simultaneously arose, being moved upon by an invisible power; many began to speak in tongues and prophesy; others saw glorious visions; and I beheld the Temple was filled with angels, which fact I declared to the congregation. The people of the neighborhood came running together (hearing an unusual sound within, and seeing a bright light like a pillar of fire resting upon the Temple), and were astonished at what was taking place."

Reference: Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols., introduction and notes by B. H. Roberts (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1932-1951), 2:428.

Heber C. Kimball
"During the ceremonies of the dedication, an angel appeared and sat near President Joseph Smith, Sen., and Frederick G. Williams, so that they had a fair view of his person. He was a very tall personage, black eyes, white hair, and stoop shouldered; his garment was whole, extending to near his ankles; on his feet he had sandals. He was sent as a messenger to accept of the dedication...While these things were being attended to the beloved disciple John was seen in our midst by the Prophet Joseph, Oliver Cowdery and others."

Reference: Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886), 9: 376.

George A. Smith
"There were great manifestations of power, such as speaking in tongues, seeing visions, administration of angels. Many individuals bore testimony that they saw angels, and David Whitmer bore testimony that he saw three angels passing up the south aisle, and there came a shock on the house like the sound of a mighty rushing wind, and almost every man in the house arose, and hundreds of them were speaking in tongues, prophecying or declaring visions, almost with one voice."

Reference: Ibid, 11:10.

Truman Angell
"When about midway during the prayer, there was a glorious sensation passed through the house [Kirtland Temple]; and we, having our heads bowed in prayer, felt a sensation very elevating to the soul. At the close of the prayer, F. [Frederick] G. Williams being in the upper east stand- -Joseph being in the speaking stand next below--rose and testified that midway during the prayer an holy angel came and seated himself in the stand. When the afternoon meeting assembled, Joseph, feeling very much elated, arose the first thing and said the personage who had appeared in the morning was the Angel Peter come to accept the dedication."

Reference: Truman Angell, Autobiography, Our Pioneer Heritage, Writings of Early Latter-day Saints, 198.

April 3rd - The Savior as well as Moses, Elias and Elijah, appeared in the Kirtland Temple and committed the keys of their respective dispensations to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. (see D&C 110)

This occurred during Pesach, or Passover, on a Sunday. What a beautiful symbolic moment to have Moses, the Prophet when the original Passover event occurred, to come and usher in the gathering of the House of Israel, passing those keys of authority on to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. The full experience is as follows:

1 The veil was taken from our minds, and the eyes of our understanding were opened.

2 We saw the Lord standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit, before us; and under his feet was a paved work of pure gold, in color like amber.

3 His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun; and his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters, even the voice of Jehovah, saying:

4 I am the first and the last; I am he who liveth, I am he who was slain; I am your advocate with the Father.

5 Behold, your sins are forgiven you; you are clean before me; therefore, lift up your heads and rejoice.

6 Let the hearts of your brethren rejoice, and let the hearts of all my people rejoice, who have, with their might, built this house to my name.

7 For behold, I have accepted this house, and my name shall be here; and I will manifest myself to my people in mercy in this house.

8 Yea, I will appear unto my servants, and speak unto them with mine own voice, if my people will keep my commandments, and do not pollute this holy house.

9 Yea the hearts of thousands and tens of thousands shall greatly rejoice in consequence of the blessings which shall be poured out, and the endowment with which my servants have been endowed in this house.

10 And the fame of this house shall spread to foreign lands; and this is the beginning of the blessing which shall be poured out upon the heads of my people. Even so. Amen.

11 After this vision closed, the heavens were again opened unto us; and Moses appeared before us, and committed unto us the keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth, and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north.

12 After this, Elias appeared, and committed the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham, saying that in us and our seed all generations after us should be blessed.

13 After this vision had closed, another great and glorious vision burst upon us; for Elijah the prophet, who was taken to heaven without tasting death, stood before us, and said:

14 Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi—testifying that he [Elijah] should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come —

15 To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse —

16 Therefore, the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands; and by this ye may know that the great and dreadful day of the Lord is near, even at the doors.

A Conclusion?

Can I summarize the intersection of Jewish and Mormon holy days and experiences? As Christ said, "ye who have ears to hear let them hear." My own personal understanding is that God is a God of order and desires to emphasize His work and His teachings. Maybe one way to do that is to have the days He works with man set apart from other days. All I know is that there are many intersections between Mormon holy events and historical Jewish holy days and those cannot be dismissed as coincidental or even accidental. But, as always, you be the judge.

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