A king was traveling with his child through the wilderness. And when a king travels, his entire entourage travels along: ministers, guards, attendants and servants, all at the ready to serve their master and carry out his will.
Suddenly, the procession ground to a halt. The king's child had a request. "Water," said the crown prince. "I want water."
The king convened his cabinet to address the crisis. "My son is thirsty," he said to his ministers. But how is water to be obtained in the wilderness?
After much deliberation, two proposals were laid before the throne. "I shall dispatch ablest horseman on my fastest steed," proposed the commander of the royal cavalry. "They will ride to the nearest settlement and fill their waterskins. Within the hour, there will be water for the prince."
"I shall put my men and equipment to the task," proposed the chief of the royal engineering corps. "They will erect a derrick and sink a well right here, on the very spot at which we have stopped. Before the day is out, there will be water for the prince."
The king opted for the latter proposal, and soon the royal engineers were boring a well through the desert sand and rock. Toward evening they reached a vein of water and the prince's thirst was quenched.
"Why," asked the prince of his father, after he had drunk his fill, "did you trouble your men to dig a well in the desert? After all, we have the means to obtain water far more quickly and easily."
"Indeed, my son," replied the king, "such is our situation today. But perhaps one day, many years in the future, you will again be traveling this way. Perhaps you will be alone, without the power and privilege you now enjoy. Then, the well we dug today will be here to quench your thirst."
"But father," said the prince, "in many years, the sands of time will have refilled the well, stopping its water and erasing its very memory!"
"My son," said the king, "you have spoken with wisdom and foresight. This, then, is what we will do. We will mark the site of this well on our maps, and preserve our maps from the ravages of time. If you know the exact spot at which this well has been sunk, you will be able to reopen it with a minimum of effort and toil.
"This we shall do at every encampment of our journey," resolved the king. "We shall dig wells and mark their places on our map. We shall record the particular characteristics of each well and the method by which it can be reopened. So whenever, and under whatever circumstances, you will travel this route, you will be able to obtain the water that will sustain you on your journey."
The Torah refers to the festivals of the Jewish calendar as moadim, "appointed times," and as mikraei kodesh, "callings of holiness." "These are G‑d's appointed times," reads the introductory verse to the Torah's listing of the festivals in the book of Leviticus, "callings of holiness, which you shall call in their appointed times" (Leviticus 23:4).
A festival is an appointment with the past, an encounter with an event and phenomenon in our history. It is an opportunity to call forth the particular holiness of the day, to tap the spiritual resources it holds.
Each festivals marks a point in our journey through time at which our Heavenly Father, accompanying us in our first steps as a people, supplied us with the resources that nurture our spiritual lives. On Passover, we were granted the gift of freedom; on Shavuot, G‑d revealed Himself to us at Mount Sinai and gave us His Torah, the embodiment of His wisdom and will and our charter as His kingdom of priests and a holy people; Rosh HaShanah is the day on which G‑d first became King; on Yom Kippur, G‑d forgave our first and most terrible betrayal as His people, the sin of the Golden Calf, granting us the gift of teshuvah--the capacity to rectify and transform a deficient past; Sukkot commemorates the time that we were sheltered and unified by the divine clouds of glory in our journey through the desert toward our Promised Land; the miracle of Chanukah marks the salvation of the Jewish soul--the triumph of light and purity over darkness and adulteration; the miracle of Purim, the salvation of the Jewish body and the specialty and chosenness of our physical selves; and so with all the festivals and special dates and periods on our calendar.
But these were not one-time gifts from above. Freedom, wisdom, commitment, joy, illumination, peace--these are constant needs of the soul, the spiritual nutrients that sustain her in her journey through life. Like the king in the above parable, G‑d sunk wells at various points in the terrain of time to serve as perpetual sources of these blessings. As we travel through the year--the year being a microcosm of the entire universe of time--we encounter the festivals, each marking the location of a well of nurture for our souls.
G‑d also provided us with a map of these wells--a calendar denoting their locations in our journey through time. The map also comes with instructions on how to reopen each well and access its waters: sounding the shofar on Rosh HaShanah will regenerate the divine coronation that transpired on the first Rosh HaShanah when Adam crowned G‑d as king of the universe; eating matzah evokes the freedom of Passover; kindling the Chanukah lights recreates the miracle of Chanukah. And so it is with every such appointment on our calendar: each comes supplied with its own mitzvot and observances--the tools that open the well and unleash the flow of its waters.