Keyword:

Light from the Sidra

Shimini Atzeret/Simchat Torah (‘Eighth [Day of Assembly]/‘Rejoicing of the Torah’). 5th/6th October 2015. 22nf/23rd Tishrei 5776.

Torah: Deuteronomy 14:22-16:17; Numbers 29:35–30:1. Haftarah: 1 Kings 8:54-66

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible

My granny used to have a truly cringe-inducing recording called Deck of Cards which purported to be the true story an American soldier in World War II whose pack of cards served him as his Bible, his Prayer Book and his Almanac. Every card in the pack tenuously reminded the soldier of something to do with the Bible. Cheesy though the record was, numbers in the Bible are significant. The obvious significance of the number One, for example, is that it is the number of God for there is only one God, HASHEM, a truth that is apparent from the first verse of Genesis. But three is also associated with HASHEM in numerous places while six is often associated with man because he was made on the sixth day of creation. The number seven occurs many times in association with completion because God rested on the seventh day after completing his creation.

The number eight is also noteworthy because in the Bible it often signifies a new start. Sh'moneh, the Hebrew word for eight comes from a root word shah'meyn, which means ‘to make fat’, to ‘cover with fat’ or ‘to super-abound’. Eight is thus the number of superabundance. The seventh day of creation was the day of completion and rest, and so the eighth day was over and above God’s perfect completion.

Eight is 7 plus 1 and is in the Bible associated with fresh beginnings. For example, after the Flood, eight people stepped out of the ark onto a new earth, a recreated creation if you will. Circumcision, as every Jew knows, is performed on the eighth day in accordance with God’s command in Genesis 17:12 and foreshadows that circumcision of the heart called for in Jeremiah 4:4, by which the wrath of God could be averted and by which the people of Judah could be restored to a right relationship with HASHEM. The firstborn of Israel were given to HASHEM on the eighth day (Exodus 22: 29-30). And, of course, Sukkot – HASHEM’s final festival – lasted for seven days with an additional assembly on the eighth day. The celebration of Israel’s cycle of harvests ended on day seven and a new agricultural year began on the eighth day.

There used to be a time when, without warning, just as you were in the middle of your favourite TV programme, your 14-inch, black and white screen would go blank and, just as you were about to call a repair man, the words, ‘NORMAL SERVICE WILL BE RESUMED AS SOON AS POSSIBLE’ would appear. Then, after several minutes of watching a blank screen, normal service was resumed. Sukkot is a little like that. During the seven days of the last festival in the Hebrew calendar the number of offerings diminished then, on the eighth day things went ‘back to normal’ with ‘one bull, one ram , seven lambs within their first year’ – the Rosh Hashanah sacrifices were offered the day after Sukkot. After Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and the festival of Sukkot, life began all over again. Of course, in many ways, the year that followed would be the same old same old but Sukkot held out the hope of a new beginning.

At the end of Sukkot, each worshipper ought to be filled with a sense of satisfaction, peace and contentment, grateful to HASHEM for his bounty and ready to resume a normal life in the service of God. Normal service had been resumed.

The cycle of festivals described in the Sidra underlines the continuance of God’s providential care of Israel in the past, the present and the future. The festivals were symbolic not only of the past but also of the future and Sukkot foreshadowed a day when all nations would worship the God of Israel. Pesach reminds Israel of when HASHEM delivered them from slavery in Egypt, while Shavuot points to the need for a life of obedience to him which leads to fruitfulness. And Sukkot sounds the note of consummation and fulfilment of God’s promises.

King Solomon dedicated the temple at Sukkot and, as he finished praying at the dedication of the house of God, he declared that God had kept his promises to Israel. He then offered an abundance of sacrifices to HASHEM – more in fact than the Torah required – and as Solomon and Israel feasted before HASHEM for eight days, they rejoiced in his goodness. As the king blessed the entire congregation of Israel in 1 Kings 8, he prayed also for the nations of the world. Many of the Sages of Israel believed that the seventy bulls (Numbers 29) were offered on behalf of the seventy nations of the world and Solomon prayed that ‘all the peoples of the earth shall know that HASHEM is God — there is no other.’ Like the author of Psalm 67, Solomon prayed that God’s blessing on Israel would have a knock-on effect on the nations. He wanted the nations to know Israel’s God.

At Pesach, Israel was redeemed from Egypt by the blood of a lamb but although the deliverance from Egypt was real enough. But Jewish people, like everyone else, need to be redeemed from the tyranny of their sins and, like the deliverance from Egypt, deliverance from sin is accomplished through the blood of a lamb; the ‘Lamb of God’, the Messiah! The universal peace and joy and the new beginning prefigured by Sukkot also comes through the Messiah.

Solomon’s prayer has been answered. Millions of Gentiles around the world know that the God of Israel is God. The prayer of the poet who composed Psalm 67 has been answered. Two thousand years ago God favoured and blessed Israel and illuminated them with his countenance in the Messiah. As a result, I and millions of Gentiles like me, know HASHEM’s ways and his salvation. We know the peace and joy foreshadowed by Sukkot, the peace and joy that comes through the forgiveness of our sins.

Forty years before Jerusalem fell to the Romans, Jesus went up to keep Sukkot for the final time before his death. John’s Gospel tells us: ‘Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Yeshua stood and cried out, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. The one who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, from within him will flow rivers of living water.’ But he said this about the Spirit, which those believing in him were to receive. For the Spirit was not yet given, because Yeshua was not yet glorified. So when they heard these words, many in the crowd said, ‘This is truly the Prophet.’ Others said, ‘This is the Messiah.’

What do you think?


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