Shemini Atzeret
For the week of October 14, 2006 / 22 Tishri 5767
Torah: Devarim / Deuteronomy 14:22 - 16:17;
& Bemidbar / Numbers 29:35 - 30:1
Haftarah: 1 Melachim / 1 Kings 8:54-66


Many Holidays

On the eighth day hold an assembly and do no regular work. (Bemidbar / Numbers 29:35)

The current month in the Jewish calendar is special due to the amount of holy days observed. The first day of the month, which this year began the evening of September 23, is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, or as it's called in the Bible, the Festival of the Sounding of the Shofar (ram's horn). Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of a time of spiritual introspection and community reconciliation culminating in Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), which began the evening of October 1. Five days afterwards is the seven-day long, Sukkot (Festival of Tabernacles). This year Sukkot began the evening of October 6. Immediately following the seventh day of Sukkot is another holy day, called in Hebrew Shemini Atzeret, which simply means the "Assembly of the eight (day)."

Shemini Atzeret coincides with the completion and recommencing of the annual cycle of the reading of the Torah (Books of Moses). A special celebration, called "Simchat Torah" (Joy of the Torah) is observed. In the Land of Israel Simchat Torah is observed on Shemini Atzeret. Outside of the Land of Israel where certain holy days are doubled, Simchat Torah is observed on the second day of Shemini Atzeret.

I wonder if all these special days seems like a lot to you. Basically one half of this whole Jewish month is given over to a special focus on God. Fulfilling all these observances would mean major changes to our normal schedule. In Bible times, celebrating Sukkot meant taking your whole family to Jerusalem for the week. But I think God knows that our normal schedules need upsetting.

In our fast paced society, it seems that we have a lot of difficulty breaking our normal routine to give God this kind of attention, but I don't think we need it any less than the Jewish people of ancient times.

Those of us who do take time for God, often approach him as we do many other things we do. We slot him in somewhere. We spend time with God just like any other meeting, rarely taking time to linger in his presence, not to mention setting apart several days just to focus on him.

When God provided the people of Israel with our yearly calendar, he directed us to give over to him large amounts of time. Besides the weekly Sabbath, there were festivals throughout the year. Once a year there would be these two weeks, which includes even more intense time with him.

Those who know Yeshua and understand that we are no longer under the Sinai Covenant, may think that we are free from such observances. Technically this is true, but if the people before Messiah needed this kind of time with God, how much more should we want to have intense and prolonged times with him? If we know the love of God in Yeshua should we not want to spend more time with him, not less?

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