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Vayikra/Leviticus 23:35 On the first day, a holy convocation ...
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There is some discussion between the commentators as to whether the word here should be . Although BHS shows no textual variants at this point, some commentators would prefer to see the latter over the former. is derived from the root - to call out, cry, shout, invoke - in one of the more common ways of constructing Hebrew nouns: adding a before the first root letter, which most often produces a noun describing either the place where the verb action takes place or the tool used to perform that action1. This noun has the sense of "a place of calling" and is translated by various bibles as a convocation or assembly. In the same way, is derived from the root - to meet or to happen - and has the sense of "a place of meeting or happening" and is translated as an event or result.
Although is unambiguously used in this verse in a construct with the following word, giving the literal translation "a convocation of holiness",Rashbam prefers to read it as if it were and writes, "whenever the word spelt with an alef is used in relation to a holiday it denotes an event, as if spelt with a hay. This is how the word is translated in Targum Onkelos and Targum Jonathan."
The idea of the feast days being events leads to the rabbinic view that they should be turned from just a holiday into specific times of holiness, meetings between man andHaShem through the setting apart of the day. Nachmanides, for example, instructs that "all the people should come together on that day and be assembled to sanctify it, for it is a commandment upon Israel to be gathered together in G-d's house on the festival day to hallow it publicly with prayer and praise to G-d, and with clean garments, and to make it a day of feasting as it is said in the tradition, 'Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our L-rd. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the L-RD is your strength' (Nehemiah 8:10, NASB)". This is how we are make to the days special. He goes on, "As our rabbis of blessed memory have said: 'Proclaim them with food and drink and clean garments' (Sifre, Pinchas 147); that is to say, the nature of these days should not be to you like that of other days, but instead you should make then occasions of holiness, changing them by food and dress from the common to the holy." This custom is still seen in Judaism today where people will buy or make new clothes for the holidays or give a gift of material from which new clothes can be made.
Rashi, whose translators prefer "a calling of holiness", points out: "Sanctify it with clean clothing and with prayer". This is a reference to the Talmud where the Sages say: "Where is the blessing of the sanctification of the day to be said? -- It has been taught: Rabbi says, It should be said with the kingship verses. For just as on every other occasion we find that it comes fourth [in the order of blessings], so here it should come fourth." (b. Rosh Hashana 32a). This means that a special blessing for each festival day is said as the fourth benediction in the shortened Amidah prayer said as part of all the services which take place in that day. So not only is the day sanctified by food, drink and clean or new clothing, but it is also recognised by a special blessing in the main prayer that is considered to be the replacement for the sacrifices.
The Gospels record events when Yeshua took part in celebrations. The first instance seems to be the wedding at Cana in the Galil. John records that Yeshua's mother had been invited and "Yeshua too was invited to the wedding, along with his talmidim" (John 2:2, CJB). When the wine ran out, Yeshua - however reluctantly, at his mother's urging - miraculously replenished the supply of wine from jars of water. Yeshua recognised the importance of celebrations and life-cycle events and so performed a miracle to stop this particular one being washed out due to a shortage of wine. Similarly Luke recorded that "On their way Yeshua and his talmidim came to a village where a woman named Marta welcomed him into her home. She had a sister called Miryam who also sat at the L-rd's feet and heard what he had to say. But Marta was busy with all the work to be done" (Luke 10:38-40, CJB). If Yeshua and the disciples were to spend time, celebrate and share his teaching, then a festive meal was an essential part of that process; Marta should do enough, but not be worried about every last detail. On the other hand, when Yeshua entered Jerusalem a few days before Pesach, "Yeshua entered the Temple grounds and drove out those who were doing business there, both the merchants and their customers. He upset the desks of the money-changers and knocked over the benches of those who were selling pigeons" (Matthew 21:12, CJB). Although the dishonesty of the traders and the very existence of trade in G-d's house was offensive, the unabated continuation of every-day activities during the approach of the feast would distract people from the holiness of the pilgrimage they had made to appear before G-d. Yeshua wanted the people to use and enjoy appropriate celebrations and times of holiness, without the detraction of every day work and commercial activity.
In a different context, Rav Sha'ul rebukes the community in Corinth about their behaviour at their memorial meals to remember Yeshua: "as you eat your meal, each one goes ahead on his own; so that one stays hungry while another is already drunk!" (1 Corinthians 11:21, CJB). "What are you doing," Sha'ul wants to know, "don't you have homes to eat and drink in?" (v. 22, CJB). Remembering Yeshua is a holy moment, a time when the body of Messiah gathers to remember Him together and declare their faith in what He has done for us. Sha'ul points out that "whoever eats the L-rd's bread or drinks the L-rd's cup in an unworthy manner will be guilty of desecrating the body and blood of the L-rd!" (v. 27, CJB), and urges the believers to examine themselves and moderate their conduct. Although this passage is often used to teach repentance of sin before sharing communion, the plain meaning of the text is at least as much about courtesy and table manners. Sha'ul again: "So then, my brothers, when you gather together to eat, wait for one another. If someone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it will not result in judgment" (vv. 33-34, CJB). The whole passage is all too frequently used as justification for great solemnity, absolute silence and an atmosphere rather more akin to a funeral than a celebration. Sharing at the L-rd's Table is a moment of victory and triumph when we each remember and savour what Yeshua accomplished for us at Calvary; there should be shouts of praise, perhaps a few tears, shy grins, rejoicing laughter, sighs of relaxation and an almost euphoric air of freedom and liberty. We have been set free from the curse of sin and death and Yeshua has risen from the grave!
How do we celebrate the feasts today, from Shabbat each week to the highest of the feasts and Holy days? Do we set the day apart with special food, eaten only on these days to mark the days as holy? Do we refrain from going shopping after services, not only to obey the commands but to avoid every-day mundane commercial activity on a holy day? Do we wear different - not necessarily smart or fancy, although that might help, but at least clean - clothes to differentiate from our usual uniforms2 on the feast? Our text challenges us to have a day of holy calling apart on the feasts; time set apart for G-d when, as we have fun and celebrate, we also remember who He is, what He has done and our relationship with Him.
1 - For example: the root - to sacrifice - and its noun - an altar, or the root - to open - and its noun - a key
2 - Even a business suit can be a uniform if we wear it for work every other day of the week!
Further Study: 2 Chronicles 30:21-23; Luke 15:21-24
Application: Are you able to celebrate holy days and times before G-d and with His people or do you always have half an eye on all the stuff that is waiting to be done? Why not ask G-d to show you how to set aside every-day concerns and enter into holy time so you can rejoice and celebrate Him!
© Jonathan Allen, 2009
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