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D'varim/Deuteronomy 14:26 And there you shall eat before the L-rd your G-d and you shall rejoice - you and your house.
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HaShem actually tells us very little about this festival, , the eighth day assembly. It makes a cameo appearance in Vayikra chapter 23 - "On the eighth day you shall hold a holy convocation and present a food offering to the L-RD. It is a solemn assembly; you shall not do any ordinary work" (v. 36, ESV) - and B'Midbar chapter 29: "On the eighth day you shall have a solemn assembly. You shall not do any ordinary work, but you shall offer ..." (vv. 35-36, ESV). In both cases, the day of the assembly appears to be tacked on to the end of the seven-day festival of Sukkot, but otherwise the Torah is silent. The phrase "the eighth day" appears in both 1 Kings 8 and 2 Chronicles 7 at the conclusion of the dedication of Solomon's temple - "At that time Solomon held the feast for seven days, and all Israel with him, a very great assembly, from Lebo-hamath to the Brook of Egypt. And on the eighth day they held a solemn assembly, for they had kept the dedication of the altar seven days and the feast seven days" (2 Chronicles 7:8-9, ESV). The context tells us that all the men of Israel had come together "at the feast that is in the seventh month" (5:3, ESV) and that "On the twenty-third day of the seventh month [Solomon] sent the people away to their homes, joyful and glad of heart for the prosperity that the L-RD had granted to David and to Solomon and to Israel his people" (7:10, ESV) - on the day of Shemini Atzeret itself.
Our text is taken from the Torah reading chosen for the day of the festival, although the passage from which it comes in D'varim is dealing with the second tithe that is separated from the agricultural yield each year. While the first tithe is always given to the priests and the Levites, the disposal of the second tithe depends on the year of the seven year cycle: in the first, second, fourth and fifth years, our text applies; in the third and sixth years the second time - sometimes referred to as the third tithe - is stored and held locally for the poor, the widows and the orphans in the towns of Israel. The families are to take the whole of the second tithe to Jerusalem - commuting it to money if they live too far away and then repurchasing whatever their soul desires when they get there - but instead of giving it to the priests, they are to eat it themselves. Strictly speaking, this ritual of the second tithe is not explicitly tied to any one specific festival, but there is a heavy assumption that it will be Sukkot based on the need for each male to be present in Jerusalem three times each year on the pilgrimage festivals.
Who is in the party who will eat all the produce of the tithe before HaShem? Our passage tells us that "you and your house" are to participate. In the ancient near east, a person's household would include all his close relatives - his wife and children - together with the extended family that were part of his household, plus all his servants, slaves and regular workers; all those who contributed to or depended on the household each day. More, the very next verse also the us not to neglect "the Levite in your community, for he has no hereditary portion as you have" (D'varim 14:27, NJPS). In fact, the second tithe - around thirty-five normal days' worth of food for the whole household - would take a lot of eating, needing help from many Levites and poor people so that it was not wasted.
Like the rest of the Sukkot festival, Shemini Atzeret will see like a day of plenty as much food is shared and enjoyed on the last day before returning home. Qohelet observes, "In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider" (Ecclesiastes 7.14, NRSV) andPesikta de Rab Kahana records a number of pithy sayings of the early sages (Piska 28). "Rabbi Tanḥum bar Rabbi Ḥiyya said, In the day of your fellow man's prosperity rejoice with him; if adversity confronts your fellow, consider how to do him a kindness and save him." We should rejoice with those who are rejoicing and reach out to those who cannot rejoice, so that they can rejoice with us. Taking a slightly different reading - "In the day meant for rejoicing, be joyful", Rabbi Aḥa a said, "On the day when men rejoice in partaking of the goodness of Torah, studying it and practising its precepts, you also partake of its goodness and rejoice." Let those of us who know Yeshua, the fullness of Torah, and study His teachings to put them into practice, join together and encourage others to come with us on the journey so that they too can rejoice with us.
It is important to remember that the last verb in the text is , the Qal 2ms affix form from the root , with a vav-reversive, so a future command: you shall rejoice. The root has a number of meanings: to rejoice, particularly celebrating HaShem's redemption and blessings, "When the L-RD restores the fortunes of His people, Jacob will exult, Israel will rejoice" (Psalm 14:7, NJPS); to rejoice, be happy, make merry, "Then shall maidens dance gaily, young men and old alike. I will turn their mourning to joy" (Jeremiah 31.13, NJPS); to radiate, shine, "The light of the righteous is radiant" (Proverbs 13:9, NJPS).1 We can see, as Christopher Wright points out, that "the tithe should not be a solemn burden but a joyful celebration."2 Our obedience to HaShem's commands will bring us joy and that joy will shine in us, radiate from us and infectiously draw others into His orbit so that they can rejoice as well.
We can see an important link between eating and rejoicing in the behaviour of the first Jerusalem congregations of the disciples of Yeshua. Luke first tells us that "they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42, ESV). This mention of food, the breaking of bread, probably refers to sharing and remembering Yeshua at the Last Supper - its context, sandwiched between "the apostles' teaching" and "prayers" seems quite compelling. However, a couple of verses later he tell is us: "day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts" (v. 46, ESV). The domestic vocabulary here suggests that this is simply shared meals: the disciples - be that individuals, families or children - frequently shared meals meals in each others' homes. Of course, every meal would have been preceded by the appropriate blessing and as almost every meal in those days would have had a bread component, the standard blessing - "Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, who brings forth bread from the earth" - would have been said by the master of the house.
Naturally, those present would remember that Yeshua Himself would have used this blessing whenever He was present at a meal. We hear Him saying it as He fed the five thousand: "He took the five loaves and the two fish and, looking up toward heaven, made a b'rakhah. Then He broke the loaves" (Matthew 14:19, CJB). This was also the moment of recognition for the two disciples on the road to Emmaus: "As He was reclining with them at the table, He took the matzah, made the b'rakhah, broke it and handed it to them" (Luke 24:30, CJB). Yeshua was Himself the bread that came forth for the earth in His resurrection - "the living bread that has come down from heaven" (John 6:51, CJB) - in fulfilment of His own words: "I tell you that unless a grain of wheat that falls to the ground dies, it stays just a grain; but if it dies, it produces a big harvest" (John 12:24, CJB). Meeting in homes throughout Jerusalem, the disciples rejoiced together, finding their common bond in Yeshua and sharing teaching and stories of Yeshua over the food - the food provided a vehicle and a time for growing together and in Yeshua. The book of Acts and Rav Sha'ul's letters provide many examples of congregations that met in homes, sharing food, fellowship and teaching round a common table for the sake of the gospel.
How, then, can we rejoice today in Yeshua and find our joy in Him? Rediscovering the power of shared meals is one important way in which we can not only rejoice together but also reach out to others not yet committed to following Yeshua. Meals provide a non-threatening and comfortable environment for talking, learning about each other's lives and lifestyles, for asking questions and discovering what makes people tick. But there are many other ways to rejoice in Yeshua. Rav Sha'ul tells us to "rejoice in your hope" (Romans 12:12, CJB); we have a hope in Yeshua, a certainty of life now and life in the world to come, of the peace, power and presence of the Holy Spirit living in each one of us. That is an inextinguishable hope, a current and future reality; it is much more than just a whim, desire or aspiration - it is the foundation for much joy and rejoicing. We rejoice with Yeshua Himself over this, "Rejoice in union with the Lord always! I will say it again: rejoice!" (Philippians 4:4, CJB), for He rejoices over those who are called by His name and have chosen to follow Him, "for the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it" (Matthew 7:14, NASB).
Yeshua tells us that even if we are finding life in this world hard going, even if we are suffering trials or persecution, to "rejoice, be glad, because your reward in heaven is great - they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way" (Matthew 5:12, CJB). He promises that "your grief will turn to joy" (John 16:20, CJB) when we see Him. Now is the time to take a step forward, to rejoice in our Master now in the certain knowledge that He is already rejoicing over us and will yet bring us through to rejoicing with Him in glory!
1. - David J. A. Clines (ed.) The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009), page 438.
2. - Christopher J. H. Wright, Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012), page 183.
Further Study: Psalm 30:4-5; Isaiah 12:1-2; Acts 2:46-47
Application: Do you rejoice in Yeshua or do you find that life as a believer is often an uncomfortable place to be? Stop looking down and instead focus upon Yeshua and the glory that is already His, seated at the right hand of the Father. He has promised that we shall be with Him and can have a taste of that joy right now. Ask Him for your taste today!
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© Jonathan Allen, 2023
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