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B'Midbar/Numbers 29:35 On the eighth day there will be an assembly for you
The feminine noun is usually translated 'assembly', 'solemn assembly' or 'convocation'. Davidson shows it being derived from the root , meaning to shut, close up, to hold back, restrain or detain.Rashi comments that the word should be translated "restraining", to teach that the pilgrims who have come up to Jerusalem for Sukkot should restrain themselves from departing, but spend the night in Jerusalem in order to stay and celebrate on the eighth day (Sifrei 151). The Talmud has G-d speaking to Israel and saying that after all the public fuss and sacrifices for the nations over the previous seven days, this eighth day is an opportunity for Israel and G-d to rejoice together in private (b. Sukkah 55b). The Mishnah also emphasises the distinction between the seven days of Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret by explaining that special lots were cast to determine which priests are to perform the various ceremonies on the eighth day (m. Yoma 2:2 and m. Sukkah 5:6).
The traditionalhaftarah reading for Shemini Atzeret is taken from the end of the passage that describes the dedication of the (1st) Temple by King Solomon. It records that many Israelites had come to Jerusalem from all over the Middle East to celebrate "before Adonai our G-d for seven days and then for seven more days - fourteen days in all. On the eighth day [Solomon] sent the people away. They blessed the king and returned to their tents full of joy and glad of heart" (1 Kings 8:65-66, CJB). After all the splendour of the dedication ceremony, the thousands of oxen and sheep offered as peace offerings (v.63), having to consecrate the centre of the courtyard because the bronze alter was too small to accommodate all the burnt offerings (v.64), there case the eighth day when all the sacrifices were scaled back and there was time to simply rejoice together, to be glad before the L-rd and for the king and the people to bless each other.
While it is entirely right and proper to have loud times of worship and praise to G-d, when with raised voices and instruments we sing and shout the praises of our G-d, blow the shofar and dance before Him, proclaim His victories and His kingdom so that heaven, hell and all the powers, principalities and people in between should hear, it is also necessary to have times of quiet gentle worship and communion in the Spirit with G-d. At those moments He whispers quietly to our hearts and we share precious moments when the rest of the world stands still around us. Yeshua surely knew and needed these times of refreshment alone with the Father, for we read time and again in the gospel narratives that He would go out to the mountains to pray, or spend the night in prayer - usually followed by some significant ministry event or advancement of the kingdom. As the festival of Shemini Atzeret teaches us about a time apart for Israel after the hustle and bustle of Sukkot, so we should seek both individual and small-group quality time with the L-rd apart from or after the big worship events. For it is only there that some of the critical work of the kingdom can be done. It is only when we step aside form the rush and business of our public service to G-d - necessary though that is - that we can relax and bask in His presence so that He can address our inner needs and concerns.
Application: How are you on finding those quiet moments with the L-rd? Do you get enough of what Gary Kivelowitz calls "cave time" with G-d? (see 1 Kings 19:9) If not, then you need to ask G-d to show you when those times are and make it a priority to spend them with Him.
© Jonathan Allen, 2006
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