It has been said that there are numerous ways of defining who or what Jews are. There are definitions based upon culture, religion, ethnicity, geological location and biblical history. One further definition is that Jews are people of the calendar or maybe better yet, people of an appointment book. Remember how the quintessential chapter on the festivals, Leviticus 23, begins,
Then ADONAI spoke to Moses saying: “Speak to Bnei-Yisrael and tell them: These are the appointed moadim of ADONAI, which you are to proclaim to be holy convocations—My moadim.Leviticus 23:1-2 *
Often the word the Hebrew word moadim (plural of moed) is translated festivals or feasts. But they are so much more than that! They are specific times that HaShem, the Creator of the Universe and the One who called Israel out to be his am segula, his “treasured” chosen people, has set apart to spend with his am segula. A moed is literally a divine appointment.
In reading Leviticus 23, one recognizes that the first moed is Shabbat, which is a weekly time to come apart and spend time with HaShem, in remembrance of both creation and his deliverance from Egypt. After that the moedim are held at specific times throughout the year. Pesach, Unleavened Bread, and Shavuot are in the Spring, while Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, times of introspection and restoration, as well as Sukkot, a time of rejoicing in the remembrance of HaShem’s care for Bnei-Israel as they wandered in the wilderness, are in the Fall.
Sukkot, like Pesach and Unleavened Bread, is a seven day moed in which a solemn assembly is held on the first and last days. Both of these days are a Yom Tov, which is similar to Shabbat but a little more flexible. These days are specific times to be with HaShem. However, there are also differences between Pesach and Sukkot. The seven days of Sukkot end with Hoshana Rabba and are followed immediately by Shemini Atzeret (Numbers 29:35), Technically Sukkot is over, the lulav is no longer waved and the sukkah is almost ready to go back into storage for another year on Hoshana Rabba (7th day of Sukkot). Yet the festival celebrations are not quite over; it continues for an eight day.
Another interesting conundrum is that the Scripture does not tell us the purpose, significance or reason for Shemini Atzeret. The two primary verses on the “eighth day” do not provide much information,
On the eighth day there shall be for you an assembly. You are to do no regular work.Numbers 29:35
The eighth day will be a holy convocation to you, and you are to bring an offering by fire to ADONAI. It is a solemn assembly—you should do no laborious work.Leviticus 23:36
Aside from the required offering, the command to do no regular work, and to hold a solemn assembly, no further information is given. The sages discussed these issues. In a discussion on the numerous Sukkot sacrifices in the Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 55b, the Gemara questions why only a single bull is offered as a sacrifice on Shemini Atzeret. In response the Gemara recites a parable,
A mashal about a king of flesh and blood who said to his servants: Prepare me a great feast that will last for several days. When the feast concluded, on the last day, he said to his beloved servant: Prepare me a small feast so that I can derive pleasure from you alone.Quote from Sefaria
Rashi, in his commentary on the Talmud, explains the parable, suggesting that like the king, HaShem was not quite ready to end the moed; he wanted to spend a little more time with his chosen ones. His desire is to take pleasure in those who made the decision to come apart and spend time with him.
Think back to the Garden of Eden, after Adam’s and Eve’s encounter with the serpent and subsequent eye-opening,
They heard the voice of ADONAI, God, walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, so the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of ADONAI, God, among the trees in the garden. ADONAI, God, called to the man, “Where are you?”Genesis 3:8-9
There is a familiarity inferred in verse 8. Adam and Eve recognized the “voice of ADONAI, God, walking in the garden.” Apparently, this was not a new occurrence. Rather it was not only a normal meeting, but something expected. On this particular evening things were different. The intimacy that HaShem had Adam and Eve was broken due to disobedience.
HaShem desired intimacy with his creation from the very beginning. This desire is one of the reasons he chose and set apart Avram (Abraham), who, along with his son (Isaac) and grandson (Jacob), gave birth to Bnei Yisrael, HaShem’s chosen people and am segula. It was through his am segula that HaShem brought forth the one who would restore the intimate relationship that was torn asunder in the Garden, Yeshua, the Son of God and Messiah.
Now consider for a moment that Shemini Atzeret is paired with Simchat Torah, rejoicing in the Torah. Note that in Israel Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are the same day and in the Diaspora, they are two separate days. Simchat Torah is not a biblical holiday but seems to have been birthed as a grassroots movement in Babylon sometime in the fifth or sixth century CE (AD). It primarily celebrates the end of the Torah reading cycle and the beginning again. One of the most distinctive features of Simchat Torah is the joyous dancing and singing with the Torah scrolls and includes everyone, much like all the people were gathered together to hear the reading of the Torah in the shmetah year (7th year) during the Feast of Tabernacles ( Deut. 31:12).
In conclusion, it can be understood that Shemini Atzeret is symbolic of HaShem wanting to spend a little more time with his am segula. Equally, it can be understood that Simchat Torah is a time for the people of God to celebrate the Word of God. As Yeshua-believers, we understand that Yeshua is the Word (John 1:14) and that as the Word restores both Israel’s and the rest of mankind’s ability to spend more time with HaShem.
Let’s rejoice this weekend in the Sabbath and in the extra time that HaShem has provided to spend with us on Shemini Atzeret, an extra day that is not measured by a timepiece but by eternity.
Shabbat Shalom and mo’adim l’simcha!
* Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.