On the eighth day hold an assembly and do no regular work (Bemidbar / Numbers 29:35).
At the end of the week-long festival of Sukkot (English: Tabernacles) is an extra holy day called
Sh'mini Atzeret, which means the eighth day of assembly. Sukkot itself is actually only seven days long. The people were required to live in booths for those days only. After returning to their homes they were to observe one more day before returning to their regular routine.
The ancient rabbis likened this eighth day to a host who doesn't want his guests to leave. And so God is beckoning to his people to stay for one more day.
Now the Torah doesn't tell us why this extra day. The only details given are that it was a Sabbath and that extra sacrifices were to be offered. Both of these were common to biblical holy days.
Yet whether or not the rabbis’ speculation is correct, it is worth noting how much time God told the people to spend specially focused on him. A Torah-based life was full of days set apart for the things of God. Weekly Sabbaths, three festivals which required travelling to the temple, and the other days of this current Jewish month. That is a sizable percentage of the year.
I know we think we are so very busy in our modern society, but in those days, time was just as precious. As an agriculturally based society, taking time off for spiritual matters would have been a challenge. Now if we believe that obeying God results in his blessing us, then it would be foolish to disregard his instructions in these matters. Still, I am sure there were a wide variety of feelings about these things in ancient days as there are today.
The rabbis’ understanding of this holiday puts our spiritual obligations in a different light. Often when we think of spending time with God and the things that matter most to him, we think about what that all means to us. We may avoid spending time with God, because of other interests or concerns. We may focus on spiritual matters, because we realize it is better for our well-being.
But have you ever thought about how God feels about your spending time with him? Have you ever thought that maybe one of the reasons for all these holy days is that he wants to spend time with you? We often think of God as so distant and indifferent, but that disregards the strong emotional language through which God expresses himself in the Scriptures. It appears that his desire for us to turn from our regular pursuits to give him special attention is not just for us, but for him as well.
And so next time you spend time with our Father in heaven, don't be so quick to run off. Stay awhile, OK?
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