Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Special Parashah Eighth Day of Sukkot (Sh’mini Atzeret)
Haftarah: 1 Kings 8:54-66
B’rit Chadashah: Mark 12:28-34
There are four scriptural readings for this special parashah; special points of interest to be addressed today. The first is found in Deut. 14:1; “You are the people of Adonai your G-d. You are not to gash yourselves or shave the hair above your foreheads in mourning for the dead, because you are a people set apart as holy for Adonai your G-d. Adonai your G-d has chosen you to be his own unique treasure out of all the peoples on the face of the earth.” We may read this passage hundreds of times without “getting it,” that is, the concept of the passage. We are not a treasure because we are “better” than other peoples; neither are we chosen because of our numbers or any legalistic observance of the commands. No, we are chosen to be set apart to set the example of how G-d wants all mankind to behave toward man and G-d. Being the least in number of all the nations brings special attention to us as true believers. Unfortunately, this attention has often been expressed as severe persecution and continued attempts at genocide by the enemies of G-d. nevertheless, we are set apart when we freely choose to follow G-d’s commands out of love and fear of a loving Father who is sovereign and may express His love by chastisement or earthly punishment/judgement. Accordingly, we are not to follow the ways of pagan/secular societies such as the one we are living among today. Pagan practices of the time of the writing included shaving the hair and/or self- mutilation in mourning for the dead. We are to follow Biblical examples of those who lost loved ones and how they coped with death. Examples include Abraham, Job, David, and Yahshua himself when he heard the news that John had been beheaded. Matthew 14:13 tells us that Yahshua withdrew by boat to a solitary place but when He heard that crowds of people followed him from the town, He had compassion on them and healed the sick. Living for G-d is all about priorities. Yahshua was no doubt very sad at the loss of his cousin and friend. But he moved on to the task of continuing to exhibit his G-dly character. In this case, it was compassion on the multitudes. Abraham grieved and mourned for Sarah, but he did not mutilate himself or otherwise change his appearance. In Genesis 23:2 we are told that Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her. Then he got up from his dead one and took care of the business of purchasing a place to bury her. When Job learned that everything had been taken from him. he tore his coat and shaved his head, fell down on the ground and worshipped G-d, neither committing a sin nor putting the blame on G-d (Job 1:20-22). At this point some may ask how shaving the head is different from shaving the hair above the forehead? The actual word used in the Hebrew indicates he shaved his beard, not his head. This custom was also practiced by the eastern nations as a sign of mourning, (Isaiah 15:2; Jeremiah 16:6; 48:37). This practice was not contrary to the law in our parashah where baldness between the eyes (meaning the forehead at the hairline, is forbidden for the dead; besides this was before that law was given. Some Jewish commentators such as Jarchi, Aben Ezra, and others, interpret this of his plucking or tearing off the hair of his head; but this neither agrees with the sense of the word here used, which has the signification of shearing or mowing, rather than of tearing or plucking, nor with the firmness and composure of Job’s mind, who betrayed not any effeminacy or weakness; and though he showed a natural affection for the loss of his flocks and children, the text implies that he was not beside himself or crazy with emotion. His response was that of a man who loved G-d and trusted G-d with his life. He mourned for his dead, but not to excess; he sorrowed not as those without hope, and used the common tokens of it, and rites attending it; which shows that mourning for deceased relations, if done in moderation, is not unlawful, nor complying with the rites and customs of a country, in such cases, provided they are not sinful in themselves, nor contrary to the revealed and declared will of God. When G-d took David’s first son, David was inconsolable which affected all of the people, even in light of a major military victory. It took Yo’av (Joab) going to David to rebuke his behavior and advise him on his responsibility to the people, even with the death of his son (2 Sam. 19:6).
On a deeper level, being a unique treasure for G-d means adopting and developing our “new nature” described in the B’rit Chadashah. Ephesians 4:22-24 reads “ To put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put the new self, created after the likeness of G-d in true righteousness and holiness.” The lesson for us in the aforementioned narratives is that we need to integrate the “new nature” into our lives as our “first response/nature) and not a second thought after acting on our human nature. G-d through His sacrificial Lamb enables us to accomplish this. It takes a lifetime of serious study, contemplation, medication, and humble prayer, also strongly encouraged in the Bible. This is the concept behind Matthew 7:7: “Keep asking, and it will be given to you; keep seeking, and you will find; keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you.” We will develop a deeper sense of G-d’s peace once we learn to overcome human nature with a G-dly nature which takes discipline and wisdom from above.
Deuteronomy Chapter 15 described the Sh’mittah year which we will enter again in the fall of 2021. Note that in verse 3 that we may demand that a foreigner pay his debt, but we are to release our claim on whatever our brother owes us. There is a distinct difference in how we are to address debt during the Sh’mittah year with a secular individual or company and other true believers. In verse 11 we are told there will always be poor among us and that is why we are told to open our hands (without a grudge) to poor and needy brethren. These rules emphasize the need for cohesiveness among true believers and the priority of caring for each other before we address the poor and needy in the secular world. It is important to remember these rules lest believers donate to or otherwise support secular society to the detriment of being able to support and provide for other believers. In verse 22 we are told that the unclean and clean may eat a less-than-perfect first born of the flocks. This means that if someone is ritually unclean such as having touched a dead corpse, they would be allowed to eat with those in the household.
Finally, the reading in Numbers addressed the command to celebrate the eighth day of Sukkot; not to do any kind of ordinary work but to make the specified offerings in addition to the regular offerings at the designated times. G-d is consistent, and we should strive to live in like manner.
Haftarah: 1 Kings 8:54-66
This passage describes King Solomon’s blessing on the nation Israel, first blessing Adonai for delivering everything He had promised. “Not one word has failed of his good promise, which he made through Moses his servant. May Adonai our G-d be with us, as he was with our ancestors. May he never leave us or abandon us. In this way, he will incline our hearts toward him, so that we will live according to his ways and observe his mitzvot, laws and rulings which he ordered our fathers to obey. May these words of mine, which I have used in my plea before Adonai, be present with Adonai our G-d day and night, so that he will uphold the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel day by day. Then all the peoples of the earth will know that Adonai is G-d; there is no other. So be wholehearted with Adonai our G-d, living by his laws and observing his mitzvot, as you are doing today.”
These are the things our meditation and prayer should include not only daily as reminders of G-d’s provision, but during this special time when we concentrate on His provision; through the desert, through wars, famine, droughts, and plagues; through personal sorrows and trial, the provision of Messiah Yahshua, and the Ruach HaKodesh to prompt and guide us until Yahshua’s return. What a wonderfully encouraging time to meditate on such things, especially in the midst of where we currently are on the history of Israel and mankind. We have the benefit of looking back on some of the biblical narratives mentioned in the first part of this lesson to guide us in our responses to life events, whether happy or sad. Solomon reiterates what is written throughout the Bible concerning our cause; that is to glorify G-d in all we do so that the peoples of the earth will know the G-d of Israel is the one true G-d. Exhibiting such behaviors dictates selflessness; self-nullification that is contrary to our animal soul that so often pushes us toward self-gratification; the path of least resistance.
B’rit Chadashah: Mark 12:28-34
This narrative provides a beautiful conclusion to today’s lesson. That is, the greatest command is that we love the L-rd our G-d, the One we acknowledge as One (complex unity) with all our hearts, souls, and strength. This narrative begs for extensive commentary that will not be covered today. Suffice it to say that we cannot accomplish this deep, unequivocal, ingrained love if we are full of ourselves. Kabbalah teaches that we are to live a life than will enable G-d to send some of His Light to our hearts and souls that we may in turn bless others and release those blessings. We are conduits for G-d; nothing is to become stagnate. Loving G-d with our hearts, souls, and strength indicates an awesome love and fear of G-d that is expressed through our thoughts, words, and deeds; all of which are developed through our minds (logic) and emotions (heart). This equates to left and right sides of the brain; law and grace to be sure. The written Torah of G-d and the application of those laws through the lens of justice and compassion. Loving our neighbor as ourselves is an extension of the first command to love G-d above all else or others. A spiritual love of self is the complete opposite of narcissistic love of self that is promoted today. We are to look up to G-d and not at ourselves in the mirror.
As we reach the end of our time in the booth, may our hearts and minds retain and enjoy the knowledge that G-d is with us and one day we will tabernacle with Him forever if we continue to run the good race that can be won through a loving obedience to G-d’s Torah; the written and the Living (Yahshua). Amein
Rabbi Tamah Davis-Hart