Parashat Shemini Atzeret – Erev Shabbat 9 October 2020
Week of 4-10 October 2020
Torah portion: Deuteronomy 14:22 – 16:17 Haftarah: 1 Kings 8:54-66
Theme: Reaching Out leads to Rest (within)
We have reached the end of the calendar cycle and the end of Sukkot, which Jews consider the festival the “period of the year” (Shemot 34.22) or “close of the year” (Shemot 23.16). The term Atzeret could be rendered as, “stop, pause, refrain from work, hold back, or keep it.” The rendering of Carla Naumburg seems to have a sound connection to our readings for today, the parashat and haftarah. In her blog, she reads atzeret as a “vocation to recover from the holiday,” while for her friend R. Ariel Burger, Shemini Atzeret is a “day of just being” when people have an extra day to process and integrate all that happened, be this overcoming difficulties, loss, pain, hardship, birth, or things we discovered or learned. At this point, you might now ask, what is the connection of this chill-out reflection of Naumburg with the readings? One of the contents in the Parasha is the remission of debts, that is, an individual is absolved of debt. But one striking passage within this text is a subtext, “there shall be no needy among you.” One will not be in debt when no one is in dire need. In the mid part of Chap 15, G-d reminded the people of their experience in Mitzrayim (Egypt) when they were slaves yet were liberated. Not to have anyone in need is a dream of any nation and people. In the haftarah reading, the absence of poverty and the presence of peace was a joyful situation, with which the people left after the assembly called by Solomon. When the people looked back on all the hard work David had done to reach the point of peace and prosperity in the kingdom, where no one was needy, they had enough reason to go home with joyful hearts. It is a day (extra) that they needed to relax, pause, and keep as the fruits of their struggles as a people. But what about today? How is the Shemini Atzeret relevant in our context?
Looking at the effect of the pandemic, especially economically to both workers and industries, surely, we see that more people are needy and hungry. There are those whose need is not financial but emotional and psychological because the crisis creates a toll on their mental health. The invitation of both readings to us perhaps is to reach out to those in need and be reminded that “no one is too poor that one has nothing to give.” It does not need to be grand, but it must come from the purest intention that all we want is to have an equitable society. What can be your share?
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. What are the experiences or encounters for which I’m most thankful during this pandemic (lockdown or seclusion)? 2. What are the discoveries or matters I have learned about myself, people and the environment during the outbreak of this pandemic? 3. What is the most just or compassionate deed I have done for my fellow (or self) that gave me inner peace (not just to pacify a pang of guilt)?
 Carla Naumburg, “Figuring Out what Shemini Atzeret is. Finally,” Jewishrhody.com, September 25, 2017.
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Kristine Meneses, PhD, Philippines Bat Kol Alumna 2016
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