God’s Long Goodbye
Yael Eckstein | October 17, 2022
For seven days present food offerings to the LORD, and on the eighth day hold a sacred assembly and present a food offering to the LORD. It is the closing special assembly; do no regular work. —Leviticus 23:36
Today, my family and I will mark the observance of Shemini Atzeret, which along with Simchat Torah is a celebration of the completion of the annual Torah readings and the immediate beginning of the new year of Torah readings. It also provides a transition from the spiritual intensity of our season of celebrations back to our normal routines.
Have you ever heard someone say they hate long goodbyes? Do you hate long goodbyes? Of course, what we mean is that once we’ve said goodbye, we just want it to be over with. But on the other hand, long goodbyes really just mean that we want to stay together as long as we possibly can. Long goodbyes mean that we don’t want to say goodbye.
There’s a Jewish custom, which is actually part of Jewish law, that when we host guests in our home and the time comes for them to leave, we walk out the door together with them, accompanying them to the street or their car. This is a way of saying, “We really don’t want to let you go.” It’s a sign of respect and friendship.
God’s Long Goodbye
The rabbis taught that this is the deeper meaning of the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles. We read in Leviticus, “For seven days present food offerings to the LORD, and on the eighth day hold a sacred assembly and present a food offering to the LORD. It is the closing special assembly; do no regular work.”
We call this day Shemini Atzeret, which means “Eighth Day of Assembly,” and here’s what my father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, of blessed memory, wrote about this special day:
Shemini Atzeret, or the “Eighth Day of Assembly,” is technically a holiday in its own right, though it is also connected to the festival of Sukkot: “On the eighth day you shall hold a holy convocation… it is a solemn assembly.” Despite the fact that the holiday marks the conclusion of the Sukkot pilgrim festival, the rituals of the four species and the Sukkah are not observed. The Torah itself provides no explanation for the holiday other than to regard it as essentially the final day of Sukkot.
A rabbinic parable, however, compared God to a human king whose children come to visit him in the capital only three times a year. The king, enjoying their company so much and being so saddened by their departure, bids them to stay on an extra day. Similarly, God so loves His children, the people of Israel, and is so pleased that they have come to the temple in Jerusalem to celebrate the festival, that He has difficulty “parting” with them. He, therefore, bids them to stay an additional day.
Another way to say it is that Shemini Atzeret, the Eighth Day, is God’s long goodbye so that He can delight in spending one more day with us! What an amazing thought!
How do you show God that you don’t want to say goodbye? Maybe do you stay in church a little longer than you need to after the service is over? This week, let God know that, even when you’re done worshipping and honoring Him, you want to stay in His presence.