The People’s time in the wilderness with God — “the love of your bridal days” (Jer. 2:2) — is coming to an end in the portion Pinchas. This is perhaps reflected in the portion’s “extras”: the additional sacrifice for Shabbat (Numbers/Bamidbar 28:9-10) and the eighth day “atzeret,” at the close of the festival of Sukkot (Numbers/Bamidbar 29:35-39). These small, ephemeral extras help imbue Shabbat and Shemini Atzeret with a sense of intimate, transitory pleasure.

Shemini Atzeret: After-Party

…A parable: a king arranged a feast to last seven days and invited all the people of the province to the seven days of feasting. After the seven days of feasting were over, he said to his friend: Now that we have discharged our obligation to the people of the province, you and I will make do with whatever you find — a bit of meat, a fish, some greens. So, too the Holy One said to Israel: All the offerings you brought during the seven days of Sukkot you brought in behalf of the nations of the world. But now — “on the eight day — ye shall have a festival for yourselves.” Make do with what you find — one bullock, one ram.
— Bialik & Ravnitsky* 184:91, based on Tanhuma B


As Elaine Reuben (Fabrangen) teaches, Shemini Atzeret — following the big “season of our joy” festival of Sukkot — seems to be akin to an intimate gathering of friends sitting around to discuss, and maybe clear up following, the big formal party.

Jackson Browne expresses a similar sentiment, when he contemplates “the sound of slamming doors and folding chairs” at the close of a concert and asks the people to “stay just a little bit longer”:

…the only time that seems too short is the time that we get to play…

…People stay just a little bit longer
We want to play just a little bit longer…

Now the promoter don’t mind
And the roadies don’t mind
If we take a little time
And we leave this all behind and sing
one more song
— Jackson Browne “The Load Out/Stay”


Oneg Shabbat: Fleeting Extras

The Shabbat Musaf [additional] prayer service now takes the place of the extra sacrifice for Shabbat. This service is omitted from most liberal prayer books and is viewed by many as foreign to contemporary Judaism (a topic for another day, another blog). But the “Yismechu” prayer for Shabbat — which calls Shabbat a “delight” [oneg], demands human delight in Shabbat, and/or asks God to grant Shabbat delight — is often included even where Musaf is otherwise not found.

In his comments on Yismechu, Daniel Landes stresses the connection of sacrifice to a sense of “how fleeting life really is” as well as to an attempt at “drawing near”:

….The korban [sacrifice, from the Hebrew “to draw near”] is an expression of life’s finitude, and encounter with mortality, a forced admission of how fleeting life really is. The priests of old would lay hands upon the sacrifice…and then sprinkle or dash the blood on the altar, as if to say, “there but for the grace of God go I.”

But even as sacrifice allows us to encounter human finitude, it also draws us to infinity. The korban allows for transformation: the offering and the lifting up of the merely material into spiritual. From the most base and mundane one brings a gift that finds its way to God.
— Daniel Landes, My People’s Prayer Book,* p. 143


Mishkan T’filah includes Yismechu with a footnote from Lawrence Hoffman on the importance of “fulfilling the mitzvah of oneg shabbat.” Hoffman cites Jacob Riis’ famous photograph, Sabbath Eve in a Coal Cellar, illustrating a laborer who has clearly made some extraordinary efforts to bring Shabbat to his home, however hard-won and fleeting.

“…the Time That We Get Shabbat…”

I was first introduced to this version of Yismechu, a musical round, as a “musaf moment.” This is a meditation, song, reading, etc. to follow the morning service in a congregation which does not ordinarily recite Shabbat musaf. I think this song, like Riis’ photograph of Shabbat eve, conveys something of “The Load Out” sentiment — “but when that last guitar’s been packed away, you know that I still want to play” — along with the idea of “oneg Shabbat.”


In fact, I am convinced me that the man at his coal cellar Shabbat table might well be preparing to sing:

…the only time that seems too short is the time that we get Shabbat…

Now the landlord don’t mind
And the neighbors don’t mind
If we take a little time
And we leave this all behind and sing
one more song.




Yismechu

Yismechu bemalchuteha
shomrey shabbat vekorey oneg.
Am mekadeshey shevi’i kulam yisbe’u veyitanegu mituvecha.
Vehashevi’i ratzita bo vekidashto.
Chemdat yamim oto karata zecher lema’asey vereyshit.

Those who keep Shabbat enjoy your realm,
they call Shabbat the summit of delight.
A people that observes the holy seventh day
enjoys abundant goodness and delight.
Kol Haneshamah (Reconstructionist)

Those who keep Shabbat by calling it a delight will rejoice in Your realm.
The people that hallows Shabbat will delight in Your goodness.
For, being pleased with the Seventh Day, You hallowed it,
as the most precious of days, drawing our attention to the work of Creation.
Mishkan T’filah (Reform)


An interactive version with Hebrew reading and singing, translation, vocabulary and notes is available from Barvaz Press. In addition, you can find a full lesson on the prayer.

This Barvaz Press lesson and Mishkan T’filah each include an unsourced note saying that Yismechu‘s 24 words “correspond to the twenty-four hours of Shabbat.” Temple Micah‘s Rabbi Danny Zemel — among others, no doubt — has wondered publicly whether this midrash pre-dates the 25-hour Shabbat standard.
back

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* See Source Materials for full citations and more information.

**I learned this song from Talia Laster (at Fabrangen West) but have forgotten the source of the music. (If anyone can share that information, that would be great). Avir is (or was) an a cappella group on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The recording is from a 2008 concert.


For the convenience of subscribers, here are some other Pinchas links
On what should and should not be repeated, even in Torah
On Pinchas and the covenant of peace

Posted by vspatz

Virginia blogs on Jewish topics at "A Song Every Day" and manages the Education Town Hall and #WeLuvBooks sites. More at Vspatz.wordpress.com

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