The Eighth Day: Celebration or Tragedy?

          Is the eighth day (yom hashemini) one of celebration or tragedy? On the one hand we have the dedication of the Mishkan, or Tabernacle, the first House of God. After seven days of anticipation, now is the day to celebrate. We have a similar narrative in 1 Kings, where after seven days of celebration of the Temple’s being dedicated on Sukkot, we have an eighth day where King Solomon bade Israel to go home. Today we have the Brit Milah, the celebration of welcoming a baby boy into the covenant and giving him a Hebrew name, after 7 days, an entire week, of celebrating his arrival into the world.

          Yet there is a tragic element as well. This week we read of the deaths of Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu. With the Temple we know that it did not deter idolatry and turning away from God, as from the example of most of the Israelite kings, which ultimately led to its destruction. At the Brit Milah, the baby must endure pain before his family and friends can celebrate. Thank God there is no tragedy here; yet we must acknowledge the pain that accompanies the celebration.

          What does the eighth day represent? Seven we know is the number of completion, the number of days of the week. Eight, on the other hand, is beyond completion. It is the day on which we acknowledge potential, whether it is of a baby boy or of our nation to make good choices and establish a positive name. At such a liminal moment, so much is ahead of us, and we need to take a moment to celebrate it; yet we also must acknowledge that just is there is the opportunity for a new beginning, so too, if we are not careful, we can be led astray. We hope and pray for the former rather than the latter.

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