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T'hellim/Psalms 16:11 You will make me know ... the pleasures of your right hand for eternity.
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This short verse from the Psalms is part of the traditional rabbinic teaching for the Sukkot festival. The Psalmist asserts thatHaShem will make him know three things: the path of life, the fullness of joy in His presence (literally, with His faces), and - our Sukkot text for this year - the eternal pleasures at HaShem's right hand. The verb at the start of the verse, , looks complicated but is straight forward: the Hif'il prefix 2ms form of the root , to know, with a 1cs suffix object pronoun - "you will make me know" or, more formally, "you will cause me to know".
Although as shown in theMasoretic Text is a feminine plural adjective meaning 'pleasant' or 'agreeable', used here without an explicit noun so becoming "pleasant things" or simply "pleasures", and is an adverb meaning "for ever" or "for eternity", the Sages imagined David reading the phrase as if it were, "At Your right hand stand those who give pleasure" and asking HaShem who these people standing at His right hand might be and what they are doing that pleases Him. Given, of course, that only righteous people give HaShem pleasure, this is the question the Sages place in David's mouth: "Is it possible to tell which company of the righteous is best loved and gives HaShem the greatest pleasure?" Needless to say, two different answers were suggested by the Sages. The first maintains that it is the company of the righteous backed by the strength of Torah and good deeds. The second maintains that it is the company of conscientious teachers of Bible and Mishnah who have scrupulously given instruction to children and hence will stand at the right hand of G-d. Either way, the Sages agree, "at Your right hand stand those who give pleasure" ( Pesikta Rabbati, piska 51, section 4).
Walter Brueggemann and William Bellinger suggest that this verse of the Psalm is visualising a temple-based solution as a response to David's plea for refuge and protection at the start,1 so that it might be natural to think of groups of people who have been saved from She'ol or "the pit" (verse 10) because of some particular merit or quality of their lives. They point out that the last few verses of this Psalm are quoted by the apostle Peter in his "nine o'clock in the morning" Pentecost speech in Jerusalem as part of his argument - since David is clearly dead and buried - that Yeshua is the Messiah and has been raised from the dead to be at G-d's right hand.
The Sages' first group of people stand on Torah and good deeds. This portrays a group of people whose faith and life in the covenant are based upon the faithfulness of G-d. They study the Torah on a consistent basis and then demonstrate by their actions that "it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before G-d, but the doers of the law who will be justified" (Romans 2:13, ESV); they put it into practice. By their familiarity with the Torah through their frequent study, they live out what HaShem said through Moshe: "You shall therefore keep My statutes and My rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them" (Vayikra 18:5, ESV). They are not trying to earn life by doing, but relying on the covenant promises contained in the Torah and living the life that follows from being true members of the covenant community.
The Sages' second group of people are those who faithfully teach Torah, particularly to children, thus ensuring that every member of the covenant people knows what that covenant means to them are, and is equipped to respond in the appropriate way. Initially, the responsibility is given to Aharon and his sons to "teach the Israelites all the laws which the L-RD has imparted to them" (Vayikra 10:11, NJPS), then the people as a whole are enjoined to "Therefore impress these My words upon your very heart ... and teach them to your children" (D'varim 11:18-19, NJPS). Isaiah identifies the Servant as G-d's teacher: "This is My servant, whom I uphold, My chosen one, in whom I delight. I have put My spirit upon him, He shall teach the true way to the nations" (Isaiah 42:1, NJPS), and the gospels record Yeshua doing exactly that: "When Yeshua came ashore, he saw a huge crowd. Filled with compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd, he began teaching them many things" (>Mark 6:34, CJB).
Throughout His ministry, Yeshua made it clear that teaching was to be a multi-generational activity. He passed the mantle to the disciples, first of all sending them "two by two, into every town and place where He himself was about to go" (Luke 10:1, ESV), to start the teaching process, then telling them that "the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (John 14:26, ESV). His final words of commission to the disciples about making more disciples included, "teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:20, Buble(ESV)) - so the teaching was to go on. This is not simply an intellectual exercise, but a lifestyle and living process, helping people to bring their lives in line with G-d's instructions and expectations, as Yeshua said: "And he said to them, 'Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old'" (Matthew 12:51, ESV). Rav Sha'ul emphasised it again to his disciple, Timothy: "and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (2 Timothy 2:2, ESV). It is what disciples do!
We have, then, an obligation to teach others; to bring new disciples into the kingdom of G-d by introducing them to Yeshua. Then we teach them what their new-found faith means: about heaven and hell, the power of the cross, obedience, holiness and much more from the pages of Scripture. More than facts, we teach them how to live in the kingdom, about practical morality and ethics, about forgiveness and mercy - and we put this into practice in our lives in front of them so that can see how it actually works, what it costs and the blessings that flow from obeying Yeshua's commands.
Why is this theme of teaching linked with the festival of Sukkot? Perhaps because the feast is such an excellent opportunity to naturally share and teach. People are gathered in the succah, eating, talking and rejoicing together. Combine that with a little liturgy to commemorate each evening of Sukkot, telling stories about our people in the wilderness, through history and into modern times, unusual food and drink from our people's travels around the world and everyone can learn something and catch a glimpse of what God is doing and will yet do in the succah, bringing Jew and Gentile together. We do and teach, teach and do: eat and drink, wave the lulavand etrog, sit in the succah and watch the world go by. Say the blessings for the succah, the food and the arba minim; sing worship songs and acknowledge G-d's goodness and provision for us for another year. Learning happens without noticing and next year we can do some more. Ask lots of questions and be prepared to admit that you don't know all the answers.
In which of the two groups at Yeshua's right hand are you: the righteous who are strong in Torah and good deeds, or those who faithfully teach Torah to those who need to learn? Ask G-d to which group He sees you belonging. Be prepared for the answer 'both', since I suspect that the kingdom is not quite as clearly divided in this respect as the Sages seem to think. Great doers make great teachers and great teachers didn't get to be great teachers without a lot of doing along the way.
Hag Sukkot Sameach b'Yeshua!
1. - Walter Brueggemann and William H. Bellinger Jr., Psalms New Cambridge Bible Commentary, (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2014), pages 87-88.
Further Study: Acts 2:24-28; James 1:22-25
Application: What can you learn from the succah this Sukkot? Keep your eyes open and listen for the Ruach nudging you at the right moment. Say a new blessing for the first time, wave the lulav in all six directions, read an article about the feast. Or perhaps just enjoy a snooze in the succah between meals while everyone else is doing something else.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2018
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