The Ashrei of Messiah 4

 The fourth of five meditations on the Beatitudes based on my book DIVINE REVERSAL, given at the Hashivenu Forum, 2/1/10.

 

Happy are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Happy are those persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

These sayings bring us to the eighth line of the Ashrei of Messiah. There will be a ninth, but we’ll see that it is different in focus from the rest, so that the eight form a complete set. Is there something for us to learn from this number? Seven, of course, is the number of holiness or completion, so what is the significance of seven plus one?

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks provides the framework for answering this question. “Seven in Judaism is not a simple prime number. It is the one-after-six. Six represents the material, physical, secular. Ancient Mesopotamia . . . used a numerical system based on the number six. Western civilization still bears traces of this in the twenty-four hour day (2 X 6 hours of light, plus 2 X 6 of darkness); the sixty (10 X 6) minutes in an hour, and seconds in a minute; and the 360 degrees in a circle. . . . Judaism acknowledges the six-part structure of time and space, but adds that God exists beyond time and space. Hence seven—the one beyond six—became the symbol of the holy.”[1]

Seven is the symbol of the holy, so what about eight, the one beyond seven? There is nothing left but to begin again. Eight is the number of renewal. The eighth day is the day of new creation, following the six days of original creation capped by Shabbat, the seventh day. On the eighth day, as Leviticus reminds us, a child enters the covenant through circumcision; the leper who has been healed re-enters the camp of Israel; and the priests, who went through a seven-day ritual of ordination, begin their service before God. In Parashat Shemini—“eighth”—of Leviticus, this new priesthood will serve in the newly consecrated tabernacle where the glory of the Lord appears before all Israel on the eighth day.

The eighth day is a day of new creation, so it shouldn’t surprise us that Yeshua launches the new creation by rising after Shabbat on the first day of the week, which is the eighth day. He weaves this theme of new creation into his Ashrei by numbering them eight, with the ninth forming a sort of appendix. The eighth Ashrei ends with the same promise as the first, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” thus closing the set.

These words remind us that the new creation promise is fulfilled in Yeshua himself. As he is the unique son of God, so will the peacemakers, those who participate in his life of reconciliation, be called sons and daughters of God. As he was persecuted for the sake of righteousness, so will those who share in his suffering also share in his righteous kingdom. This kingdom is a kingdom of new creation, and we enter through union with the Messiah whose resurrection is the beginning of new creation.

© 2010, Russell Resnik


[1] The Koren Siddur, with Introduction, Translation and Commentary by Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks (Jerusalem Koren Publishers, 2009), p. xxviii.

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