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What's the Deal with Shemini Atzeret?

09/26/2018 09:50:08 AM


Rabbi Sam Shabman

What’s the deal with Shemini Atzeret?

Early autumn is often referred to as the Jewish Calendar’s “busy season.”  In communities around the world, there are a myriad of ways we celebrate and commemorate during this time of year.

Perhaps our favorite Yom Kippur prayer is still buzzing in our ears,  or the taste of apples and honey is still on our tongues. The air at Sinai is filled with the sweet scent of lulav and etrog. These symbols, sounds, tastes and smells connect us so deeply to this season, and Jewish tradition.

The reasons for celebrating Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah are often quite clear to us...or with a quick jog of our memory we can recall the significance of these holidays. However, there is one more sneaky holiday that we commemorate at this time, and its meaning is often unknown or forgotten.

This monday morning we will come together for  Shemini Atzeret. While my mind is filled with snapshots of Jewish memories, nothing really comes to mind for me when I think of Shemini Atzeret.

 Shemini Atzeret in English translates  to  the “Eighth Day of Assembly.” We are explicitly told in Leviticus 23:36  For [the] seven days [of Sukkot] you shall bring a fire offering to God. On the eighth day, it shall be a holy convocation for you... It is a [day of] detention. [God says to Israel,] "I have detained you [to remain] with Me."

Rashi explains that this is like a king who invited his family to feast with him for a certain number of days. But when the time came for them to leave, he said: “Family! Please stay with me just one more day; it is difficult for me to part with you!"  On this 8th day of gathering ,we say goodbye to this sacred time that is jammed packed with holidays, family, meals, memories and services. We transition back to a calmer time in our Jewish calendar.

This time that we are in right now, is actually referred to as Zman Simchateynu, the season of our rejoicing. My prayer is that through this busy season in Jewish life our connection to each other, our community and our tradition has strengthened and all that we have learned, done and prayed will sustain us as we move through the coming  months.

 We invite you to close out this High Holiday season with us and create new memories and traditions. September 30, we invite you to join us for our second annual Simchat Torah Block Party with opportunities to celebrate Torah through adult study, art, food, ceremony and fun. And on the morning of October 1st; we formally bid a final farewell to the High Holiday season, with our Shemini Atzeret and Yizkor service, where were focus on memory.  Here’s to a blessed 5779 for us all. Chag sameach.


Tue, February 18 2020 23 Sh'vat 5780