2003About the holiday of Shemini Atzeret, the Torah writes (Lev.33:36) "On the (Shemini) eighth day [of Sukkot] you shall observe a sacred occasion and bring an offering by fire to YHVH; it is (an atzeret) a solemn gathering: you shall not work at your occupations."
Shemini Atzeret: Stay ... Just a Little Bit Longer
It is possible that a person might wonder: what is the purpose of Shemini Atzeret? Why now - why after all of these holidays - Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, seven days of Sukkot - would we have an eighth day of celebration? It is just too much for us! But God does not feel this way. The midrash elaborates that God thought of a way to explain the purpose of the holiday of Shemini Atzeret to us.
Chizkuni, Leviticus 23:36
(Chizkuni was a mid-thirteenth century Biblical Commentator and was part of Rashi's school of thought.)
This situation is comparable to a king whose children came to visit him. The first time the king asked, "When will you return to me?" They told him, "in 50 days." He said, "Go in peace." The second time he asked, "When will you return?" They said in four months and he told them to "go in peace." The third time they told him, "we can't return for seven months." The king said, "if that's the case, please stay with me one more day so I can enjoy your company since you will be so delayed for so long." For this reason there is no atzeret [extra day of gathering] for the Jews on Passover, because they return on Shavuot [in 50 days]. And there is no atzeret on Shavuot because they will return on Sukkot [in four months]. But on Sukkot, when they will not return again until Passover [in seven months], God delays them one day.
Your Midrash Navigator
1. How does this midrash respond to any thoughts you might have about the Holy Days?
2. Is it possible to imagine God's wishing that we would stay "just one more day?"
3. Have you ever thought about the seven months until our next big festival, Passover? Does it seem like a long time in the scheme of things?
Shemini Atzeret is a unique day for us, in which we are able to take one last day to cherish the holiness we have experienced during this intense period of time during the Holy Days of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot. Although the abundance of holidays may feel overwhelming for us, it does offer us something very special. It offers us the time to reflect on our lives and feel a closeness to God that we might not feel on other, more ordinary days. Actually, here in the diaspora, Jews took this extra time seriously and created even one more day - a ninth day - for Simchat Torah - which is truly the last day of this Holy Season. After so many solemn days of reflection, on Simchat Torah it is finally time to celebrate the Torah - the great story and heritage of the Jewish people. So God asked us for an eighth day (Shemini Atzeret) and we gave God a ninth (Simchat Torah)! What a happy time!
Prepared by Rabbi Andrea Steinberger, Hillel at the University of Wisconsin.