Shemini Atseret – How To Stay Inspired – 5776
You thought it was all over.
An entire month waking up an hour earlier for Selihot, two days of lengthened services on Rosh Hashana, a complete day of fasting and worship in the synagogue on Yom Kippur and seven days of waving the 4 species and sitting in our Succot in the bitter British weather. Surely that’s enough?
But then right at the end when you think the festive period is coming to an end and Succot concludes, there are two more days; the first Shemini Atseret, the second Simhat Torah.
What is Shemini Atseret? The intriguing thing about this festival is that there is no specific ritual to the day. Pesach has the matsot, Succot the succah and the four species, Rosh Hashana the Shofar and even Shavuot has the delicious cheese cake! Shemini Atseret conversely, has no unique practice to the day. So what is the religious significance of this day?
Imagine going on holiday and buying a whole range of souvenirs for your family and friends. As you get ready to fly home you realise your suitcase is broken and you can’t find a replacement before your flight. Try to envisage how distressed and saddened you would feel about having to leave at the hotel all the souvenirs you spent so much time choosing for your loved ones. A functional suitcase is now priceless.
As the Chagim come to an end, the winter season bereft of any major festivals begins to dawn upon us. The next burst of inspiration and major celebration will be Pesah. How do we carry with us through the winter the religious inspiration and stimulation we have gleaned over the past few weeks?
Shemini Atseret is the answer. This day deliberately has no specific mitsvah or ritual, as this day is merely the ‘suitcase’ to transport with us the inspiration of the Chagim. We can sometimes become so bogged down with the minutiae and intricacies of the various Chagim that we forget the purpose of it all. Shemini Atseret gives us the opportunity to reflect on the preceding Chagim and understand the bigger picture of the Chagim. It gives us a chance to internalise and carry with us the inner message of the last few weeks and resolve to be committed and devoted to our community and religion. We are then ready to begin dancing with the Torah on Simhat Torah and all the way through the winter!
Shemini Atseret may just be a ‘suitcase,’ but sometimes suitcases are invaluable!