Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah
Sunday, Oct. 7
Building closes at 6 p.m.
Pool closes at 5:30 p.m.
Locker Room Wet Areas close at 5:45 p.m.
Monday & Tuesday, Oct. 8 & 9
Sukkot– (Hebrew: סוכות or סֻכּוֹת sukkōt or sukkos, Feast of Booths, Feast of Tabernacles) is a biblical holiday celebrated on the 15th day of the month of Tishrei (late September to late October). It is one of the three biblically mandated festivals Shalosh regalim on which Hebrews were commanded to make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. It follows the solemn holiday of Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. This agricultural holiday lasts seven days (eight in the diaspora). The first day (and second in the Diaspora) is a Sabbath-like yom tov when work is forbidden, followed by the intermediate Chol Hamoed and Shemini Atzeret. The Hebrew word sukkōt is the plural of sukkah, “booth or tabernacle”, which is a walled structure covered with skhakh (plant material such as leafy tree overgrowth or palm leaves). The sukkah is intended as a reminiscence of the type of fragile dwellings in which the Israelites dwelt during their 40 years of travel in the desert after the Exodus from slavery in Egypt. Throughout the holiday meals are eaten inside the sukkah and many sleep there as well. On each day of the holiday, members of the household recite a blessing over the lulav and etrog.
Shemini Atzeret, meaning “the eighth day of assembly,” is a Biblical Jewish holiday that follows the Jewish festival of Sukkot. It is written: “On the eighth day you should hold a solemn gathering; you shall not work at your occupation” (Numbers 29:35). Shemini Atzeret marks the beginning of the rainy season following the harvest in Israel. The prayer for rain, Tefilat Geshem, is the only ritual that is unique to Shemini Atzeret. In ancient times, an offering was brought to the Temple in Jerusalem on Shemini Atzeret. But once the Temple was destroyed, the only Shemini Atzeret ritual that remained was the liturgy requesting rain for a plentiful year. Simchat Torah is a joyous festival, in which Jews affirm our view of the Torah as a tree of life and demonstrate a living example of never-ending, lifelong study. Torah scrolls are taken from the ark and carried or danced around the synagogue seven times. During the Torah service, the concluding section of Deuteronomy is read, and immediately following, the opening section of Genesis, or B’reishit as it is called in Hebrew, is read.
A very nice meaning of why we dwell in a Sukkah
A central mitzvah in the Festival of Sukkot is the commandment to dwell in sukkot. This precept is stated in Vayikra 23:42 “And you shall dwell in sukkot for seven days, every person in Israel (the people) shall dwell in sukkot; in order to ensure that your generations will know that I placed the children of Israel in sukkot when I took them out of Egypt, I am the L-rd.”
In the desert there were a number of ongoing miracles, the manna that came from heaven, the numerous sources of water and other such life sustaining events. Why was the “dwelling in sukkot” singled out as that experience that should be significantly remembered on an annual basis engraving itself in the historical memory of the Jewish people?
In trying to analyze the significance of this mitzvah it is important to focus on the physical requirements of the structure that define it as a “sukkah” For a dwelling to be a sukkah it has to have at least three secure walls that will withstand the natural elements and a porous ceiling of vegetation that on the one hand offers more shade than sun but on the other does not provide the protection of a conventional roof.
This structure may be defined as temporary from one perspective and permanent from another. The secure walls give the structure a sense of permanence however the porous “ceiling” that has to be laid each year, specifically for the purpose of the sukkah, is very much temporary.
This permanent-temporary structure that we are commanded to dwell in on Sukkot is a paradigm of life offering a perspective on how we should approach our existence in this world. In planning our life structure we should strive for it to be as secure as possible. We should do all we can to ensure our physical and financial security, and to withstand the natural elements that threaten our daily existence. However, we should be eternally conscious that existentially our being in this world is temporary and permeable. At any given moment we many be forced to “evacuate”, forced to do so by unexpected “rains” from above.
The sojourn in the desert was not only a passage on the way to the Promised Land, it was also an educational experience that would impact the Jewish people from generation to generation. Thus G-d’s “placing” the people in sukkot was only a mechanism of protection. It was an attempt to tangibly educate the Jewish people about the desired approach to life, encouraging them to create secure structures yet to be aware of their existential insecure nature.
Indeed if this was a motivation for placing the Jews in sukkot in the desert, we can understand why we are asked to “relive” this experience from generation to generation. In building our sukkot and by dwelling therein for seven days, we are encouraged to contemplate the structure of our existence and meaning of life. It is critical that we not be blinded by our “securities” and that we are conscious of our porous temporary ceilings.
May we all have the privilege of dwelling in sukkot this year enjoying a rain free festival, providing us the opportunity to contemplate the existential meaning of this festival.