Shemini Atzeret & Date Night

After 25 years of marriage, the Cohens planned a gala anniversary celebration. So many of their relatives, friends, and colleagues arrived at the party and the evening was simply magical. The warm wishes, the memories, and the shared joy were all palpable, it was a perfect evening until Mrs. Cohen approached Mr. Cohen at the end of the night and said, “this was a lovely party for all our loved ones, but how are we going to celebrate together alone?” Mr. Cohen had not thought about that…

The Jewish calendar includes three Pilgrimage Festivals in which the Israelites were commanded to travel to Jerusalem and celebrate with holiday offerings, prayers, and celebrations. The climax of the year is the holiday of Sukkot. This holiday has an ecumenical dimension to it as well: As part of the Temple Service every Sukkot, 70 unique sacrifices were advanced on the altar representing the proverbial 70 nations of the world. There were celebrations in the Temple Courtyard the entire week of Sukkoth that people from all over the world would come to see. 

As opposed to Passover in the spring when the Torah mandates a seven-day festival, and then it concludes; at the end of the seven-day Sukkoth festival, there is an additional celebration called Shemini Atzeret- The Eighth Day Gathering. What’s this all about?

                                                                                                                             Bamidbar- Numbers 29:35 

בַּיּוֹם֙ הַשְּׁמִינִ֔י עֲצֶ֖רֶת תִּהְיֶ֣ה לָכֶ֑ם כׇּל־מְלֶ֥אכֶת עֲבֹדָ֖ה לֹ֥א תַעֲשֽׂוּ׃ 

On the eighth day there will be a gathering, just for you; do not perform any daily labors.

The late great commentary Rashi, Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak – Troyes, France (1040-1105) quotes the Talmud Sukkah 55b:

אָמַר לָהֶם הַמָּקוֹם בְּבַקָּשָׁה מִכֶּם עֲשׂוּ לִי סְעוּדָה קְטַנָּה כְּדֵי שֶׁאֵהָנֶה מִכֶּם

The Omnipresent (G-d) says to them: ‘I request of you, before you leave Jerusalem to orchestrate a small and intimate banquet for just you and Me, so we can celebrate just the two of us before you return home.’ 

Unlike Mr. Cohen, G-d has built into our annual celebration a special Date Night of sorts to enjoy before the Fall Holiday Season concludes.

This year, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah take place Friday evening, October 6 until Sunday evening October 8. Synagogues around the world will be full and Jews will be singing and dancing with the Torah. The end of the Torah Service Sunday morning will be the new start of the annual Torah Readings: Genesis 1:1 In the beginning…..

On behalf of all of us at Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey, we wish you and yours a festive and beautiful Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.


Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach, 
Rabbi Epstein
Scholar in Residence