From Monday evening, September 27, at sunset until Wednesday night, September 29, when the stars come out, we celebrate the final holiday of this glorious Holiday Season entitled Shemini Atzeret – the Gathering on the Eighth Day. Outside Israel in the Diaspora, we celebrate a ninth day called Simchat Torah.
The Torah and Talmud explain that the holiday of Sukkot benefitted all the nations of the world. There were 70 unique worship offerings throughout Sukkot that corresponded to the 70 nations of the world at that time. Yet on this final eighth day, it was a Last Dance between G-d and the People of Israel, a type of last hug and kiss before we advance forward into the dealings and goings on of the New Year that started on Rosh Hashanah.
The number eight is always associated with miracles that are beyond nature. The holiday of Chanukah is eight days because the miracle of the oil that lasted for eight days. A Brit Milah (circumcision) is performed on the eighth day of the baby boy’s life demonstrating the divine and covenantal relationship enjoyed between the baby and G-d as a member of the people of Israel. The Maharal of Prague, Judah Loew ben Bezalel (1512 -1609), explains that the number six represents earthly matters reflecting the four directions, as well as above and below; the number seven represents when G-d connects with earth, e.g., Shabbat, the Shemittah/Sabbatical Year, the holiday of Shavuot coming seven weeks after Pesach; but the number eight indicates the miraculous that is beyond logic.
In fact, the existence and survival of the Jewish People throughout the millennia can only be described as miraculous. When we consider the longevity and strength of our nation it is nothing short of wonderous.
Marc Twain described it in 1899 in Harper’s Magazine like this:
He (the Jew) has made a marvelous fight in this world, in all the ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself and be excused for it. The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?
Our answer to Mark Twain is that the secret of the Jews is our covenantal relationship to G-d and our connection unto Him through the Torah that guides our lives. On this Eighth- and Ninth-Day holiday Shemini Atzeret we celebrate our unique and eternal relationship to G-d and recommit ourselves to our destiny as we advance forward.
Here’s wishing the entire community a wonderful year to come filled with health, blessings, and goodness.