October 17, 2019 – Shemini Atzeret
Thanks for the idea of this week’s d’var Torah to my friend and teacher, the late Rabbi Joseph Radinsky of United Orthodox Synagogues, Houston, and a strong supporter of Scouting.
We are nearing the conclusion of a very special three weeks. We observed Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur, when looked at how we have acted during the past year, asked forgiveness where we were wrong, and decided to do a better job in our relationships with God and other people. Now we are observing Sukkot, a joyous time when we celebrate the traditional fall harvest and remind ourselves that all of our many blessings come from God by living in a temporary shelter, exposed to the elements. Soon, on Simchat Torah, we will celebrate the end of the cycle of reading the Torah, God’s guidebook for life, and immediately begin it again.
But before we turn our attention to the Torah, we have a day for ourselves – Shemini Atzeret (the Eighth Day of Assembly). We are assembled because we are commanded to stay together after Sukkot. When the Torah describes Shemini Atzeret in parasha Pinchas (Numbers 29:35), it says “The eighth day shall be a restriction for you;” Rashi interprets this to mean that we are restricted from leaving Jerusalem, where in ancient times we gathered for Sukkot.
Rashi goes on to describe why the Jews were to stay. During the other days of Sukkot, there were a total of 70 bulls and 98 lambs offered at the Temple. On Shemini Atzeret only one bull and one lamb were offered. Rashi compares this to the father whose children have been visiting, or the king who has had a festive banquet. The father asks his children to linger one more day, and the king asks his close friends to stay over for a small meal – each wants to have the pleasure of enjoying a private meal with his loved ones and enjoying their company a little while longer.
So we see that God wants to interact with every one of us. We are all important to God. After we spend three weeks concerned with God and all God’s creatures, Shemini Atzeret reminds us that God is concerned with each of us, as well.
Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,