Thursday, October 12, 2006

Shmini Atzeret/Simchas Torah

As Sukkot now winds down toward the end of a great week of partying and celebration in the sukka, we say goodbye to it in the only fitting way the holiday should be ended: with an even bigger and better party!!

During the Sukkot festival, in biblical Temple times, 70 bulls were offered as a sacrifice during the week, which the Talmud explains represented each of the 70 gentile nations who were also welcomed to receive God's blessing at this pilgrimage celebration. Yes, the Temple was not just meant for Jews alone, but to be the symbol of our obligation to being a light unto ALL nations as commanded by God. By contrast, you may have noticed the islamo-vermin don't look too fondly upon infidels showing up in Mecca for their moon-god Haj pilgrimage, but that's another story.

Anyway, when it's all over and done, the party continues on with one more holy day, Shmini Atzeret/Simchas Torah. On this day there was but one bull sacrifice offered at the Holy Temple, a bull which represented our nation, Yesharun, the Children of Israel, God's chosen people, for a day for us to offer God our undivided attention for His blessings. This is often thought to be part of Sukkot, the very end of the Succos holiday, but it isn't. Rather, it is a day unto itself, without the obligations to dwell in the sukka or shake the lulav.

Shmini is most commonly observed as a festive meal and a Yizkor service at the shul. Yizkor is a service where people who have lost a parent or a child (God forbid) are offered a special service of their own to observe and honor the memory of their lost loved one. Every major Jewish holiday has an accompanying Yizkor service.

Another day, which is attatched to Shmini Atzeret, is Simchas Torah. Around the 11th century, this day was tacked on to Shmini because it is when the corresponding final reading of the Torah in Devarim (Deuteronomy) takes place, and to celebrate our completing of the annual cycle of Torah we immediately, without hesitating, begin to read from the beginning of Torah, Beraishis (Genesis), to show that Torah does not end, the cycle of Jewish life continues indefinitely, and we can begin fresh and new with another cycle of Torah learning as if we have been given the greatest gift from God, His Torah, brand new, all over again, for the first time.

On this day, all men are called up to the Torah for an aliya of reading. Torah scrolls are danced around and around afterward, while all the men sing and clap. Of course, fueling the dancing and singing are plentiful numbers of l'chaims to be drank. Traditionally, Jews eat big meals, drink a lot of spirits, and dance and sing like we have never danced or sang before. It is a great holiday, a day in which MZ will be starting the l'chaims in earnest on Sunday morning, as is my community's custom to have the next morning be the big party, as opposed to Chabad which parties hardest on the evening prior. My inlaws will be at Chabad Saturday night for their party, while I will be doing it up at my shul on Sunday morning.

So, my friends, I will be finishing up Succos tonight, beginning Shmini tomorrow night, and then letting it all loose for Simchas Torah Saturday night/Sunday. Oh, and before anyone asks, there is no driving permitted according to Torah for either Shmini or Simchas Torah, so have no fear...MZ will be back blogging again in force on Monday.

Good Yuntif!


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