The autumn Jewish holidays will end this week with the days of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. The soul searching that began during the month of Elul will culminate in the joyous abandon of Simchat Torah.
The seven day festival of Sukkot ends today (Sunday October 20). As the sun sets this evening we mark the beginning of Shemini Atzeret. Literally, the name means stopping on the 8th day. While Shemini Atzeret has no customs of it’s own, it is, nevertheless a holy day. It is a day for dwelling with G-d. You know how when someone you love comes to visit? Sometimes when it’s time for them to leave you are having such a wonderful time and you don’t want them to go. So, you ask them to stay for another day. That’s Shemini Atzeret. We have had this month almost two month time of introspection and deepening our relationship with G-d. Now it’s time to leave. But G-d wants to spend one more day with us before sending us back to our ordinary lives. So, we spend this day with G-d. Just dwelling. In relationship. Deepening.
Immediately as the sun begins to set on Shemini Atzeret we begin the final of the autumn holidays- Simchat Torah. This is a day of joy and rejoicing in the Torah. The Jewish scriptures, the five books of Moses, are central to our daily lives. We read the complete Torah each year- a new portion each week. We study the weekly portion, read it aloud in synagogue services, and apply what we learn to our lives. Simchat Torah marks the end of the cycle. We read the end of Deuteronomy 34 and immediately begin again with Genesis 1. By looping from the end to the beginning we remember that the Torah is a cycle- it has no beginning or ending. The festival is also marked with dancing and parading with Torah scrolls.
From the 1st of Elul until the sun sets on Simchat Torah, we have spent 52 days with G-d. For the past 52 days we have looked inside ourselves, questioned our motives, renewed our relationships, and embarked on a new year of Torah study. May the new year of 5780 be a reflection of the work from the past 52 days.