Shemini Atzeret October 25, 2005 Rabbi Moshe P. Weisblum
Today we celebrate the festival of Shemini Atzeret, when we bid farewell to the weeklong Succoth holiday. Our sages tell us a wonderful parable about this festival. There was once a king who arranged a great feast and invited the princes and princesses to the palace among other exalted guests. After being together for several happy days, the guests prepared to leave. The King enjoyed everyone’s company so much, that he implored of them, "Please stay one more day with me, I hate to part with you." The Shemini Atzeret extension is a holiday that prolongs the celebration, like a typical Jewish good-bye, where back and forth good-byes may stretch into many minutes to hours. Sometimes they go on and on at family gatherings, business meetings, or between good friends. And so it is in this tradition that we conclude the Sukkah celebration. We are given this one last opportunity—another day, Shemini Atzeret, to join together and enjoy one another’s company.
We also have the hakafot event on the night of Shemini Atzeret where the congregants march around the synagogue in a declaration of joy. Though we still eat our meals in the Sukkah on Shemini Atzeret, we do not recite the blessing about dwelling in the Sukkah, known as "leishev basukkah." Additionally, during the morning services we read the Torah portion of "Asser Te’asser" dealing with the commandment to give tithes. Since Sukkah is the festival of the harvest and gathering from the fields, it was customary to give a portion of one’s earnings, ranging from 10-20% in accordance with the commandments of the Torah the generous bounty was offered to the Levites and the poor. This charitable giving is still the formula used today.
In the Musaf service, we recite a special prayer for rain, known in Hebrew as Geshem. Certainly, this year, as we all know, these prayers have been overwhelmingly answered. We continue, throughout the winter months until the beginning of Passover, to implore God for the "wind to blow and the rain to come down." Perhaps you may remember the joy demonstrated by Gene Kelly in the classic movie, "Singing in the Rain." He was in love and felt inspired to express his feelings while twirling his umbrella, jumping in puddles while dancing and singing in the rain. Although many of us may not express ourselves as creatively as Gene Kelly, we may delight in the gift of water showered upon the earth.
Furthermore, the rationale for these special prayers is to beseech the Almighty G-d to soak the soil in order for there to be abundant crops and fruits, so that agriculturally we will not experience famine or starvation. We can glean a spiritual significance by this "harvest theme" as we ourselves aspire to grow in our faith.
Wishing everyone a great Yom Tov, and hope to see you all tomorrow at Simchat Torah where we will proudly and energetically celebrate our beloved Torah and glorious heritage. Chag Sameach.