Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah are not dates that I usually write about. With my new marketing team, I am so grateful that they do hold me to a schedule, I sit to share some very timely thoughts with you.
Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah are not part of the Sukkos holiday. They are a מועד בפני עצמם, a holiday unto themselves. The word עצרת (atzeres) means to stop or hold back. ה׳, so to say holds us back an extra day to spend time in the Beis Hamikdash just with H-m. During the whole Yom Tov of Sukkos, the Jewish people offer sacrifices and pray for all of the other nations of the world. The Midrash gives a mashal/parable of a king who made a feast for his sons that lasted seven days. In the end, he told them “קשה עלי פרידתכם”, literally translated as “your separation is hard for me”, please stay just one more day.
What is the benefit for the king if his children stay for an extra day, he is just delaying the inevitable time when they will have to say good-bye? Due to the extra day that they spend together, will there not be פרידה, a huge separation?
Examining the word פרידתכם we see interestingly that it means your (plural) separation, i.e. the separation of the Jewish people from each other. It does not reflect anything relative to ה׳. If it would, the word would read פרידתנו our separation. But we are never separated from ה׳. ה׳ is always close to and available to us. Another interpretation of פרידתכם is your separation from Me. The Jewish people separating themselves from ה׳. In summary, both the separation of Jewish people from each other and their initiation of separation from ה׳, is painful for ה׳. How is the day of שמיני עצרת a safeguard against this separation?
During Sukkos, we take the לולב ואתרג, the four different species, viewed as representing four different strengths of Jewish people. Even though we hold them together during Sukkos, the concern is that after Sukkos is over, we will return to being four separate groups, and the unity achieved during Sukkos will disappear. The dancing and שמחה in שמיני עצרת ושמחת תורה bind us together based on our point of oneness as opposed to our differences. That is the glue that makes our connection permanent.
ה׳ is also concerned that the long winter months ahead, and the greater isolation during those months may wear away at the אחדות/unity achieved during Sukkos, and the extra effort at connecting will ensure that powerful connection over the long winter months.
While reading this, I could not help but be introspective that over the past summer months, so many have been inflicted with isolation that even during the harshest winter, have not experienced. Let us use this שמיני עצרת ושמחת תורה boost our אחדות to such levels that we may merit the coming of Moshiach speedily, NOW!