Machon Daniel Torah Weekly
“To Stir the Mind and to Light up the Shabbos and the Holidays”
Chag Shmini Atzeres 2017/5778
Shmini Atzeres is an unusual chag! On the one hand, it is the eighth day of Succos as it states “וביום השמיני עצרת תהיה לכם” / “and in the eight day there shall be a stoppage to you” (Bamidbar 29:35). From here we learn that the kedusha of Shmini Atzeres stems from the sanctity of Succos! This is similarly stated in Vayikra 23:34-36 teaching us that Shmini Atzeres is an extension of Succos!
On the other hand, Shmini Atzeres is not similar to Succos in that the mitzvos of Suca and the four species do not apply to Shmini Atzeres. In addition, each holiday has a different set of sacrifices and there are other differences as well.
Now, the mitzva of simcha/joy is not written explicitly in the laws of Shmini Atzeres, rather the obligation to rejoice on Shmini Atzeres is learned from that which it states regarding the holiday of Succos “והיית אך שמח” / “and you shall be happy” (Devorim 16:15) where the word “אך” / “but” comes to include Shmini Atzeres. Now this statement is difficult to understand, for is not Shmini Atzeres called the “eight day” of Succos!? If so, we can say that just as in the first seven days of Succos there is a mitzva to rejoice, so too on the eighth day there is a mitzva to rejoice!?
In answer, we can suggest that the wording of the posuk in Parshas Emor”חג הסוכות שבעת ימים לה’. ביום הראשון מקרא קודש… ביום השמיני מקרא קודש” / “The holiday of Succos is seven days… and on the eighth day” teaches us that even though Shmini Atzeres is referred to as the eighth day of Succos, in reality there are only seven days to Succos and therefore Shmini Atzeres is excluded from the laws of Succos which include the mitzva to rejoice! In addition, we cannot add the mitzva of rejoicing to Shmini Atzeres by comparing it to the other holidays for it is not included in the comparisons between them (say the sages) as in all places the Torah only mentions three holidays – excluding Shmini Atzeres! From the above, we can conclude that an additional posuk or word is needed to include rejoicing on Shmini Atzeres!
In addition, regarding Shmini Atzeres the word “atzeres”/”a stoppage” is used and I would think that this word comes to teach us that we are to stop the mitzva of rejoicing upon the onset of Shmini Atzeres. Therefore, the Torah adds the word”אך” to teach us that just as on the seven days of Succos we are required to rejoice so too we are required to rejoice on the eight day!
From all the above, we are now aware of two facts and have two questions which need to be answered! The two facts are that there is a mitzva to rejoice on Shmini Atzeres and that this obligation is learned from Succos. The two questions are: One, what is the meaning of the word “עצרת” / “stoppage”? From what are we stopping? Two, why is the obligation to rejoice learned from Succos and not spelled out clearly regarding Shmini Atzeres itself?
Rashi, quoting the sages explains what is behind the holiday of Shmini Atzeres and from his explanation all our questions will hopefully be answered. He explains that the wording of “stoppage” is hinting to the love that Hakadosh Baruch Hu has for the Jewish people. When Succos comes to an end and He sees the Jewish people packing their belongings to return from the Beis Hamikdash to their homes throughout Eretz Yisrael, he reaches out to them as a father reaches out to a child who has come for a short visit and is now headed home and asks the Jewish people to stay with him just one more day. Hakadosh Baruch Hu then invites them to a small dinner he is preparing for them alone.
From the above we learn that the “stoppage” is not one of limitation, but just the opposite, it is a time of an outpouring of love for the Jewish people which greatly enhances the joy of the day! However, according to this, that the simcha of Shmini Atzeres is greater than the simcha of Succos, why it learned from the simcha of Succos; just the opposite should be true, that the mitzva to rejoice on Succos should be learned from Shmini Atzeres!? Also, we still need to understand in general why there is no mention of rejoicing of Shmini Atzeres!?
We can suggest, with G-d’s help, that simcha is not mentioned in the pesukim regarding Shmini Atzeres for the simcha of Shmini Atzeres is dependent on the simcha of Succos. That is, on Succos the priests sacrificed 70 bulls representing the seventy nations of the world. Now, even though the number and the order of the sacrifices hinted to the redemption of the Jewish people from their servitude to and dependency upon the nations, the simcha of Succos cannot be a complete simcha because of its very involvement with the riddance of the influence of the nations. Thus, on one hand, there is great simcha during Succos, and on the other hand, it is an incomplete simcha. This is the purpose of Shmini Atzeres, a time of simcha disattached to the nations and their influence upon us. However, its simcha is only derived from the work of Succos so the obligation to rejoice is derived from there. With this answer we can well understand why the Torah chose to add the mitzva of simcha to Shmini Atzeres using the word “אך” which usually means to exclude, for here the addition of simcha came through the exclusion of the simcha of Succos which was incomplete being intertwined with the influence of the nations.
From the above we learn that the simcha of Shmini Atzeres is a pure simcha, untainted by the influences of this world. The Sefas Emes says that Shmini Atzeres is the World-to-Come itself! On Shmini Atzeres, a G-d fearing Jew can see Hakadosh Baruch Hu as the Jews saw Him in His Majesty at the time of the crossing of the Red Sea. (Therefore, there too, the seventh day of Pesach, the day the Jewish people crossed the sea, is also referred to in the Torah as “עצרת”!)
From here we can understand why we celebrate and rejoice over the Torah on Shmini Atzeres, for it is a day disattached to this world and so too the Torah itself and its learning remain forever unattached to this world, keeping it eternally in a state of purity. The Torah is the soul of the mitzvos which we are obligated to fulfill in this world and so it remains eternally pure just as man’s soul is eternally pure as we say each morning, “The soul which You have given me is pure”! Thus the simcha of Shmini Atzeres is the proper time to rejoice in the Torah! While during Succos we rejoice through the various mitzvos of the Chag for that is the time of simcha while connected to the actions of this world.
An additional reason why the obligation to rejoice is not mentioned regarding Shmini Atzeres is because it is a time of close connection between Hashem and the Jewish people as Rashi explained and it is not fitting that the nations of the world should be aware of this close connection. This is similar to the law that one shall not walk in front of a person while he is davening shmone esrei because at that point in time he is connected in spirit to Hakadosh Baruch Hu and one shall not interrupt that connection!
An additional reason why the mitzva to rejoice on Shmini Atzeres is not mentioned explicitly is that Shmini Atzeres falls on the eighth day after seven days of Succos which is parallel to the eighth day after the seventh week before the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. Just as there the main purpose of the day was to receive the Torah, so too here the main purpose of Shmini Atzeres is the accepting anew of the Torah and thus the mitzva to rejoice is learned from Succos.
Chol Hamoed Succos 5778
May we merit to take advantage of this very special and close connection with Hakadosh Baruch Hu on Shmini Atzeres and to rejoice with a pure simcha which will imbed this closeness into our souls in a manner in which we will be able to continue to derive benefit from it during all the days of the year!