Shemini Atzeret

Rabbi Boaz Tomsky

      The Chag of Shmini Atzeret displays certain characteristics which identify it as an independent holiday. There are other factors, however, which make Shimini Atzeret appear to be a mere continuation of the seven days of Sukkot.

      The name Shmini Atzeret, the eighth day of Assembly, is an indication that the Chag is just a continuation of the days of Sukkot. Furthermore, the Gemara (Sukkah 42B) displays this with the requirement of Simcha and the reciting of Hallel for all eight d ays. Rabbi Eliezer further entertains the possibility of considering Shmini Atzeret a make-up day for those who did not partake in a Seudah on the first day of Sukkot (Sukkah 27A). Nonetheless, the Gemara (Sukkah 48A) clearly indicates that Shmini Atzere t is considered a Regel Bifnay Atsmo – an independent festival with regard to six things: payis-lottary, z’man-shechiyanu blessings, regel-sitting in the sukkah (Rashi), karbon-sacrifices, shira-bracha. We will focus mainly on the aspect of korbon. But f irst, we must understand why this independent Chag has so many attributes which give forth the appearance that it is a continuation of the days of Sukkot. How do we reconcile this conflict of a day which appears to be a hybrid?

      One of the ways in which Shmini Atzeret is considered independent is due to the different amount of sacrifices brought on that day. On the first day of Sukkot, thirteen bulls were brought. Each day, the number of bulls decreased by one until the seventh  day on which seven bulls were brought. Continuing with this pattern, we should require six bulls to be brought on Shmini Atzeret. However, only one bull is offered on that day. This shows that, indeed, Shmini Atzeret is a Regel Bifnay Atsmo.

      These questions arise: What is the significance in the number of korbanot brought on each of the the days of Sukkot? Why were there different amounts of sacrifices brought each day? A more logical pattern would be for an equal amount of bulls (ten) to be  brought on each of the seven days. Also, why was one bullock less brought each successive day? We generally follow the principle of Maalin Bakodesh V’ayn Moridin – we ascend in holiness and don’t descend. This being the case, we should be required to ad d a bullock for each successive day of Sukkot. Why, then, doesn’t the Torah follow this principle in this circumstance?

      The Gemara (Shabbat 21B) discusses a famous argument between Bait Shamai and Bait Hillel regarding the number of candles to be lit on each of the nights of Chanukah. Bait Hillel requires the candles to be lit in ascending order (one on the first night, t wo on the second, etc.) based on the dictum of Maalin Bakodesh. Bait Shamai holds that the candles should be lit in descending order (eight on the first night, seven on the second, etc.). Bait Shamai’s basis for his ruling is a similar pattern found by t he Paray Hachag–the bullocks brought on Sukkot. As mentioned previously, these sacrifices were brought in descending order on each of the days of Sukkot. This gives support to require the lighting of lights on Chanukah to be done in descending order. We  must understand the correlation between the lighting on Chanukah and the sacrifices brought on Sukkot. Bait Shamai must have a deeper understanding of these concepts to Paskin against the principle of Maalin Bakodesh. What is this correlation?

      What is the significance of these sacrifices brought? The Gemara (Sukkah 55B) explains that these seventy bulls correspond to the seventy nations of the world. The single bull on Shmini Atzeret corresponds to the singular nation of Israel. The Gemara fur ther elaborates and equates this scenario to a parable of a king who said to his servants: “Prepare for me a great banquet.” When it was time for the last day, he said to his beloved companion: “Prepare for me a small meal.” Similarly, in the first seven  days of Sukkot, the nations of the world are invited to take part in a relationship with HaShem. This is accomplished with the many sacrifices brought to the Bait Hamikdash on behalf of the whole world. Shmini Atzeret represents a special connection to  the Jewish nation with a personal engagement with HaShem. Since each sacrifice corresponds to each individual nation, the appearance is that more effort and resources are expended upon the nations of the world than upon the Jewish people. This gives fort h a ske

      These questions can best be answered through the advice of a professional Shadchanit. She developed specific strategies and methods for effective dating. On the first encounter, she suggests spending lavishly upon the potential Shidduch to express your d esire to establish a long-term, giving relationship. The environment should be conducive to be easily confronted by outside distractions. This scenario helps to reduce undue tension by switching focus from intense conversation to the activity or program  before the parties. As the relationship persists, it is less important to expend extravagant amounts of money and gifts upon the Shidduc h. It is more important to concentrate solely in her or him than to shower her or him with gifts. Part of the reason  for this is, that as the relationship intensifies, it no longer remains necessary to have other means of entertainment. The relationship itself should be enough. Certainly a healthy relationship between husband and wife doesn’t necessitate the endless su pply of

      This is the message of the holiday of Sukkot and subsequently Shmini Atzeret. During the first seven days, HaShem is creating a relationship with the nations of the world. This relationship is less established and personalized. Therefore, it warrants a g reat banquet to best help establish the desire in this relationship. However, this relationship is only that of a servant to a king. There remains a lack of intimacy between the two parties involved, a separation. This is why HaShem meets more than one n ation each day. The lack of intimacy is depicted by the amount of bullocks that are brought each day. During the first days of Sukkot, the relationship has only begun. That is why the highest number of bullocks are brought that day. However, as the holid ay of Sukkot progresses, the intensity of the relationship with HaShem and the nations of the world increases as well. HaShem establishes a more intimate setting by relating to fewer nations during the latter days of Sukkot.

      This is the connection between the Paray Hachag and Chanukah. Some explain that the connection is that these are the only two eight-day holidays. We may possibly entertain a different approach based on what we have previously established. As the oil cont inued to burn beyond the allotted time, the miracle intensified. Certainly the oil remaining lit for eight days is a greater miracle than if it just remained lit for two days. Because the Menorah remained lit day in and day out, there was a greater under standing of HaShem’s direct involvement in the world. This is a similar message of Paray Hachag. As the days of Sukkot continue forward, HaShem’s involvement increases and intensifies with the world.

      Shmini Atzeret is a completely different dimension (Regel Bifnay Atsmo) altogether. HaShem wishes to partake only in a small, more intimate meal. The Gemara continues to add, “In order that I may benefit from you.” It is clear that HaShem and the Bnei Yi srael have such a close-knit relationship that it is no longer incumbent upon us to offer many gifts or sacrifices to show a commitment. All HaShem desires is the smallest amount, the bare minimum, in order for us to show our commitment. After this is es tablished, HaShem wants nothing more than to benefit from us. He wants our presence–not presents. Our relationship is compared to that of a beloved companion to a king. This special and unique relationship is displayed by HaShem specifically on Shmini Atzeres. The only way this is deduced is by comparing and contrasting Shmini Atzeret to the Chag of  Sukkot. Although a Regel Bifnay Atsmo, it is necessary to consider this day like Shmini, day number eight, a continuation in the intensity of the relationship between man and HaShem.

      Sukkot is also called Chag Simchatainu–a holiday of happiness and rejoicing. Some explain the reason for this name is based on the annual harvest. The harvest occurs during Sukkot and it is what gladdens hearts. The knowledge that HaShem has a vested int erest in developing a relationship with all of mankind should give all of us a feeling of self-worth and value in this world. Any relationship with HaShem should be looked at as the greatest privilege, an opportunity of which to take full advantage. Our  unique relationship – that of beloved companion – should increase our level of Simcha in our relationships between both HaShem and our fellow man.

      In the same way, we should all merit to appreciate who our spouses and friends are – not what they give us. Let us focus on their mere presence – not there presents.

First Published October 9, 2001  for National Council of Young Israel Weekly Divrei Torah