Talmidav Shel Aharon
08-5767 Mitzvah 37
December 18, 2006
Mitzvah 37 – It is a positive commandment to rest from work on the day of Shemini
Hafetz Hayyim: As it says in Scripture: “On the eighth day there shall be a holy convocation.” (Lev. 23:36) The Law is the same as for the first day of Pesach. This is in effect at all times and it every place for men and for women.
While the Hafetz Hayyim is correct, that the laws of Shemini Atzeret are the same as the laws for the first day of Pesach (except we are allowed to eat Hametz and not restricted to Matzah). Shemini Atzeret is a full festival and all the laws that relate to working and praying on Festivals apply to Shemini Atzeret as well as Pesach and Shavuot.
But we would be doing a great disservice to Shemini Atzeret if we described it only as “just another festival”. In spite of the fact that it comes the day after the last day of Sukkot, it is not the same as Sukkot. You do not wave a Lulav and Etrog, and one is not required to live in a Sukkah. Its purpose is as enigmatic as the purpose of Shavuot. Shavuot, if you remember, is the holiday that follows 7 weeks after the beginning of Pesach and has not special rituals nor historical explanation. Later Rabbis did some math and determined that Shavuot was the day the Torah was given at Mt. Sinai. Shemini Atzeret suffers from the same problems. It comes on the eighth day after a seven day festival and also has no historical explanation. Sukkot is all about the harvest but what is the meaning of Shemini Atzeret? Noting that Sukkot is an international holiday, with rituals on behalf of the other nations of the world, The Sages of the Talmud saw Shemini Atzeret as the day after the festival, when all the other people have been sent home and we ask our “family” to say behind and join us for another day.
Since all holidays celebrated outside of the Land of Israel, get a day added to make sure there are no Calendar issues, Shemini, a one day holiday, takes on a second day. The second day, however, has taken on a life of her own. The second day of Shemini Atzeret is called Simchat Torah, and it is designated as the day we complete our annual reading of the Torah and start it over again. It seems that whenever the Rabbis are in doubt as to the meaning of a holiday, the just assign it some importance in relationship to Torah.
We are not even sure what the term “Atzeret” actually means. It is generally defined as a Festival, a holy convocation, a time to gather for a holy purpose. We have no idea why the two biggest festivals on the Calendar, Pesach and Sukkot, have an Atzeret following them, for Sukkot, the additional holiday comes right away, but for Pesach, it comes seven weeks later. In spite of all the mystery, we celebrate Shemini Atzeret. There is a Yizkor memorial service on the first day, and the wild and crazy celebration of Torah on the second day. After a month full of holidays, it will be the last full festival until Pesach. Only the minor holidays of Hanukah, Tu B’Shevat, and Purim will interrupt the winter.