Parashat Shemini Atzeret – Erev Shabbat 6th October 2023 (5784)
Week of 01-07 October 2023
Torah portion: Deuteronomy 33:1 – 34:12 Haftarah: Josh 1:1-18
Theme: We are bringers of joy.
Shemini Atzeret “the Eighth [day] of the Assembly is a Jewish holiday and is celebrated on the 22nd day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei (first month of the calendar). In the Diaspora, an additional day is celebrated, with the second day being referred to separately as Simchat Torah. In Israel and Reform Judaism, the holidays of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are combined into a single day and the names are used interchangeably.
Sh’mini Atzeret literally means ‘the assembly of the eighth’. Rabbinic tradition explains the holiday by pointing to the fact that the Lord is like a host, who invites visitors to his home for a limited time. But when the visit ends and it’s time to leave, because He enjoyed his stay so much he asks his guests to stay another day in his presence.
Simchat Torah means ‘rejoicing in the Torah.’ This holiday marks the conclusion of the cycle of weekly Torah readings. During the year, portions of the Torah are read publicly every Sabbath in the synagogue. In Simchat Torah, the last part of the book of Deuteronomy is read and immediately followed by the first chapter of Genesis. This reminds the listener that the Torah is a circle, with no end in its message to God’s people. It also emphasizes the cyclical nature of the relationship between the Jewish people and the reading of the Torah.
The Torah is the most precious possession of the Jewish nation that is why during religious services in the synagogue, the Torah scrolls are taken out of the ark and carried seven times by people around the synagogue. Those not actually involved in transporting the scrolls often carry colorful flags and sing praises in Hebrew. Dancing, singing, and waving festive flags symbolize the joy involved in Torah study and the commitment to lifelong learning.
When the last section of the Torah is read: reciting the death and legacy of Moses, the first words of the Torah follow, telling the story of the beginning, the creation of the world by the Lord. Celebrating this day is celebrating the gift of the Word of God that was given to us freely. It is celebrating that we are part of this story of love and redemption. May the Word of God always be a source of infinite joy for us.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. On this day, Jews demonstrate the joy of the gift of Torah. How have I celebrated the gifts that God has given me in my life? 2. Have I and my community been an example of fidelity and inclusion as God wants?
Bibliography: McKenzie, J.L. Dictionary of the Bible (New York: 1965)
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Nayon Nigel Cezar, NDS, Israel, ISPS Ratisbonne contributor