One More Day…

Parshat Emor teaches us about the different Biblical holidays that we observe throughout the year.

This year, in the aftermath of October 7, the holiday that specifically stands out when reading the parsha is Shmini Atzeret (Vayikra 23:34-36):

…On the fifteenth day of the seventh month is the holiday of Sukkot, for seven days, for God. On the first day there shall be a holy assembly; you shall not do any work or labor. For seven days, you shall bring a fire offering to God; the eighth day shall be a holy assembly, and you shall bring a fire offering to God. It is a day of assembly (Atzeret), you shall not do any work or labor.

Rashi comments that the reason that the holiday is called Atzeret (holding back) is because God wants to hold on to the Jewish people for one more day:

I have kept you with me, like a king who invited his children for a feast for a certain number of days, when the time came for them to leave, he said: My children, I beg of you, remain with me one more day; your leaving is difficult for me.”

Rashi’s comment is based on the Talmud, Sotah 55b which speaks about the seventy bulls that were sacrificed in decreasing order on the holiday of Sukkot which correspond to the seventy nations of the world. In contrast, on Shmini Atzeret, only one bull was sacrificed which corresponds to the singular nation, Israel. On Shmini Atzeret, God wanted to have a small intimate banquet with just His immediate family.

Shmini Atzeret is a totally separate holiday from Sukkot. The sacrifices are different, we no longer sit in the Sukkah and we don’t bless the Lulav and Etrog.

Why is Shmini Atzeret tacked onto Sukkot specifically?

Chizkuni brings a parable from the Bechor Shor about a king who asked his children when they would be returning. The first child said that he would return in 50 days so the king sent him on his way, happy that his son would be returning soon. The second child said that he would return in 4 months so the king sent him on his way, content that his son wouldn’t be gone for too long. The third child said that he would be returning in seven months so they king asked him to stay one more day so that he could enjoy being with him a drop more before he goes away for a long absence.

We learn from here that Pesach doesn’t need to be extended because 50 days later we are already returning for Shavuot. Shavuot doesn’t need to be extended as 4 months later we are returning for Sukkot. In contrast, since there are seven months between Sukkot and Pesach and there are no Biblical holidays due to the rainy season, we want to hold on to the holiday for just a little bit longer.

Ibn Ezra explains that the word “Atzeret” can be understood in the context of Shmuel Alef 21:8:  “One of Shaul’s servants had been detained before God.” He was not involved in any worldly affairs.

Sforno explains that “Atzira” is not just “Lishbot”, stopping from doing mundane work. Atzira is about time standing still for holy reasons- Torah study, prayer and service. The day following Sukkot, after all three of the Regalim (Pilgrimage festivals) have been celebrated is sanctified to be called “Atzeret”, where the Jewish people are detained in the holy place (Jerusalem) for another day and their happiness will be the joy of Torah and good deeds as it says in Tehillim 149:2: “Israel rejoices in its Maker.”

Although in other years most people did not pay attention to the fact that there are seven months between Sukkot and Pesach, this year, due to the hostage situation, we are much more conscious of how much time has gone by.

Even in the Bechor Shor’s parable, seven months was looked at as a very long time to be away from home.

Many of us feel that we are still detained in Shmini Atzeret which fell on October 7th and since then every day has felt like Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day for the fallen soldiers and those who have been murdered in terrorist attacks).

However, the hope is that by Shmini Atzeret which will not fall on October 7 this year, we will have the hostages back, there will be safety and security in Israel and we will be able to turn the day back into Simchat Torah, a day of joy to celebrate spirituality while being safely protected by our soldiers.