While celebrating the joyous holiday hakafot with thousands of chassidim in the central Chabad-Lubavitch synagogue in Brooklyn, NY, the Rebbe suffered a massive heart attack. In spite of the tremendous pain, the Rebbe remained calm and insisted on continuing the hakafot, and only after they concluded did he depart the synagogue.
On the following day, the Rebbe requested that the chassidim celebrate the Simchat Torah festivities with the same joy and fervor as all other years, and so it was.
After the holiday ended, the Rebbe addressed and reassured the anxious chassidim from his office (which was hastily converted into a cutting-edge cardiac unit) via a public address system.
The Rebbe remained in his office in Lubavitch World Headquarters under medical supervision for several weeks. He returned home five weeks later on the 1st of Kislev, a day designated by chassidim for celebration and thanksgiving.
It is the practice of many communities -- and such is the Chabad custom -- to conduct "hakafot" and dance with the Torah scrolls also on the eve of Shemini Atzeret. (See entry for tomorrow, "Simchat Torah".)
In today's musaf prayer we begin to insert the phrase
mashiv haruach umorid hageshem ("who makes the wind blow and brings down the rain") in our daily prayers (as we'll continue to do through the winter, until the 1st day of Passover). Special hymns on rain and water are added to musaf in honor of the occasion.
The festival of Sukkot, commemorating G-d's enveloping protection of the Children of Israel during their 40-year journey through the desert (1313-1273 BCE), is celebrated for seven days, beginning from the eve of Tishrei 15. During this time, we are commanded to "dwell" in a sukkah -- a hut of temporary construction, with a roof covering of raw, unfinished vegetable matter (branches, reeds, bamboo, etc.) --
signifying the temporality and fragily of human habitation and man-made shelter and our utter dependence upon G-d's protection and providence.
Today is the last day when we eat in the sukkah (although the blessing on the sukkah, recited before eating a meal, is not recited today). Shortly before sunset, many have the custom to enjoy a last snack in the sukkah, thus "bidding the sukkah farewell" until the following year.
Note: In certain communities it is customary to eat some or all of this day's meals out of the sukkah.