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Printable Shemini Atzeret / Simchat Torah Guide - 2014

Printable Shemini Atzeret / Simchat Torah Guide - 2014

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Out of respect for the sanctity of the holiday, please print out this holiday guide before the onset of the holiday (sundown Wednesday, October 15), and keep handy throughout the holiday for reference purposes.


Shemini Atzeret / Simchat Torah 101


Simchat Torah 101

The holiday of Sukkot is followed by an independent holiday called Shemini Atzeret. In Israel, this is a one-day holiday; in the Diaspora it is a two-day holiday, and the second day is known as Simchat Torah. This holiday is characterized by utterly unbridled joy, which surpasses even the joy of Sukkot. The joy reaches its climax on Simchat Torah, when we celebrate the conclusion—and restart—of the annual Torah-reading cycle.

The special joy of this holiday celebrates the conclusion—and restart—of the annual Torah-reading cycle

These two days constitute a major holiday, when most forms of work are prohibited. On the preceding nights, women and girls light candles, reciting the appropriate blessings, and we enjoy nightly and daily festive meals, accompanied by kiddush. We don’t go to work, drive, write, or switch on or off electric devices. We are permitted to cook and to carry outdoors (unless it is also Shabbat).

The first day, Shemini Atzeret, features the prayer for rain, officially commemorating the start of the Mediterranean (i.e., Israeli) rainy season, and the Yizkor (prayer supplicating G‑d to remember the souls of the departed).

We no longer take the Four Kinds, and we no longer mention Sukkot in the day’s prayers; in the Diaspora, however, we do still eat in the sukkah (but without reciting the blessing on it).

The highlight of the second day, Simchat Torah (“The Joy of the Torah”), is the hakafot, held on both the eve and the morning of Simchat Torah, in which we march and dance with the Torah scrolls around the reading table in the synagogue. (In many synagogues, hakafot are conducted also on the eve of Shemini Atzeret.)

On this joyous day when we conclude the Torah, it is customary for every man to take part in the celebration by receiving an aliyah. The children, too, receive an aliyah!

After the final aliyah of the Torah, we immediately begin a new cycle from the beginning of Genesis (from a second Torah scroll); this is because as soon as we conclude studying the Torah, G‑d’s infinite wisdom, on one level, we immediately start again, this time to discover new and loftier interpretations.

(In the Land of Israel, the celebration and customs of these two days are compressed into one day.)

The Shemini Atzeret / Simchat Torah 5775 (2014) Calendar

Wednesday October 15 – 21 Tishrei
7th day of Sukkot
Hoshanah Rabbah
- The Day Before Shemini Atzeret

Note: Click here and here for more information about this special day. What follows is only the information relevant to preparations for the holiday of Shemini Atzeret.

Since the festival begins on a Wednesday night, we prepare an eruv tavshilin.

In some communities, it is customary that those who will be reciting Yizkor tomorrow (i.e., anyone with a deceased parent) light a 24-hour yahrtzeit candle before the onset of the holiday.

Click here for a summary of the laws of Yom Tov, and here for the complete Shemini Atzeret Guide.

Women and girls light candles -- preferably in the sukkah -- in order to usher in the holiday. Click here for the text of the blessings, and here for local candle lighting times.

Festive evening prayers followed -- in most communities -- by the hakafot dancing.

After the prayers, we enjoy a holiday meal in the sukkah. (Tonight and the next day, no blessing is made on sitting in the sukkah. Click here for more on this topic.)

Thursday October 16 – 22 Tishrei
Shemini Atzeret

Morning service. Full Hallel is recited.
Two Torah scrolls are taken out of the ark.
Torah reading: Deuteronomy 14:22-16:17 and Numbers 29:35-39.
Haftorah: I Kings 8:54–66.

Yizkor is recited by those who have a deceased parent. Before the start of the Musaf amidah, the gabbai announces aloud: "Mashiv haruach u'morid hageshem!" ("He causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall"), and from this prayer forward, and lasting until the first day of Passover, those words are inserted into the second blessing of the amidah. The opening paragraphs of the repetition of the amidah contains a special prayer, Geshem ("Rain"), beseeching G‑d to grant bountiful rain, and officially launching the Mediterranean (i.e., Israeli) rain season. The Priests bless the congregation with the Priestly Blessing during the Musaf prayer.

Festive lunch meal in the sukkah. Sometime before sundown, it is customary to go into the sukkah, have a bite to eat, and "bid farewell" to its holy shade.

After dark (tzeit hakochavim), women and girls light candles -- in the home -- for Simchat Torah, using an existing flame. Click here for the text of the blessings, and here for local candle lighting times.

Click here for the complete Simchat Torah Guide, and here for all you need to know about hakafot.

Festive evening prayers followed by hakafot -- jubilant singing and dancing with the Torah scrolls.

After the prayers and hakafot, we enjoy a festive holiday meal (no longer do we eat in the sukkah).

Friday October 17 – 23 Tishrei
Simchat Torah

Morning service. The Priests bless the congregation with the Priestly Blessing during the Shacharit (morning) prayer. Full Hallel is recited, followed by the hakafot.
Three Torah scrolls are taken out of the ark. Everyone, including children, receives an aliyah.
Torah reading: Deuteronomy 33:1–34:12; Genesis 1:1-2:3; Numbers 29:35-39.
Haftorah: Joshua 1:1-18.

Festive lunch meal.

If you did an eruv tavshilin on Wednesday, cook the foods necessary for Shabbat, using a flame that has been lit from the onset of the holiday.

Women and girls light candles 18 minutes before sunset-- preferably in the sukkah -- in order to usher in the holiday. Click here for the text of the blessings, and here for local candle lighting times.

Festive evening prayers followed by the hakafot dancing.

Shabbat October 18 – 24 Tishrei
Shabbat Bereishit - Shabbat Mevarchim

Morning service: Normal Shabbat prayers.
Torah reading: Genesis 1:1–6:8.
Haftorah: Isaiah 42:5-21.

Shabbat lunch meal.

The leaders of Chabad-Lubavitch would say: "As one establishes oneself on Shabbat Bereishit, so goes the rest of the year."

After nightfall, perform the Havdalah ceremony.

After the evening services, it is a Chabad custom for the gabbai to announce: "V'Yaakov halach lidarko!" ("And Jacob went on his way!")

Shemini Atzeret Guide

The two days of the holiday of Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah (in Israel, only one day1) constitute a major holiday, when most forms of work are prohibited. On the preceding nights, women and girls light candles, reciting the appropriate blessings, and we enjoy nightly and daily festive meals, accompanied by kiddush. We don’t go to work, drive, write, or switch on or off electric devices. We are permitted to cook (using a pre-existing flame) and to carry outdoors (except on Shabbat). Click here for a basic guide to Jewish holiday laws.

Eruv Tavshilin

In the event that Shemini Atzeret falls on a Wednesday night and Thursday (so that Simchat Torah will be Thursday night and Friday), an eruv tavshilin must be made on Wednesday, to allow cooking and other necessary Shabbat preparations to be done on Friday. Click here for more on this topic and to learn how to make an eruv tavshilin.

Yizkor Candle

In some communities, it is customary that those who will be reciting Yizkor on Shemini Atzeret (i.e., anyone with a deceased parent) light a 24-hour yahrtzeit candle before the onset of the holiday.

Holiday Candles

All women and girls (or if there is no adult woman in the house, the head of the household) light candles to usher in the holiday. See this link for information regarding when exactly the holiday candles should be lit.

After lighting, recite the following two blessings:

Ba-ruch a-tah Ado-nai E-lo-hei-nu me-lech ha-olam asher ki-deshanu be-mitzvo-tav ve-tzi-vanu le-hadlik ner shel yom tov.

Blessed are You, L‑rd, our G‑d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us to light the candle of the holiday.

[If Shemini Atzeret falls on a Friday night, substitute the above with the following blessing:

Ba-ruch a-tah Ado-nai E-lo-hei-nu me-lech ha-olam asher ki-deshanu be-mitzvo-tav ve-tzi-vanu le-hadlik ner shel shabbat v’shel yom tov.

Blessed are You, L‑rd, our G‑d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us to light the candle of the Shabbat and the holiday.]

Ba-ruch a-tah Ado-nai E-lo-hei-nu me-lech ha-olam she-heche-ya-nu ve-ki-ye-ma-nu ve-higi-a-nu liz-man ha-zeh.

Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.

Prayers, Hakafot & Festive Meal

Festive evening services are recited. The custom in many communities—especially chassidic and Sephardic ones—is to also hold hakafot during the prayers of the eve of Shemini Atzeret.

After the prayers, a festive meal is eaten in the sukkah, though the leishev basukkah blessing is not recited (see General Introduction for more on the topic of eating in the sukkah on Shemini Atzeret, as well as the reason why the blessing is omitted).2

The challah is dipped in salt. Until today, on all the holidays of this month, the challah was traditionally dipped in honey (rather than salt3); this is symbolic of our desire to secure a sweet verdict for the upcoming new year. The judgment, however, was finalized on Hoshana Rabbah, the day before Shemini Atzeret, so there’s no reason for the honey any more.

Morning Services

The Shemini Atzeret morning prayers follow the basic order of all holiday morning services: holiday Amidah; Hallel; special holiday Torah reading; and holiday Musaf, during the course of which the kohanim (priests) administer the Priestly Blessing.

In addition to the standard holiday service, Yizkor (a prayer supplicating G‑d to remember the souls of the departed) is recited by those who have a deceased parent.

Before the start of the Musaf Amidah, the gabbai (beadle) announces aloud: “Mashiv haruach umorid hageshem” (“He causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall”). From this prayer forward, until the first day of Passover, those words are inserted into the second blessing of the Amidah.

After the silent Amidah, the ark is opened and the cantor—in a tune reminiscent of the liturgy of the Days of Awe—begins the repetition of the Amidah. The opening paragraphs of the repetition contain a special prayer, Geshem (“Rain”); this prayer consists of a series of piyutim (poetic verses) beseeching G‑d to grant bountiful rain, and officially launching the Mediterranean (i.e., Israeli) rain season.

Shemini Atzeret Afternoon

Sometime before sundown, it is customary to go into the sukkah, have a bite to eat, and “bid farewell” to its holy shade. In many communities there’s a special prayer recited upon leaving the sukkah for the final time—but it is not customarily recited in Chabad circles.

It’s important to bear in mind that no preparations may be made from one holiday day to the next. Each day of the holiday is uniquely important, and would be “demeaned” if used in order to prepare for the next. As such, all cooking, setting of the tables, etc., for Simchat Torah must wait until after nightfall.

Simchat Torah Guide

Holiday Candles

Note: If Simchat Torah falls on a Saturday night, before lighting the holiday candles, or before doing any work that is forbidden on Shabbat, one should say, “Baruch hamavdil bein kodesh l’kodesh,” “Blessed is He who separates between [the] holiness [of Shabbat] and [the] holiness [of the holiday].” (This is unless one has already prayed the evening prayers, which includes a passage with the same theme.)

After dark, all women and girls (or if there is no adult woman in the house, the head of the household) light candles to usher in the holiday. See this link for information regarding when exactly the holiday candles should be lit. The candles should be lit from an existing flame (such as a pilot flame or a yahrtzeit candle).

After lighting, recite the following two blessings4:

Ba-ruch a-tah Ado-nai E-lo-hei-nu me-lech ha-olam asher ki-deshanu be-mitzvo-tav vi-tzi-vanu le-hadlik ner shel yom tov.

Blessed are You, L‑rd, our G‑d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us to light the candle of the holiday.

Ba-ruch a-tah Ado-nai E-lo-hei-nu me-lech ha-olam she-heche-ya-nu ve-ki-ye-ma-nu ve-higi-a-nu liz-man ha-zeh.

Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.

Prayers, Hakafot & Holiday Meal

The holiday evening prayers are followed by the lively hakafot dancing in the synagogue.5 In many synagogues, the hakafot are preceded by a lavish kiddush (indoors, usually, as we have already bid farewell to the sukkah earlier in the afternoon), so that no one is dancing on an empty stomach.

After the hakafot, everyone goes home and enjoys a traditional holiday meal.

Morning Prayers

The Simchat Torah morning prayers follow the basic order of all holiday morning services, but with many additions.

The Priestly Blessing is administered—in almost all communities—during the repetition of the Amidah of the morning service, as opposed to all other holidays, when the blessing is recited during the Musaf prayer. This is because on this joyous day many make kiddush and consume alcoholic beverages before Musaf, and a priest who is even slightly inebriated may not administer the blessing.6

The repetition of the Amidah is followed by the recitation of the Hallel, and then the morning hakafot, after which the Torah scrolls are returned to the Ark.

Three Torahs are then taken out for the Torah reading. From the first one we read Vezot Haberachah, the final portion of the Torah; from the second we read the first section of Genesis (1:1–2:3); and from the third we read the maftir from the book of Numbers (29:35–30:1).

It is customary for everyone to take part in the celebration by receiving an aliyahOn this joyous day when we conclude the Torah, it is customary for everyone to take part in the celebration by receiving an aliyah. The problem is, there are only eight aliyot available (the five standard holiday aliyot, Chatan Torah, Chatan Bereishit, and maftir), and at least ten men—and usually more. There are several solutions for this issue. In most synagogues, the first five aliyot of the Torah reading of Vezot Haberachah are repeated as many times as necessary, until all adult men have received their aliyot. In other synagogues, the congregation will divide into smaller groups, and several Torah readings will take place concurrently. In yet other—larger—congregations, several people together will be called up to the Torah to share an aliyah.

The last of these aliyot is traditionally reserved for the children, who also receive an aliyah on this day: all the children are gathered together and, together with the adult who received the honor of leading this beautiful rite, recite the traditional aliyah blessings. In many congregations—though not in Chabad ones—a tallit is spread over the heads of the children, and after the conclusion of the aliyah, someone pronounces Jacob’s blessing: “May the angel who redeemed me from all harm bless the youths, and may they be called by my name and the name of my fathers, Abraham and Isaac, and may they multiply abundantly like fish, in the midst of the land.”7

Until this point, the five aliyot read were from the first part of Vezot Haberachah (Deuteronomy 33:1–26). The next two aliyot will conclude the Torah (Deuteronomy 33:27–34:12), and then (from the second Torah scroll) begin the new cycle of the reading from the beginning of Genesis. For we never, heaven forbid, finish the Torah; as soon as we conclude studying the Torah—G‑d’s infinite wisdom—on one level, we immediately start again, this time to discover new and loftier interpretations.

The individuals honored with these two special and highly sought aliyot are known as Chatan Torah (the “Torah Groom”) and Chatan Bereishit (the “Genesis Groom”). Because these aliyot are in such demand, they are often given to individuals who pledge to donate substantial sums of money to charity. (It is acceptable for these aliyot, too, to be shared by several individuals. A kohen or Levite can also be honored with either of these aliyot.)

A rather lengthy Aramaic poem is read in which the Chatan Torah is summoned to discharge his honor. The following is excerpted from this poem:

With the permission of the great, mighty and awesome G‑d; with the permission of the Torah, which is more precious than fine gold and pearls . . . May it be the will of the Al-mighty to grant life, kindness and crowning glory to (name and father’s name of honoree) who has been chosen to complete the cycle of the reading of the Torah; to strengthen him, to bless him and to exalt him in the study of the Torah . . . Arise, arise, arise, (name and father’s name of honoree), the Chatan Torah, and give honor to the great and awesome G‑d . . .

The Torah is then concluded. With the final verse, everyone rises to their feet, and at its conclusion all proclaim, “Chazak chazak venit’chazek!” (“Be strong! Be strong! And let us strengthen one another!”)

The second Torah scroll is then placed on the reading table, and the Chatan Bereishit is summoned, also in poetic form:

With the permission of He who transcends all blessing and song, awesomely exalted above all praise and hymn . . . With the permission of the Torah, the glorious daughter of the King . . . Arise, (name and father’s name of honoree), rise and gird yourself; come, take your place and stand at my right, and read the narrative of creation, in honor of the Maker who created it . . . How great will be your good, and how abounding your reward . . . Speedily arise, arise, arise, (name and father’s name of honoree), the Chatan Bereishit . . .

The Torah is read. When the reader reads the story of creation, he pauses before the conclusion of each of the six days of creation for the congregation to chant, “There was evening and there was morning, the (number) day!” after which the reader reads those words from the Torah. The last three verses of the reading (Genesis 2:1–3), which discuss G‑d’s resting on Shabbat, are also first chanted by the congregation, followed by the reader.

In many communities it is customary for a tallit to be spread over the heads of the Chatan Torah and Chatan Bereishit during the course of their aliyot (such is not the Chabad custom).

This is all followed by the day’s maftir and haftorah (from the Book of Joshua). When the haftorah has been completed, it is customary to sing a hymn beginning “Sisu vesimchu besimchat Torah” (“Rejoice and exult on Simchat Torah!”), and several other hymns. The Torahs are returned to the Ark, and the holiday Musaf service commences.

The day continues with the holiday meal, and then the afternoon services.

After the post-holiday evening services,8 it is a Chabad custom for the gabbai (beadle) to announce: “VeYaakov halach ledarko” (“And Jacob went on his way!”)9

An inspiring month of holidays has reached its conclusion. Now it is time for “Jacob” to take all the spiritual treasures he has amassed in these few weeks, and “go on his way” back into the mundane world. Newly invigorated and spiritually recharged, he can be assured that in the coming year he will have the strength and fortitude to unflinchingly confront all the challenges that life presents, and bring meaning and holiness to every area and situation that divine providence will send in his direction.

Hakafot

The joyous climax of Simchat Torah is the dancing of hakafot (lit. "circles"), during which we dance and sing with the Torah scrolls.10 In the words of one Chassidic master, "On Simchat Torah the Torah scrolls wish to dance, so we become their feet."

The hakafot are a memorable event, certainly one of the highlights on the Jewish calendar. It is a kid-friendly event; they should not be left at home! And you might want to pass on those uncomfortable formal dancing shoes for this participatory event; the comfortable shoes (though they should be elegant in honor of the holiday) will probably be more suitable for the occasion.

The Chassidic masters explain that the Torahs are rolled shut and wrapped in their velvet coverings for the duration of the hakafot celebrations. We don't celebrate by sitting down and studying the Torah's holy words. This is because the celebration encompasses every Jew, no matter his or her level of Torah scholarship or ability to comprehend and interpret the Torah's words. The Torah is the heritage of every Jew – the day-old infant is as essentially connected to the Torah as the venerated sage – and every Jew is equally entitled to celebrate on this special day.

The Hakafot—Step-by-Step

The hakafot are celebrated on the eve of Simchat Torah and then again the following morning. In Chassidic communities, hakafot are also conducted on the eve of Shemini Atzeret.11 The evening hakafot follow the amidah of the night's festive prayers; the morning hakafot immediately precede the reading of the (final parshah of the) Torah.

Before the dancing commences, a set of seventeen verses, called Atah Ha'raita, is chanted three times. Traditionally, members of the congregation are honored with leading the congregation in the recitation of these verses; in synagogues where there are many more congregants than verses, it is common practice to "auction off" the honors, with the proceeds going to charity.

After the completion of the Atah Ha'raita, it is Chabad custom, as instituted by the Rebbe, to chant the following verse (Genesis 28:14): "And your seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and you shall gain strength westward and eastward and northward and southward; and through you shall be blessed all the families of the earth and through your seed."12

All the Torah scrolls are then removed from the Ark.13 According to the Zohar, the Torahs' crowns should not be removed, but should remain on the scrolls throughout the dancing. The Torahs' crowns should not be removed, but should remain on the scrolls throughout the dancing.Members of the congregation are honored with holding the scrolls (a Torah scroll should always be held over the right shoulder), and the leader leads the Torah procession around the bimah (synagogue reading table) while chanting brief prayers beseeching G‑d for success and deliverance, with the congregation responding in kind. This is followed by singing and dancing, with the Torah scrolls usually handed from person to person, allowing all the opportunity to be the "Torah's feet." The children, too, take part in the merry-making, traditionally dancing around with special Simchat Torah flags, and are often treated to a bird's eye view of the dancing while perched on their dancing father's shoulders. In the spirit of merriment, it is not unusual to find some adults enjoying a l'chaim or two before and during the hakafot.

This procedure is followed seven times—seven hakafot. After each hakafah (singular term for hakafot), the synagogue's gabbai (beadle) announces, "Ad kan hakafah ...." ("We have reached the conclusion of hakafah number x"), the Torahs are returned to the ark, and the next hakafah commences (usually with a different set of people holding the Torahs, and a different leader).

The procedure for the hakafot on Simchat Torah morning is slightly different. According to Chabad custom, three and a half circuits are made around the bimah, with the prayers for each hakafah being recited during the course of a half of a circuit. All the seven hakafot areperformed in succession with no interruption (the gabbai does not announce "Ad kan..."), and then are followed by one prolonged session of singing and dancing with the Torah.

Useful Shemini Atzeret & Simchat Torah Links

Simchat Torah Mega-Site

Global Simchat Torah Events Locator

Holiday Study & Insights

Simchat Torah Stories

High Holiday Shopping

Simchat Torah Kids' Zone

Simchat Torah Audio Classes and Videos

FOOTNOTES
1.

This guide for Shemini Atzeret is focused on those who live in the Diaspora. In Israel, where Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are compacted into one day, all the practices of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah (see Simchat Torah Guide) are observed on the same day.

2.

Though it is usually permitted to usher in Shabbat or a holiday early, before nightfall (see this link for more on this topic), on the eve of Shemini Atzeret one should not start the meal until after nightfall (otherwise there is confusion whether it is still Sukkot, or already Shemini Atzeret). In the event that one must begin the meal before nightfall, the leishev basukkah blessing should not be recited.

3.

Though some will also dip the challah in salt at a later time during the meal.

4.

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, sixth Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch, explains that the Shehecheyanu blessing recited on Simchat Torah—by women and girls when lighting the holiday candles, and by men during the kiddush—has a dual denotation.
1) As on all other holidays, we express gratitude to G‑d for “granting us life, sustaining us, and enabling us to reach the occasion” of this holiday.
2) After reading and learning the whole Torah during the past year, and completing it on Simchat Torah, a “new radiance” is added to the Torah; it is renewed. As we begin to learn anew (according to the Jewish custom of beginning again immediately), it is, so to speak, a new Torah, a higher Torah; and for this we say Shehecheyanu.

5.

In most Jewish communities, the Torah is read on Simchat Torah night—actually the only occasion when the Torah is read at night. (There are various customs regarding which section(s) of the Torah is read, with most reading from Vezot Haberachah, the last weekly portion of the Torah.) This, however, is not Chabad custom.

6.

In some communities, in fact, there is no Priestly Blessing at all on Simchat Torah.

7.

Genesis 48:16.

8.

If Simchat Torah is on a Friday, this proclamation waits until after the evening services of Saturday night.

9.

Genesis 32:2.

10.

Though ideally the hakafot should be performed with a minyan (quorum of ten adult men), this is not a necessary prerequisite; the hakafot can be performed in their entirety in the absence of a minyan.

11.

In some chassidic communities, hakafot are also performed on the day of Shemini Atzeret. This, however, is a relatively uncommon custom.

12.

On the Simchat Torah of a Hakhel Year, it is then customary to chant the following verse (Jeremiah 31:7): "Behold I will bring them from the land of the north and gather them from the uttermost ends of the earth, the blind and the lame amongst them, the pregnant woman and the one who has given birth all together; a great congregation shall return here."

13.

In some communities, it is customary to place a lit candle in the open ark for the duration of the hakafot. This is not, however, Chabad custom.

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