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Living with Moshiach: Shemini Atzeret-Simchat Torah

Living with Moshiach: Shemini Atzeret-Simchat Torah

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Bayom haShemini (on the Eighth Day) shall be an Atzeret (assembly) for you” (Pinchas 29:35)

The Holy One, blessed is He, said to Israel: “[On the day of Shemini Atzeret] I and you shall rejoice together.” When Israel heard this, they exalted the Holy One, blessed is He, and they said: “This is the day G-d has made, let us be glad and rejoice bo (on it; or in Him)” (Psalms 118:24) .

Rabbi Abin said: We do not know if this rejoicing relates to the day or to G-d. Thus Solomon came and explained, “We will be glad and rejoice in You” (Song 1:4): “ ‘in You’-i.e., in Your Torah; ‘in You’-i.e., in Your salvations.”

-Pessikta deR. Kahana, section 30

The festival of Shemini Atzeret does not have special rituals as do the other festivals, except for one: extraordinary simchah (rejoicing). The mitzvah of simchah on this day is ordained by the Torah in the verse “you shall be only joyful” (Re’ey 16:15).

Commentators note that this verse is not only a precept but also a promise: “if you will fulfill the mitzvah of simchah, you are assured that you will be joyful forever.”

The concept of simchah is central in Judaism, and especially in the teachings of Chassidism. Chassidism explains its significance in terms of the maxim that “simchah breaks through barriers.” By means of simchah one is able to transcend all kinds of barriers and obstacles to attain sublime goals, especially in spiritual matters.

We can draw an analogy between this maxim and the fact that Moshiach, too, is referred to as “The one who breaks through” (Michah 2:13). This comes to teach us that simchah, joyfulness, has the power to break through the walls-the barriers and obstacles-of the galut and hasten the coming of Moshiach! 1

II

The story is told of a renowned saint who, as a little boy, asked his father for an apple but was refused. The precocious youngster then quickly recited the appropriate blessing for an apple. His pious father did not want his son to be guilty of having recited in vain a blessing with G-d’s Name, and promptly handed him an apple.

The same may be applied to our present condition:

If we shall now already rejoice in the Messianic redemption, with absolute faith that G-d will speedily send us Moshiach, this joy in itself will (as it were) “compel” our Father in Heaven to fulfill His children’s fervent wish and speedily redeem us!

Needless to say, this is not a case of an illegitimate “forcing” the advent of the “end of days,” for here we are not dealing with “practical Kabbalah,” an adjuration of angels, and the like. We speak simply of serving G-d with extraordinary joy.

Our present rejoicing in the Messianic redemption will effect a reciprocal fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy that “The redeemed of G-d shall return, they shall come unto Zion with singing, and ever-lasting joy shall be upon their heads. They shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isaiah 35:10).

FOOTNOTES
1. In this context it should be noted that the festival of Shemini Atzeret itself alludes to the Messianic redemption. One of the meanings of the term atzeret is “ending; closing,” as Shemini Atzeret is the conclusion of the Biblical festivals (which start with Pesach). The renowned mystic and commentator Rabbi Abraham Saba (end of 15th century) writes that the number eight of Shemini Atzeret (“the eighth day”) relates to the eight worldly powers that oppressed Israel. Thus, “as this eighth day indicates the finish and end of all these powers, it is said ‘On the Eighth Day shall be an Atzeret for you’ to allude to the fact that this is the day of our salvation, the day of our redemption and deliverance of our souls.” (Tzror Hamor on Pinchas 29:35; and see also the commentary of Rabbi Yitzchak Abrabanel on this verse.)
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