The unity between Jews engendered by Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah is superior even to that of Sukkos. It is symbolized by the dancing with the Torah when all Jews rejoice as one with G‑d.

Of Shemini Atzeres, the festival immediately following Sukkos, the Torah states: “The eighth day shall be a day of retreat for you; you shall do no work of labor. And you shall bring a burnt offering, a sacrifice to be consumed by fire, of pleasing odor to the L‑rd; one bullock, one ram....”1

While an independent festival,2 Shemini Atzeres is simultaneously connected with Sukkos, as indicated by the above quoted verse, “The eighth day shall be a day of retreat for you” — the “eighth” referring to the previous seven days of Sukkos. During the festival of Sukkos, Jews offered seventy bullocks on behalf of the seventy nations of the world. On Shemini Atzeres only one bullock and one ram were offered, solely on the behalf of the Jewish people.

Tarry one more day

The Midrash offers a parable to illustrate the nature of Shemini Atzeres and the difference between it and Sukkos: “This may be compared to a king who made a banquet for seven days and invited all the people of the country.... When the seven days of feasting were over he said to his beloved friend: ‘Now that we have already done our duty to all the people of the country, let us make shift, just you and I, with whatever you can find....’”3

Our Sages draw a similar parable to children who are departing from their father, who says to them, “Your separation is difficult for me; tarry one more day.”4

Both parables make the same point: The king is G‑d, ruler of all the inhabitants of the earth. The people of the country are the seventy nations of the world, and the king’s beloved friend is Jewry. The banquet arranged for all the peoples corresponds to the seventy sacrifices offered on Sukkos on behalf of the seventy nations of the world. When Sukkos has ended, G‑d tells the Jews that “Your separation is difficult for Me; tarry one more day.” That extra day is the festival of Shemini Atzeres, on which only one bullock and one ram were brought. It is a private feast for Jews and G‑d — alone.

Shemini Atzeres cements the bond between Jews and G‑d, preventing any separation. It is not just an extra day of being together, for since they will be departing anyway, another day is not much use. Instead, Shemini Atzeres ensures that even later there will be no separation between G‑d and Israel.

Unity between Jews

How does Shemini Atzeres achieve this? In the parable of children departing from their father, the father says, “Your separation is difficult for me.” It does not say “Our separation is difficult for me,” as would be expected, but “Your separation.” From G‑d’s side, the bond between Him and His children can never be severed. Jews, however, can choose to separate themselves from G‑d, to ignore the ties between them and their Creator. And that is why G‑d says, “Your separation is difficult for Me.”

Jews are separated from G‑d when they are separated among themselves, lacking brotherly love and unity. “Your separation” now has the added meaning of “separation between yourselves.” And this in turn separates Jews from G‑d. Three times a day we say in our prayers, “Bless us, our Father, all of us as one, with the light of Your countenance.”5 When “all of us” are “as one,” the Divine blessing is fully bestowed. But when we are not united as sons of “our Father,” the blessing is correspondingly less.

An emphasis on unity is needed on Shemini Atzeres, for it is then, after Sukkos, that disunity may appear. On Sukkos itself Jews are united, that unity symbolized by the mitzvah of the four species, each of which represents a type of Jew.6 The esrog, which possesses both taste and fragrance, corresponds to Jews who engage in both Torah study (taste) and observance of mitzvos (fragrance). The lulav, palm branch, which has taste (its dates) but no fragrance, corresponds to Jews who concentrate more on Torah study than on mitzvos. The hadas, myrtle, possessing fragrance but no taste, represents Jews whose principal area of service is the performance of mitzvos. And the aravah, the willow, with neither fragrance nor taste, symbolizes Jews who engage in neither the performance of mitzvahs nor Torah study. The mitzvah of the four species consists in taking them together, binding them into one mitzvah. It is the idea of unity among all Jews, forming “a single band to carry out Your will with a perfect heart.”7

But the unity thus formed on Sukkos is a result of the mitzvah of the four kinds. When the festival of Sukkos is finished and weekday arrives, the unity that prevailed between Jews may dissolve without the cement of the mitzvah to hold them together. Moreover, the unity symbolized by the four kinds does not affect the actual kinds themselves. Even when together, each remains a separate category — lulav, esrog, hadas and aravah. They are bound together only in and through the mitzvah.

The unity engendered by Shemini Atzeres is superior. It is symbolized by the sacrifices brought then, which are “one bullock, one ram.” It is not a union of disparate parts. It is a single entity. Therefore, even after Shemini Atzeres, during the rest of the year, Jews remain united.8

Rejoicing with the Torah’s essence

Jews observe Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah correspondingly, emphasizing the unity between themselves. These festivals are celebrated principally by dancing with the Torah, when the most scholarly Jew and the most simple dance together, submerging their personal identities. And dancing is done with the feet, not the head. One’s rejoicing can be dictated by intellectual awareness of the reason for being joyous — that is, one can rejoice with the “head,” the seat of the intellect. But then the joy is commensurate to the profundity of one’s comprehension, creating differences between the more and less scholarly. Moreover, because the joy is limited to intellectual understanding, even the most learned person cannot reach an infinite level of joy, unbounded by any parameters, including those of the intellect.

Rejoicing with the Torah on Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah is totally different. Jews dance with the Torah wrapped in its mantle, signifying that the joy derives not from the study of Torah, but from the Torah per se. For there are two dimensions to Torah: Its wisdom, which can be understood by a person; and the essence of Torah, which transcends all human comprehension. G‑d, in giving the Torah to His people, placed His Essence in the essence of Torah. When a Jew studies Torah he not only learns its wisdom, but he thereby grasps G‑d Himself, as it were. In the words of the Alter Rebbe:9 “He has given us His Torah and has clothed in it His blessed will and wisdom, which are united with His Essence and Being in perfect unity; and surely this is as if He gave us His very self, as it were.”10

On Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah we rejoice with the true nature of Torah. Dancing with the Torah wrapped in its mantle, with its contents not being learned, emphasizes that we rejoice with the Torah’s essence.

Torah is the heritage of all Jews

All Jews relate equally to this level of Torah. The erudite and the unlettered alike inherit the entire Torah, for “The Torah which Moshe commanded us is a heritage of the congregation of Yaakov.”11 The more learned understands more of the Torah’s wisdom; but every member of the “congregation of Yaakov” can take hold of G‑d’s Essence through learning Torah, no matter how humble a level of learning he may be on.

On Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah, then, all rejoice equally with the Torah, all dance with the feet, unknowing and uncaring of any personal differences that would otherwise create barriers between Jews. The body of Jewry is whole and one, rejoicing with G‑d who is One. It is a time for Jew and G‑d to be together — alone.

Likkutei Sichos, Vol. II, pp. 433-435; IV, 1165-1169