Take the 2-minute tour ×
Mi Yodeya is a question and answer site for those who base their lives on Jewish law and tradition and anyone interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

According to the Gemorah in Sukkah Daf 48a Shmini Etzeres is a Chag in and of itself. However what exactly is the "chag" of Shmini Etzeres. Sukkos we are commemorating the Anei HaKavod, Pesach is Yetzias Metzriam, Shavuos is Matan Torah. What exactly are we "celebrating" on Shmini Etzeres?

share|improve this question
1  
Actually it says it is a Regel in and of itself, not a Chag. –  Double AA Oct 3 '12 at 4:09
1  
Shavu'oth is actually celebrating HaShem's bounty in the land, not Matan Torah. And Pesah is actually about the Matzah. And Sukkoth is actually about the journey and the Sukkoth in which we dwelled. If you don't mind my getting picky. –  Seth J Oct 3 '12 at 4:16
    
@SethJ -- No problem, so what's Shmini Etzeres about!?! –  Yehoshua Oct 3 '12 at 9:39
    
@DoubleAA -- Fair enough I had originally written regel in another place and changed it to chag, I don't know why since l'maseh there is a difference. Rosh HaShanah is called a "chag" but is not a "regel" –  Yehoshua Oct 3 '12 at 9:40
    
Isn't Shavuot the same in this regard? I.e., the Torah says to make it a holy day but there is no 'story' to it. In the case of both holidays, our oral tradition has assigned a meaning to do with the concept of Torah: its giving on Shavuot, or the celebration of it on Shmini Atzeret. –  paquda Oct 4 '12 at 16:16
show 4 more comments

3 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted
+50

Interestingly, the Torah itself doesn't mention anything special we are celebrating, nor does it give any specific Mitzvah to relate to (besides the special קרבן מוסף).

The Yalkut Pinchas 782(ילקוט שמעוני פרשת פנחס רמז תשפב) brings a משל describing Sukot as a party a king has with many friends. When the party is over he asks his son to stay a bit longer to have time only with him. According to this we are 'celebrating' being close to Hashem, to show his love to us.

Addition

Not to be cholek on @IsaacMoses (or Rashar for that matter), I looked up the word עֱצֶרֶת itself. It seems always to mean, according to most commentaries I've seen, something along the lines of rally/get-together/group. This goes well with what I've written previously - us having a party with Hashem.

One may note, that שביעי של פסח and שבועות use this term as well. For שביעי של פסח Yonatan Ben Uziel translated (English mine) get together in praise to Hashem. As these times are all an end of a period, this getting together seems like a summary or חשבון נפש, resembling what @Isaac brought.

share|improve this answer
    
I've heard that mashal but it makes me wonder: who were the extra guests invited for Sukkot who aren't staying for the extra day? –  Monica Cellio Oct 10 '12 at 12:48
1  
@MonicaCellio, the nations represented by the 70 cows brought as sacrifices throughout Succos. –  Yishai Oct 10 '12 at 14:33
    
I decided to award this answer with the bounty as this was the first that quoted the famous medresh which I think after seeing what others posted and asking around this year and last is the closets we are going to get. I saw in R' Zevin's Sefer "Moadim B'Halacha" that he mentions different nuschos for how to call Shmini Etzeres in tefillah and benthching -- comes out in many cases that it's simply the "yom tov achron" of Sukkos. In fact if you would say "chag hasukkos" many poskim would hold you are yotzee b'dieved. –  Yehoshua Oct 10 '12 at 21:42
add comment

We can discover what we are celebrating by examining the two main actions of that day:

  1. changing the second Amidah blessing to "Who causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall"
  2. changing the number of sacrifices for the gentile nations to only one sacrifice (when sacrifices were offered in the Temple).

I see those mitzvot directly answer what we celebrate:

  1. Celebrating God's goodness for providing the rainy season in Israel (representing the Jewish people's nourishment, physical and spiritual)
  2. Celebrating the intimate relationship between God and the Jewish nation

The customs of the Sephardic Tikkun HaGeshem and Ashkenazic Tefillat HaGeshem underscore the first point. I see the establishment of Simchat Torah as related to the second point, in which the Jewish people celebrate God's gift of goodness that emphasizes this intimate relationship - that is, the Torah.

To hear from someone significant, I'd refer to Rav Adin Steinsaltz, who reflects about Shemini Atzeret this way in his book A Guide to Jewish Prayer:

Our sages see this festival as a private celebration between God and Israel. On the festival of Sukkot, we pray on behalf of the entire world, whereas Shemini Atzeret is like a "small banquet made by the King for His beloved" (Rashi on Numbers 28:35). This festival also marks the beginning of the winter season, for on it we begin to pray for the rains of the upcoming year.

Perhaps because of this special significance, it was decided to connect this festival with the ceremony for completing the yearly cycle of Torah readings and with the festivities for Simhat Torah.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Below is what R' Hirsch says on the subject (Commentary on Lev. 23:36, on p. 684 - 686 of the original Levy translation, with italicized transliterations, elisions, and added paragraph divisions by me).

Very brief summary: The special nature of the holiday is indicated by its name "Atzeret," meaning "a preserving summing up" (R' Hirsch's translation), and the fact that it's on a separate day from the rest of Sukkot. These elements tell us that we're meant to focus on gathering all the lessons of Sukkot and the entire year's worth of holidays to help us lead the rest of our lives in the presence and service of God.

The denomination of this special mo'ed-day runs: - atzeret hee. ... If we examine the places where the root 'aTzR is used in Tanach, we find, in the far predominating number of cases, that it has the meaning of retaining, keeping back persons, things, or forces to guard against their becoming withdrawn or lost. ... We accordingly thing we are not wrong if we take atzeret to designate a day which is not fixed to bring new lessons and new truths for us to accept and assimilate, but which has the mission to keep us still before the presence of God ... to strengthen and solidify the impressions and knowledge we have already gained, so that they remain with us permanently, and do not become lost in the hurly-burly of life.

This would be entirely in accordance with the designation of the last day of a festival. Take Pesach: for six days we have lived permeating oursevles with all the facts and teachings which the yetziat-Mitzrayim-thoughts pledge and grant us, the Children of Israel. The seventh day is atzeret (Deut. 16:8), it is a gathering up of all the spiritual "treasures" that we have collected during the days of the Festival before the Presence of God, so that we can, at the end of this seventh day, step over into the course of our ordinary life which then begins, truly enriched by them.

The purpose of atzeret is accomplished by our realising once again all that we have gained by the festival, and by the firm resolution not to allow ourselves to be robbed in the turmoil and struggle and work of our lives of what we have won. Therein lies the dual conception of 'aTzR: persistance, remaining with God, and holding fast to all the spiritual acquisitions obtained, both really at the bottom coming to the same thing.

Now, it atzeret were on the seventh day of Sukot, it would only have the meaning of summing up and holding fast to the teachings which have been given to us by the Festival of Sukot. But as atzeret here comes bashemini as an independent festival on its own, and makes the mission of persevering and continuing and holding on before God, into a separate mo'ed-idea, and with it brings to a close, not only the cycle of Festivals of the seventh month, but the whole cycle of the festivals of the whole year, Shemini Atzeret would that come to tell us, once again to summarise and gather to ourselves all the thoughts and messages and resolutions which the mo'adim of the whole year have brought to us, and to resolve to persevere and hold fast to them before God. To impress them so deeply in our hearts that they become an unassailable part of ourselves which can not become lost in the course of the ordinary run of our yearly life on which we are now entering. That, in all the vicissitudes which may be awaiting us, richly endowed by the mo'adim, we may "persevere and remain" with God. ...

See the original for the parts I elided, which include discussion of some sources in Talmud and Midrash that lend some support and some challenge to this interpretation.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.