Last night was the 7th day of Sukot- but it has a special name- Hoshana Raba. Kind of like a mini-Yom Kipur. During services, we destroy the willow branches that are part of the Lulav and Etrog (see the picture below) we’ve employed during this seven day festival. We either do this because it was part of the rain-bringing rituals that existed centuries ago- or to remind us of repentance. (The origin of the practice is simply not clear to us today.)
But, tonight (continuing, for some, until the Sabbath) begins a most unusual holiday. This is the last one that will preclude me from work for a while- all the way until April! (Now, this is really good news. Because, it means I can finally make some money!) The Tora gives us very little clue about this holiday and its requirements. It’s simply called the Eighth Day of Assembly (Shmini Atzeret).
Some folks consider it the eighth day of Sukot that began last Wednesday night. My tradition never considered that definition correct. We stopped eating in a sukah (again, as discussed a week ago) as soon as this 8th day of celebration began. (Note: The Tora says, “It was evening, it was morning”; all of our “days” begin in the evening.) To our tradition, this is a new holiday. And, the only requirement that exists for this holiday is that we celebrate life and our religion.
Of course, this holiday means we will add some special prayers to our service, Geshem or the Prayer for Rain. (Oh, now you see how the rain-bringing ritual fits in to the picture.) It’s the start of the rainy season in Israel, and these new prayers ask the Supreme Being to ensure that there is sufficient rain afforded for plentiful crops. (On Passover [Pesach], we substitute this prayer for one requesting ample Dew, since the rainy season ends at that time of year.)
This Shmini Atzeret holiday also coincides with another observance called Simchat Tora. (This is a celebration we [the people] created.) The Jewish tradition involves weekly readings from the Tora (the bible), aka the Five Books of Moses [the first five books of the bible]. On this holiday, we have completed the cycle of reading all five books, with its description of the death of Moses- and immediately begin reading from the very first part of the Tora, the story of creation.
May this new cycle bring you everything you need- but especially health, happiness, and peace.
By the way, Thursday (tomorrow) is Columbus Day. One we don’t really celebrate much anymore. But, there’s more and more evidence that he was Jewish (and took a fair number of Jews banished from Spain on the 9th of Av; the date the banishment became law- and with his journey probably financed by the wealth stolen from the Jews by Isabella and Ferdinand).