I must admit that as we celebrate Shemni Atzeret and Simchat Torah I am tinged with sadness at the conclusion of the Tishrei holidays season. It is an emotion that I remember feeling even when I was a child. The end of Pesach is also a let-down, after the preparations and the celebration of the 8-day holiday. But Pesach leads straight into the Omer, which takes us through the subsequent 7 weeks until Shavuot, stopping along the way for Yom Hashoah, Yom Haatzmaut, Lag B’Omer and Yom Yerushalayim. Shavuot means the end of the school year, an exciting time for kids and parents as summer vacation plans take shape. After Simchat Torah, we have to wait close to 6 months before the next Chag, and two months before Chanukah. I’m sure this melancholy I recall from childhood was partly a reflection of the meteorological realities. The end of Sukkot in New England meant the onset of colder and shorter days. In Florida we get more sunlight and more sunshine (and almost no change in seasons). And yet I still feel that tinge of sadness, especially as I daven Mincha on Simchat Torah (the last Festival Amidah until Spring).
But then I remember one teaching and one story. First the teaching: Targum Yonatan Ben Uziel in Parashat Pinchas explains the significance of Shmini Atzeret as follows: "On the eighth day you shall gather in joy as you leave your sukka and return to your home." The month of Tishrei is non-stop avenues of inspiration. From Rosh Hashanah to Aseret Ymei Teshuva to preparing for Sukkot to Sukkot, Shemini Atzret and Simchat Torah. It’s exhilarating. It’s inspirational. It can be exhausting and fun and meaningful all at the same time. It’s also not “real life” in the sense that we are not meant to live lives of 12 Tishrei’s per year. After the holidays we must go back to full weeks of work and school. But we must be sure to take the inspiration of Tishrei with us into the New Year. That’s the goal of Shemini Atzeret. Take a day (or two) to absorb the season and consider ways in which that growth can stay with us into the upcoming month of Cheshvan and beyond. We celebrate Simchat Torah as part of this reflection. If we want to live Tishrei lives even as we return to our homes, then Torah learning, Torah values and Torah living must be made a priority. Here are some practical ways to do so for your consideration:
Attend minyan more regularly: Communal prayer can completely change your relationship with prayer for the better. Whether this means attending more often on Sundays, Friday nights, Shabbat afternoons, weekday mornings and evening- be a part of our Minyan Campaign. You’ll be glad you did.
Make Torah study a part of your daily routine. Whether it’s attending a shiur in person, or listening / watching a shiur online or signing up for Torah E-mails/ WhatsApp groups. Torah has never been more accessible. And it is a crucial element in nurturing our souls.
Find ways to help people/ make life better for others: Volunteer for Bikur Cholim. Attend a Feed the Homeless program on a Sunday. Help a neighbor or friend. Contribute to the Young Israel Charity Fund. Be nicer to your friends and family. Smile more.
The common theme among all of these suggestions is that our shul can help facilitate these opportunities. And so my last suggestion is: Get More Involved in Our Shul. Attend a program. Join a Committee. Chair or Sponsor or Host an event. It will be a mutually beneficial experience for both the shul and you.
And now the story. It was common for Chasidim to spend Tishrei with their Rebbe. One year on Simchat Torah afternoon the Rebbe noticed that his Chasidim were sad. He understood it was because the holidays were coming to a close and they were sad to take leave of their teacher. After Mincha the Rebbe banged on his podium and announced for all to hear: “The God of Ata Bechartanu (“You have chosen us” – a phrase from the festival Amida – Artscroll pg 662) is the same God as Ata Chanantanu (“You have graced us with intelligence”) a phrase from the Havdalah paragraph, indicating the conclusion of Shabbat/ Yom Tov that we recite in the first weekday– Artscroll pg 268). Let us utilize Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah in a constructive fashion so that the spirituality and growth that we experienced during Tishrei remains with us in the days and months ahead.