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Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah Guide 2010

Shemini Atzeret begins this year on Wednesday evening, September 29, 2010, and continues with Simchat Torah through Friday, October 1, 2010.

Immediately following the seven-day festival of Sukkot comes the two-day festival of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. (In the Land of Israel, the festival is “compacted” in a single day). These two days constitute a major holiday, when most forms of work are prohibited. On the preceding nights, women and girls light candles, reciting the appropriate blessings, and we enjoy nightly and daily festive meals, accompanied by the Kiddush. We don’t go to work, drive, write, or switch on or off electric devices. We are permitted to cook and to carry outdoors (unless it is also Shabbat).

Shemini Atzeret means “the eighth [day] of retention”; the chassidic masters explain that the primary purpose of the festival is to retain and “conceive” the spiritual revelations and powers that we are granted during the festivals of the month of Tishrei, so that we could subsequently apply them to our lives throughout the year.

The first day, Shemini Atzeret, features the prayers for rain, officially commemorating the start of the Mediterranean (i.e., Israeli) rain season, and the Yizkor (prayer supplicating G-d to remember the souls of the departed).

The “Four Kinds” are not taken on Shemini Atzeret. We still eat in the sukkah (according to the custom of most communities), but without making the special blessing on the sukkah. On the second day of Shemini Atzeret (i.e., the ninth day from the beginning of Sukkot)–and in the Land of Israel–we go back to eating in the home.

The second day of Shemini Atzeret is called Simchat Torah (“Rejoicing of the Torah”). On this day we conclude, and begin a new, the annual Torah reading cycle. The event is marked with great rejoicing, especially during the “hakafot” procession, in which we march, sing and dance with the Torah scrolls around the reading table in the synagogue. “On Simchat Torah,” goes the chassidic saying, “we rejoice in the Torah, and the Torah rejoices in us; the Torah, too, wants to dance, so we become the Torah’s dancing feet.”

On this joyous day when we conclude the Torah, it is customary for every man to take part in the celebration by receiving an aliyah. The children too receive an aliyah!

After the final aliyah of the Torah, we immediately begin a new cycle from the beginning of Genesis (from a second Torah scroll); this is because as soon as we conclude studying the Torah, G-d’s infinite wisdom, on one level, we immediately start again, this time to discover new and loftier interpretations.

Holiday Guide

Shemini Atzeret
The two days of the holiday of Shemini Atzeret / Simchat Torah constitute a major holiday, when most forms of work are prohibited. Click here for a basic guide to Jewish holiday laws.

Eruv Tavshilin
This year, Shemini Atzeret falls on a Wednesday night and Thursday (so that Simchat Torah will be Thursday night and Friday), an eruv tavshilin must be made on Wednesday, to allow cooking and other necessary Shabbat preparations to be done on Friday. Click here for more on this topic and to learn how to make an eruv tavshilin.

Yizkor Candle
In some communities, it is customary that those who will be reciting Yizkor on Shemini Atzeret (i.e., anyone with a deceased parent) light a 24-hour yahrtzeit candle before the onset of the holiday.

Holiday Candles
Women and all girls (or if there is no woman in the house, the head of the household), light candles to usher in the holiday. See this link for information regarding when exactly the holiday candles should be lit.

After lighting, recite the following two blessings:

       Ba-ruch a-tah Ado-nai E-lo-hei-nu me-lech ha-olam asher ki-deshanu
       bi-mitzvo-tav vi-tzvi-vanu le-hadlik ner shel Yom Tov.

       Blessed are You, L-rd, our G-d, King of the universe,
       who has sanctified us with His commandments and
       has commanded us to light the candle of the Holiday.

       Ba-ruch a-tah Ado-nai E-lo-hei-nu me-lech ha-olam she-heche-ya-nu
       ve-ki-yi-ma-nu ve-higi-a-nu liz-man ha-zeh.

       Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the universe,
       who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.

Prayers, Hakafot & Festive Meal
Festive evening services are recited. The custom in many communities – especially Chassidic and Sephardic ones – is to also hold hakafot during the prayers of the eve of Shemini Atzeret.

After the prayers, a festive meal is eaten in the sukkah, though the Leshev baSukkah blessing is not recited (see A Deeper Look at Shemini Atzeret for more on the topic of eating in the sukkah on Shemini Atzeret, as well as the reason why the blessing is omitted).

The challah is dipped in salt. Until today, on all the holidays of this month the challah was traditionally dipped in honey (rather than salt); this is symbolic of our desire to secure a sweet verdict for the upcoming new year. The judgment, however, was finalized on Hoshanah Rabbah, the day before Shemini Atzeret, so there’s no reason for the honey any more.

Morning Services
The Shemini Atzeret morning prayers follow the basic order of all holiday morning services: holiday amidah, Hallel, special holiday Torah reading, holiday Musaf, during the course of which the kohanim (priests) administer the Priestly Blessing.

In addition to the standard holiday service, the Yizkor (prayer supplicating G-d to remember the souls of the departed) is recited by those who have a deceased parent.

Before the start of the Musaf amidah, the gabbai (beadle) announces aloud: “Mashiv haruach u’morid hageshem!” (“He causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall”), and from this prayer forward, and lasting until the first day of Passover, those words are inserted into the second blessing of the amidah.

After the silent amidah, the ark is opened and the cantor – in a tune reminiscent of the liturgy of the Days of Awe – begins the repetition of the amidah. The opening paragraphs of the repetition contains a special prayer, Geshem (“Rain”); this prayer consists of a series of piyutim (poetic verses) beseeching G-d to grant bountiful rain, and officially launching the Mediterranean (i.e., Israeli) rain season.

Shemini Atzeret Afternoon
Sometime before sundown, it is customary to go into the sukkah, have a bite to eat, and
“bid farewell” to its holy shade. In many communities there’s a special prayer recited upon leaving the sukkah for the final time—but it is not customarily recited in Chabad circles.

It’s important to bear in mind that no preparations may be made from one holiday day to the next. Each day of the holiday is uniquely important, and would be “demeaned” if used in order to prepare for the next. As such, all cooking, setting of the tables, etc., for Simchat Torah must wait until after nightfall.

Simchat Torah
After dark, women and all girls (or if there is no woman in the house, the head of the household), light candles to usher in the holiday. The candles should be lit from an existing flame (such as a pilot flame or a yahrtzeit candle).

After lighting, recite the following two blessings:

        Ba-ruch a-tah Ado-nai E-lo-hei-nu me-lech ha-olam asher ki-deshanu
        bi-mitzvo-tav vi-tzvi-vanu le-hadlik ner shel Yom Tov.

        Blessed are You, L-rd, our G-d, King of the universe,
        who has sanctified us with His commandments and
        has commanded us to light the candle of the Holiday.

        Ba-ruch a-tah Ado-nai E-lo-hei-nu me-lech ha-olam she-heche-ya-nu
        ve-ki-yi-ma-nu ve-higi-a-nu liz-man ha-zeh
.

        Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the universe,
        who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.

Prayers, Hakafot & Holiday Meal
The holiday evening prayers are followed by the lively hakafot dancing in the synagogue. In many synagogues, the hakafot are preceded by a lavish kiddush (indoors usually, as we have already bid farewell to the sukkah earlier in the afternoon) so that no one is dancing on an empty stomach. After the hakafot, everyone goes home and enjoys a traditional holiday meal.

Morning Prayers
The Simchat Torah morning prayers follow the basic order of all holiday morning services, but with many additions.

The Priestly Blessing is administered – in almost all communities – during the repetition of the amidah of the morning service, as opposed to all other holidays, when the blessing is recited during the Musaf. This is because on this joyous day many make kiddush and consume alcoholic beverages before Musaf, and a priest who is even slightly inebriated may not administer the blessing.

The repetition of the amidah is followed by the recitation of the Hallel, and then the morning hakafot, after which the Torah scrolls are returned to the ark.

Three Torahs are then taken out for the Torah reading. From the first one, we read V’Zot Haberachah, the final portion of the Torah, from the second we read the first section of Genesis (1:1-2:3), and from the third we read the maftir from the book of Numbers (29:35-30:1).

On this joyous day when we conclude the Torah, it is customary for everyone to take part in the celebration by receiving an aliyah. The problem is, there are only eight aliyot available (the five standard holiday aliyot, Chatan Torah, Chatan Bereishit, and maftir), and at least ten men—and usually more. There are several solutions for this issue. In most synagogues, the first five aliyot of the Torah reading of V’Zot Haberachah are repeated as many times as necessary, until all adult men have received their aliyot. In other synagogues, the congregation will divide into smaller groups, and several Torah readings will take place concurrently. In yet other – larger – congregations, several people together will be called up to the Torah to share an aliyah.

The last of these aliyot is traditionally reserved for the children, who also receive an aliyah on this day; all the children are gathered together and, together with the adult who received the honor of leading this beautiful rite, recite the traditional aliyah blessings. In many congregations – though not in Chabad ones – a tallit is spread over the heads of the children, and after the conclusion of the aliyah, someone pronounces Jacob’s blessing: “May the angel who redeemed me from all harm bless the youths, and may they be called by my name and the name of my fathers, Abraham and Isaac, and may they multiply abundantly like fish, in the midst of the land” (Genesis 48:16).

Until this point, the five aliyot read were from the first part of V’Zot Haberachah (Deuteronomy 33:1-26). The next two aliyot will conclude the Torah (Deuteronomy 33:27-44:12), and then (from the second Torah scroll) begin the new cycle of the reading from the beginning of Genesis. For we never, heaven forbid, finish the Torah; as soon as we conclude studying the Torah, G-d’s infinite wisdom, on one level, we immediately start again, this time to discover new and loftier interpretations.

The individuals honored with these two special and highly-sought aliyot are known as Chatan Torah (the “Torah Groom”) and Chatan Bereishit (the “Genesis Groom”). Because these aliyot are in such demand, they are often given to individuals who pledge to donate substantial sums of money to charity. (It is acceptable for these aliyot, too, to be shared by several individuals. A kohen or Levite can also be honored with either of these aliyot.)

A rather lengthy Aramaic poem is read in which the Chatan Torah is summoned to discharge his honor. The Torah is then concluded. With the final verse, everyone rises to their feet, and at its conclusion all proclaim, Chazak chazak vinitchazek! (“Be strong! Be strong! And let us strengthen one another!”)

The second Torah scroll is then placed on the reading table, and the Chatan Bereishit is summoned, also in poetic form. The Torah is read. When the reader reads the story of creation, he pauses before the conclusion of each of the six days of creation, for the congregation to chant, “There was evening and there was morning, the (number) day!” after which the reader reads those words from the Torah. The last three verses of the reading (Genesis 2:1-3), which discuss G-d’s resting on Shabbat, are also first chanted by the congregation, followed by the reader.

This is all followed by the day’s maftir and haftorah  (from the Book of Joshua). When the haftorah has been completed, it is customary to sing a hymn called Sisu v’simchu b’Simchat Torah (“Rejoice and exult on Simchat Torah!”). The Torahs are returned to the Ark, and the holiday Musaf service commences.

The day continues with the holiday meal, and then the afternoon services.

After the post-holiday evening services (this year, because Simchat Torah is on a Friday, this proclamation waits until after the evening services of Saturday night), it is a Chabad custom for the gabbai (beadle) to announce: “V’Yaakov halach lidarko!” (“And Jacob went on his way!”).

An inspiring month of holidays has reached its conclusion. Now it is time for Jacob to take all the spiritual treasures he has amassed in these few weeks, and “go on his way” back into the mundane world. Newly invigorated and spiritually recharged, he can be assured that in the coming year he will have the strength and fortitude to unflinchingly confront all the challenges that life presents, and
bring meaning and holiness to every area and situation that Divine providence will send in his direction.

Hakafot
The joyous climax of Simchat Torah is the dancing of hakafot (lit. “circles”), during which we dance and sing with the Torah scrolls. In the words of one Chassidic master, “On Simchat Torah the Torah scrolls wish to dance, so we become their feet.”

The hakafot are a memorable event, certainly one of the highlights on the Jewish calendar. It is a kid-friendly event; they should not be left at home! And you might want to pass on those uncomfortable formal dancing shoes for this participatory event; the comfortable shoes (though they should be elegant in honor of the holiday) will probably be more suitable for the occasion.

The Chassidic masters explain that the Torahs are rolled shut and wrapped in their velvet coverings for the duration of the hakafot celebrations. We don’t celebrate by sitting down and studying the Torah’s holy words. This is because the celebration encompasses every Jew, no matter his or her level of Torah scholarship or ability to comprehend and interpret the Torah’s words. The Torah is the heritage of every Jew – the day-old infant is as essentially connected to the Torah as the venerated sage – and every Jew is equally entitled to celebrate on this special day.

The hakafot are celebrated on the eve of Simchat Torah and then again the following morning. In Chassidic communities, hakafot are also conducted on the eve of Shemini Atzeret. The evening hakafot follow the amidah of the night’s festive prayers; the morning hakafot immediately precede the reading of the (final parshah of the) Torah.

Before the dancing commences, a set of seventeen verses, called Atah Ha’raita, is chanted three times. Traditionally, members of the congregation are honored with leading the congregation in the recitation of these verses; in synagogues where there are many more congregants than verses, it is common practice to “auction off” the honors, with the proceeds going to charity.

After the completion of the Atah Ha’raita, it is Chabad custom, as instituted by the Rebbe, to chant the following verse (Genesis 28:14): “And your seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and you shall gain strength westward and eastward and northward and southward; and through you shall be blessed all the families of the earth and through your seed.”

All the Torah scrolls are then removed from the Ark. According to the Zohar, the Torahs’ crowns should not be removed, but should remain on the scrolls throughout the dancing. Members of the congregation are honored with holding the scrolls (a Torah scroll should always be held over the right shoulder), and the leader leads the Torah procession around the bimah (synagogue reading table) while chanting brief prayers beseeching G-d for success and deliverance, with the congregation responding in kind. This is followed by singing and dancing, with the Torah scrolls usually handed from person to person, allowing all the opportunity to be the “Torah’s feet.” The children, too, take part in the merry-making, traditionally dancing around with special Simchat Torah flags, and are often treated to a bird’s eye view of the dancing while perched on their dancing father’s shoulders. In the spirit of merriment, it is not unusual to find some adults enjoying a l’chaim or two before and dur
ing the hakafot.

This procedure is followed seven times—seven hakafot. After each hakafah (singular term for hakafot), the synagogue’s gabbai (beadle) announces, “Ad kan hakafah ….” (“We have reached the conclusion of hakafah number x”), the Torahs are returned to the ark, and the next hakafah commences (usually with a different set of people holding the Torahs, and a different leader).

The procedure for the hakafot on Simchat Torah morning is slightly different. According to Chabad custom, three and a half circuits are made around the bimah, with the prayers for each hakafah being recited during the course of a half of a circuit. All the seven hakafot areperformed in succession with no interruption (the gabbai does not announce “Ad kan…”), and then are followed by one prolonged session of singing and dancing with the Torah.

Useful Shemini Atzeret & Simchat Torah links:
Simchat Torah Mega-Site

Global Simchat Torah Events Locator
Holiday Study & Insights
Simchat Torah Stories
Simchat Torah Kids’ Zone
Simchat Torah Audio Classes and Videos


The Ohmygossip.com staff wishes you and yours a joyous holiday!



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