OU Torah Insights
Shmini Atzeret - Simchat Torah
October 21, 2000
Let's begin with a description of some of the differences between Chutz LaAretz (CHU"L) and Eretz Yisrael (EY) when it comes to
Shmini Atzeret and Simchat
In CHU"L (areas outside of Israel), the holiday is two days whereas is in EY (Israel) it is one day with two different names. This year, 5761, the holidays fall out on Shabbat and Sunday, October 21-22 in CHU"L; the holiday is only on Shabbat in EY. In Israel, the day is referred to in
davening as Shmini Atzeret, but is called Simchat Torah. Everything that is done on the two days in CHU"L is combined into the one day in EY (with exception). The recital of T'filat Geshem,
Yizkor, Hakafot, repetition of V'ZOT HABRACHA until everyone receives an aliya, and the appointment of Chatan Torah and Chatan B'reishit are all part of the one-day observance of Simchat Torah in EY. Perhaps the hardest adjustment for a religious oleh to make when arriving in EY is adjusting to the mixed moods and emotions that the different components of the day evoke.
Kohelet (which is usually read on Shabbat Chol HaMoed) moves to Yom Tov when there is no Shabbat Chol HaMoed (as is the case this year). In CHU"L, Kohelet is read on Shmini Atzeret. In EY, it is read on the first day of Sukkot.
Simchat Torah never falls on Shabbat in CHU"L, however, in EY, it is possible (in fact, this is the case this year). That means that instead of the 5 portions of V'ZOT HABRACHA being repeated for "aliyot-for-all," there are 7 portions that are repeated. Another difference is that on the Shabbat in question, the Torah reading at Mincha in CHU"L is VZOT HABRACHA, whereas in EY, B'REISHIT is read.
The Torah reading of Shmini Atzeret in CHU"L comes from the end of Parshat R'EI. It is also the Torah reading of the eighth day of
Pesach and the second day of Shavuot. None of those days "exist" in EY, so that Torah portion is never read -- except for Shabbat Parshat R'EI. This is significant because the theme of this reading is the three festivals in their agricultural context. Reading this portion on each of the three festivals serves as a reminder that the holidays have a connection to the Land of Israel, in addition to a religious and historic aspect. This reminder is specifically for
Another difference between EY and CH"L is the answer to the famous riddle that asks when we read the Torah THREE times in one day? The CHU"L answer is Shabbat Shmini Atzeret. We read the Torah in the morning and afternoon and then again that night when Simchat Torah begins. While this is not considered a halachic day, it does have the readings three times between morning and evening. In EY, the Torah is read three times on Simchat Torah -- Friday night, Shabbat morning and Shabbat afternoon.
The evening following Simchat Torah in EY (which is Leil Simchat Torah in CHU"L), there are HAKAFOT SH'NIYOT all over the country. This is a revival of an old custom attributed to the ARI z"l, where the Jews of EY join in solidarity with their brethren in CH"L. The Simchat Torah of EY is officially over, but on the same evening that it is celebrated by Jews all over the world, the Jews of EY go out into the streets with their Sifrei Torah to sing and dance (to the accompaniment of live music). Some HAKAFOT SH'NIYOT can have as many as thousands of people in attendance. In many places, there is a special mixing of cultures, where each HAKAFA is dedicated to a different segment of the population - Moroccan, Yemenite, Tunisian, Ashkenazi, Persian, etc.
WATER, WATER, EVERYWHERE...
The Mishna in Rosh HaShana says that the world is judged four times during the year. Two of these are: on
Rosh Hashana, all human beings pass before G-d in judgment; on Chag
(Sukkot) we are judged for water.
Mishna Sukka states that we are to wait until Shmini Atzeret before we acknowledge G-d as the rainmaker. This was the practical suggestion of Rabbi Yehoshua, based on the fact that rain during Sukkot is not considered a blessing. However, even though we do not mention "rain" in our davening until after Sukkot, we still focus on water when we perform the mitzvah of NISUCH HAMAYIM -- libation of water on the Mizbei'ach on each of the seven days of the chag. Each of the
Four Species is also associated with water, as is the striking of the ground with the aravot on
Hoshana Rabba. Until we vocalize the prayer for rain in T'filat Geshem and Mashiv HaRu'ach U'Morid HaGashem on Shmini Atzeret, the mitzvot and minhagim serve as unspoken prayers to G-d for beneficial and abundant rain in the coming year.
There is a well-known Talmudic dictum -- EIN MAYIM ELA TORAH - figuratively, water is Torah and Torah is water. They are analogous. What water means to life in a physical sense, Torah means to our spiritual life.
We culminate the holiday with the celebration of our spiritual water, Torah. "Let all who are thirsty, go to the water." In other words, let all those whose souls are thirsty, go to Torah.
Adapted from Torah
Written by Phil Chernofsky, Director of Education OU/NCSY Center in