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Parshas Pinchas

Shemini Atzeres- A Restraining Order
Rabbi Yosef Levinson

The Torah commands us to celebrate Sukkos for seven days. During that time, we dwell in a Sukka and take the arba Minim (four species: lulav - palm branch, esrog - citron, haddassim - myrtle and aravos - willow). Following on the heels of this festival comes the holiday of Shemini Atzeres, the Assembly of the Eighth Day. Although it is apparent from its laws and korbanos, offerings, that Shemini Atzeres is a Regel b'fnei atzmo, an independent festival (See Sukka 48a), nevertheless, the very name of the Yom Tov shows its connection to the seven preceding days.

Rashi explains that Atzeres also means to restrain. After celebrating seven days of Sukkos, Hashem asks us to hold ourselves back one extra day. Chazal offer the following mashal. A king invited his sons to a feast for seven days. When it came time for them to leave, the king said: "My sons, please stay with me one more day, your departure is hard for me." (Rashi Vayikra 23:36, Bamidbar 29:35). We can understand why Hashem makes this request after the festival of Sukkos, and not during the other Yomim Tovim. The Jewish holidays form a cycle. Pesach is the birth of our nation, followed by Shavuos, when we received the Torah. We now have a purpose and role to fulfil. The climax of the year is Sukkos, which is related to Techias Hameisim, the Afterlife (see Avoda Zara 2a-3b), when we accomplish our mission. In addition, Sukkos follows the Yomim Noraim, the Days of Awe. Hashem has forgiven us and the barrier of sin that separated us from Hakadosh Baruch Hu, The Holy One Blessed be He, has been removed. Therefore at the close of the festival of Sukkos, as we feel an intense affection for Hashem, and Him towards us, He asks us to delay our departure. Nevertheless, we need to understand how lingering for an extra day alleviates the suffering of leaving. We will depart the following day in any event. Will it not be just as difficult to separate then? Are we not just delaying the inevitable?

The Mirrer Mashgiach, Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz zt"l, explains the essence of this Yom Tov. After being close of Hashem for seven days, we must demonstrate that it is difficult to leave His presence. We make it a holiday, in effect saying "How can we leave Hashem's presence?"

Reb Yerucham compares this to what Chazal say regarding the Bnei Yisrael in the Midbar, Wilderness. The Bnei Yisrael were camped around Har Sinai for almost an entire year. When they broke camp after being commanded by Hashem, Chazal comment that they resembled a child running from school. Surely, Bnei Yisrael, did not run away from Har Sinai like excited children who have just heard the final bell of the school year. Rather, Reb Yerucham writes that the accusation against them was that they did not cry out "How can we leave the place that Hashem spoke directly to us and the place that we received the Torah?" Their departure did not disturb them as much as it should have. They did not call for a holiday, demonstrating that it was difficult to leave Har Sinai. More was expected from people of their stature. Therefore, the Sages compared them to a child running from school.

In answer to our question, we can now say that we misunderstood the purpose of extending the festival. We are not attempting to mitigate the pain of separation from Hashem. On the contrary, we are highlighting our pain. We are saying that it hurts us as well to leave the closeness of Hashem.

However, upon further thought, it can be argued that yes indeed, we are alleviating both our own suffering and the suffering of Hashem. Let us explain with a mashal of our own. There were two very close friends and one of them had to move overseas. The other friend was very sad and said that he could not bear to be separated from his dear friend. The first friend answered "We do not have to be separated from each other, come along with me."

On Yom Tov, we are close to Hashem. If, after the holidays, we return to our regular routines, then as the holiday draws to a close, we are distancing ourselves from Him. Hashem then bemoans: "Kasheh alai pridaschem." If however, we grew over the Yom Tov, absorbed its lessons, and became closer to Him, then the holiday has become part of us. Its teachings are ingrained in our beings. Then there is no departure, we take the festival home with us. This is the aim of Shemini Atzeres, we celebrate one more day. We reflect one final time on the lessons of the Yom Tov. By declaring "Kasheh alai pridaschem", we cannot depart from you, we demonstrate that we have internalized the teachings of the holiday. We are taking the Yom Tov with us and renewing our relationship with Hashem.

We can also understand why we celebrate Simchas Torah during Shemini Atzeres. Hashem says to His beloved children: "Kasheh alai pridaschem." Our response is to complete the Torah and rejoice over this accomplishment. Immediately afterwards, we begin again from Bereishis with the same enthusiasm and excitement that we had for completing the Torah. In effect, our rejoicing with the Torah is a declaration of our attachment to the Torah; wherever we may be, we will toil over the Torah, the Davar Hashem. In this way we are telling Hashem that He should not be sad over the end of the festival, for there will not be any separation.

Daf Hashavua Kollel Beth HaTalmud Copyright (c) 2002 by Rabbi Yosef Levinson

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