How to Celebrate Shemini Atzeret & Simchat Torah - The Jewish Voice
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How to Celebrate Shemini Atzeret & Simchat Torah

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Prayers for rain, Yizkor, farewell to the sukkah, and . . . dancing!

By: Chabad.org

In 2022, Shemini Atzeret begins before sundown on Oct. 16. Simchat Torah begins at nightfall on Oct. 17 and ends the following night. See this link for exact times.

The two days of the holiday of Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah (in Israel, only one day1) constitute a major holiday (yom tov), 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 kiddush. We don’t go to work, drive, write, or switch on or off electric devices. We are permitted to cook (using a pre-existing flame) and to carry outdoors (except on Shabbat).

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

All women and girls (or if there is no adult 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:

  1. Ba-ruch a-tah Ado-nai E-lo-hei-nu me-lech ha-olam asher ki-deshanu be-mitzvo-tav ve-tzi-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.

  1. Ba-ruch a-tah Ado-nai E-lo-hei-nu me-lech ha-olam she-heche-ya-nu ve-ki-ye-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.

Morning Services

The Shemini Atzeret morning prayers follow the basic order of all holiday morning services: holiday Amidah, Hallel, and special holiday Torah reading.

Like Yom Kippur and the final days of Passover and Shavuot, Yizkor (a prayer supplicating G‑d to remember the souls of the departed) is recited by those who have a deceased parent.

Yizkor text

Before the start of the Musaf Amidah, the gabbai (beadle) announces aloud: “Mashiv haruach umorid hageshem” (“He causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall”). From this prayer forward, 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 contain 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. At the end of the repitition, the kohanim (priests) administer the Priestly Blessing

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, which begins at nightfall, must wait until that time.

How to Celebrate Simchat Torah

In 2022, Simchat Torah (which comes on the heels Shemini Atzeret) begins at nightfall on Oct. 17 and ends the following night.

The highlight of this holiday (which means “The Joy of the Torah”) is the hakafot, held on both the eve and the morning of Simchat Torah, in which we march and dance with the Torah scrolls around the reading table in the synagogue. (In many synagogues, hakafot are conducted also on the eve of Shemini Atzeret.)

Holiday Candles

Note: If Simchat Torah falls on a Saturday night, before lighting the holiday candles, or before doing any work that is forbidden on Shabbat, one should say, “Baruch hamavdil bein kodesh l’kodesh,” “Blessed is He who separates between [the] holiness [of Shabbat] and [the] holiness [of the holiday].” (This is unless one has already prayed the evening prayers, which includes a passage with the same theme.)

After dark, all women and girls (or if there is no adult 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. The candles should be lit from an existing flame (such as a pilot flame or a yahrtzeit candle).

After lighting, recite the following two blessings1:

Ba-ruch a-tah Ado-nai E-lo-hei-nu me-lech ha-olam asher ki-deshanu be-mitzvo-tav vi-tzi-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-ye-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.

Candles are kindled on most Jewish holidays of Biblical origin. They are: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, Passover (first and last days), and Shavuot. (Holiday candles are not lit on Chanukah or Purim.)

Simchat Torah Hakafot Procedure

The joyous climax of Simchat Torah is the dancing of hakafot (lit. “circles”), during which we dance and sing with the Torah scrolls.1 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.

(Chabad.org)

 

FOOTNOTES

  1. This guide for Shemini Atzeret is focused on those who live in the Diaspora. In Israel, where Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are compacted into one day, all the practices of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are observed on the same day.
  2. Though it is usually permitted to usher in Shabbat or a holiday early, before nightfall (see this link for more on this topic), on the eve of Shemini Atzeret one should not start the meal until after nightfall (otherwise there is confusion whether it is still Sukkot, or already Shemini Atzeret). In the event that one must begin the meal before nightfall, the leishev basukkah blessing should not be recited.
  3. Though some will also dip the challah in salt at a later time during the meal.

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