בַּיּוֹם֙ הַשְּׁמִינִ֔י עֲצֶ֖רֶת תִּהְיֶ֣ה לָכֶ֑ם כׇּל־מְלֶ֥אכֶת עֲבֹדָ֖ה לֹ֥א תַעֲשֽׂוּ׃
On the eighth day you shall hold a solemn gathering; you shall not work at your occupations.
The lesser known holiday of Shemini Atzeret begins tonight at Sundown. This is celebrated on the Eighth day after Sukkot begins. However, this poses a problem:
In the diaspora, the festivals are celebrated for an additional day. Sukkot, the holiday we’re celebrating this week, is seven days in Israel, and eight days in the diaspora. That means that the extra eighth day of Sukkot in the diaspora is also the beginning of Shemini Atzeret, a completely different holiday! As a principle, it cannot be two holidays at the same time. Sukkot has to end for Shemini Atzeret to begin. How is this solved? The answer that we have lived with for generations is that it’s messy, but it’s both. This has become an increasingly important day in the Jewish calendar. We live in an age where we default to polarization. Headlines try to pull us to one “side” or another. Every situation is black or white. We have to box ourselves in as either left or right, religious or secular. No gray area.
A true expression of values is not like this, and tonight we see exactly why. We need the extra day of sukkot to emphasize that living in the diaspora is different from living in Israel. We need it to be Shemini Atzeret to emphasize the sanctity of the Torah calendar. No, we will not give up either of these values, so yes, it’s going to be messy, says the rabbis, but we’ll deal with the consequences. Integrity means we must sometimes exist, whether we want to or not, in the gray area. Tonight we not only acknowledge that fact, but we celebrate it.
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