Sh’mini Atzeret–Simchat Torah–Parashat B’reishit

This week, your Congregation Shaarey Zedek family will be immersed in meaningful prayer; inspired by deep study; and uplifted with lasting joy. Will you please join us?!

As we conclude the Season of Judgment with the holidays that make up the end of Sukkot, we will experience the full cycle of the Jewish year in a four-day-period. With Hoshanah Rabbah, we will hear samples of nusach (liturgical chanting) from every aspect of the Jewish calendar. In addition, we will take willow branches and literally pound them as hard as we can against the chairs of the Chapel, hoping that just as the willow leaves fall away, so too will whatever remains of the “sins” we may have committed in this past year. Hoshanah Rabbah is not a Yom Tov (a formal holiday in which categories of “work” are forbidden, like on the first two days and last two days of Sukkot and Passover), but the Shacharit service is one not to be missed!

On Thursday, we will celebrate the Yom Tov (holiday) of Sh’mini Atzeret. The Torah calls Sh’mini Atzeret a separate holiday, but in many ways it is connected directly to Sukkot. The Talmud tells us not to pray for rain on Sukkot, because 1) we are living in the Sukkot and do not want the rain to dampen our holiday and 2) our ancestors were on pilgrimage from wherever they lived in Israel to Jerusalem for the holiday, and our rabbis did not want the pilgrims’ journey affected by inclement weather. So, as a result, on this “additional” day after Sukkot, Jews around the world will pray for an appropriate rainy season in the Land of Israel (not too much rain and not too little). Hazzan Propis–joined by the CSZ choir–will offer the very special and beautiful prayer for rain on our behalf, and it is truly something special to hear. Many of us ask what we can do to support Israel; I believe praying for rain for the Holy Land is a significant point of action that can help our brothers and sisters in Israel agriculturally, and thus economically as well. In addition, the Sh’mini Atzeret service includes the Yizkor Memorial Service, and it is appropriate for anyone who has lost a loved one, or anyone remembering those who died in the Shoah, to offer the prayers of remembrance.

Finally, on Thursday evening and Friday morning, we will celebrate another Yom Tov: Simchat Torah. This truly joyful holiday marks the conclusion of the reading of the Torah with the end of Deuteronomy, and then we begin again immediately reading once again the beginning of Genesis. Both the evening and morning services are marked by celebratory prayers, including hakafot: parades and dancing around the synagogue with the Torah scrolls. While our Thursday night celebrations tend to be dominated by children, it is appropriate for adults of all ages to join in the festivities as well. Moreover, our Friday morning celebrations will definitely have an adult focus, as we will feature once again the opportunity for a l’chayim for all who have an aliyah to the Torah–and on Simchat Torah, all who attend are offered an aliyah!

Of course, as if Hoshanah Rabbah, Sh’mini Atzeret and Simchat Torah were not enough wonderful opportunities for our community to come together, Shabbat morning will feature a bar mitzvah and a bat mitzvah! Hinei mah tov umana’im shevet achim gam yachad: Behold how good and how pleasant it is when brothers and sisters–friends–come together as one community.

This week, your Congregation Shaarey Zedek family will be immersed in meaningful prayer; inspired by deep study; and uplifted with lasting joy. Please plan to join us.

Rebecca, Caleb and Ayal join me in wishing you chag sameach followed by Shabbat shalom.

– Rabbi Aaron Starr

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