For seven days present food offerings to the LORD, and on the eighth day hold a sacred assembly and present a food offering to the LORD. It is the closing special assembly; do no regular work. — Leviticus 23:36
Today Sukkot ends, and at sundown, my family and I will mark the observance of Shemini Atzeret, which along with Simchat Torah, is a celebration of the completion of the annual Torah readings and the immediate beginning of the new year of Torah readings. It also provides a transition from the spiritual intensity of our season of celebrations back to our normal routines.
Here in Israel, the High Holy Days season is truly magical. In the weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah, we can feel the excitement in the air as everyone prepares for the Jewish New Year. On the holiday itself, we are spiritually invigorated by the soulful synagogue services, and we welcome in the year with festive holiday meals.
Then, the country turns more solemn as we move closer toward Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. On that most holy day, the country is quiet and hardly any cars are in the streets as most Israelis spend the day in synagogue. After that, the atmosphere turns joyful once more as we near the weeklong holiday of Sukkot. Holiday-themed festivals take place all over the country, and we enjoy plenty of quality time with family and friends inside our sukkah just outside our home.
It is always a bit sad when the holidays draw to a close. And according to the Jewish sages, it is a bit sad for God, too. The purpose of the “eighth day” that we are instructed to observe as “a sacred assembly” is to spend one more day with God before we return to our daily lives.
The Jewish sages explained this holiday with the following analogy: “There was once a king who invited his children for a banquet of several days. When it came time for them to go, he said to them: ‘My children, stay with me one more day — your parting is difficult for me…’”
God is the King, and we are His children. However, notice that it says, “YOUR parting is difficult…” The sages explained that this is because we depart from God, but God never leaves us.
Our leaving the presence of God is necessary. We need to go back to real life where we will naturally encounter more distance from God when compared to the spiritual intensity of the holiday season. However, we take this final day to recognize that while we are about to separate from God, we determine how far we will go and how close to God we will remain.
As we go about our daily lives, we always have the choice to keep as close as possible to God. He is always with us, but it’s up to us to be aware of His presence and to connect with Him in everything we do, all year round.
Take moments throughout the day to connect with God through meaningful activities such as prayer, Bible study, and acts of kindness.