The Holiday that was Left Out

August 5, 2018 at 1:15 AM , , ,

שִׁבְעַת יָמִים תָּחֹג לַה’ אֱלֹקֶיךָ …וְהָיִיתָ אַךְ שָׂמֵחַ – דברים טז, טו

“….Seven days you shall celebrate the Festival to G-d, your G-d …and you will be only happy….”(Devarim 16:15) You will be only happy: According to its Talmudic interpretation, from here was learned that the evenings of the last day of the Festival are included in the obligation of rejoicing. –Rashi

The seven days of the festival of Sukkos are followed by Shemini Atzeres (and Simchas Torah). Regarding the seven days of Sukkos, the Torah explicitly commands us to be additionally joyous, even more so than all other festivals. But what of Shemini Atzeres, the eighth day of the holiday? According to the Talmud, the words “you will be only happy” are extra, and thereby the Torah includes the eighth day in the obligation of additional rejoicing.

The methodology of this Talmudic teaching is questioned by the commentaries. For as a general rule (Yerushalmi, Berachos 9:7), when a law is taught in the Torah using the word אך, which means “only” or “but”, this comes to denote an exclusion from the said law, and not to expand the law’s application! How then are the words “והיית אך שמח” interpreted as including the eighth day in the obligation of additional rejoicing?

Interestingly, we find that it is specifically the last days of the holiday, Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah, that are traditionally celebrated with even greater joy than all the other days of Sukkos. This is evident in the custom of Hakafos, to dance with the Sifrei Torah, a custom which is unparalleled in any other holiday. Perhaps this extraordinary joy and celebration finds its roots, or is alluded to, in the unique method of interpretation through which Shemini Atzeres is included in the commandment of additional joy.

Regarding all other holidays, the Halacha (Orach Chaim 529) mandates that Beis Din appoint officers to ensure that the drinking and festivities should not get out of control (since this can lead to inappropriate behavior.) This means that the joy of Sukkos too, has its limits.

The Torah therefore “includes” Shemini Atzeres in the commandment of being additionally joyous with the words והיית אך שמח, a term of exclusion, to exclude Shemini Atzeres from a limited joy. Rather, the joy and celebration on Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah are truly boundless!


—Sefer Hasichos 5749 vol. 2, pp. 661-662

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