Following the seven joyous days of Sukkot, we come to the happy holiday of Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah.
In the diaspora, the first day is known by its biblical name, Shemini Atzeret. We still dwell in the sukkah, but without a blessing. Yizkor, the memorial for the departed, is also said on this day.
The second day is known as Simchat Torah, during which we complete and immediately begin the annual Torah reading cycle. This joyous milestone is marked with dancing, traditionally following seven circuits known as hakafot, as the Torah scrolls are held aloft.
Both days are celebrated by nightly candle lighting, festive meals at both night and day, and desisting from work. 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.
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.
An inspiring month of holidays has reached its conclusion. Now it is time for all Jews to take all the spiritual treasures they have amassed in these few weeks, and “go on their way” back into the mundane world. Newly invigorated and spiritually recharged, they can be assured that in the coming year they will have the strength and fortitude to unflinchingly confront all the challenges that life presents, and bring meaning and holiness to every area and situation that divine providence will send in their direction.
Please be mindful that there are different levels of observance and ways of observing within the Jewish community.