United Hebrew Congregation, 13788 Conway Road, St. Louis, MO 63141 | 314-469-0700

October 9, 2020 – Shmini Atzeret

Shabbat Message from Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg

Tonight, we celebrate Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah. Some of you may be thinking, “wait these are two separate holidays – how are we celebrating them together?” You are correct, they are two separate and distinct holidays – in Israel they are celebrated on the same day (the 8th day of Sukkot) and in the diaspora they are celebrated separately (the 8th and 9th days of Sukkot) – but wait there are only 7 days of Sukkot??!!   This is correct, too! The Torah tells us that Sukkot is celebrated for 7 days and on the 8th day it is Shemini Atzeret. The rabbis of the Talmud argue over whether Shemini Atzeret is it’s own holiday or in fact the 8th day of Sukkot (there isn’t agreement, and though many may use their sukkah, they do not say the blessings for sukkah). For those in the diaspora (outside of Israel) a 9th day would have been added due to the addition of yom tov sheni (an additional day to ensure the holyday was celebrated at the right time). I hope I haven’t lost you. Simchat Torah, is a holiday that is not mentioned at all in the Torah or even the Talmud, it is unique in this way. It is a festival that began in the 5th or 6th century in Babylon. The Babylonian Jewish community had the custom (now we all do it) to divide the Torah into fifty-four portions to be read over the course of a year. It was their custom, on the 2th day of Shemini Atzeret (added 2th day of a holiday) to read the last portion of the Torah and then to celebrate the completion of the reading of the Torah. Now you know a little about both holidays. The most important aspect of both holidays is that they are to be celebrated with simcha – joy!

The Torah tells us that Shemini Atzeret (and Sukkot) are to be celebrated with joy, especially as we consider our connection to the Land of Israel and the bounty that God provides. But what of Simchat Torah? Why such joy for a holiday that came to be when we were in exile, after we had lost almost everything – our independence, our land, our Temple?  Simply put – Simchat Torah celebrates the one thing that we’ve never lost, the one thing that we have carried with us, sometimes physically and sometimes in our hearts, no matter where we’ve been or what has happened to us, Torah. Torah has been our lifeline, our connection to God and our connection to one another. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks teaches, ““It carried those who carried it” (Sotah 35a). More than the Jewish people preserved the Torah, the Torah preserved the Jewish people.”

Tonight, we begin the final celebrations of our 2020 Jewish holyday season, and what a truly unique season this has been. I know it hasn’t been easy, and yet, how much Torah have we lived, how many beautiful blessings and perhaps even new traditions have we experienced?   In so many ways, just as our ancestors who created Simchat Torah in exile, we, too, have been creative, finding new and different ways to experience Torah! This year, we couldn’t rely on the “temple” service as we always have, instead, each of us had to be creative, as we found ways to connect to God, to connect to our holy days, and to connect to the prayers that we are so used to saying in community. As we celebrate Simchat Torah, we continue to be creative; how fitting it is that tonight we celebrate our 2020 Confirmation class and their commitment to Judaism – to Torah – on Simchat Torah – the celebration our ancestors created as they recognized the centrality of Torah in their lives.

If you cannot be with us in person to participate in our service and our car hakafah, I hope that you will join in from home – dancing, celebrating, and sharing in the simcha, the joy of Torah and of our people’s resilience in every generation!

Shabbat Shalom!


When the Holidays Have Ended:
A Blessing for the Return to Every Day Life

By Devon Spier

After the holidays have ended,
What is there to gaze upon?
And what is there to praise?

When the last word is uttered
And the last song is sung
Are we to be numbed by the ordinary?
Or open to something extraordinary, still?

As we prepare to take in the rounds of our joy,
Let us remember the circles of our days.
And that every “Beginning”
And “During”
Contains the Power
And the Glory
And the Journey
To return us to the greatest source we have been given:
The blessed possibility of bring alive.