Shmini Atzeres/Simchas Toirah: Let’s all get along please!
Shoin: it’s almost time to dance the hakofis while of course being most careful not to hold hands with anyone you can’t stand. And as we approach the Yom Tov of Shmini Atzeres (SA), mir darfin tzu gidenkin (it’s important to remember) that we have a minhag avoisaynu beyodanu (a custom passed down thru the generations) to discuss, argue, and even fight about one particular topic: is Shmini Atzeres the 8th day of Sukkis or is it a standalone holiday? Does shmini mean eight as its name seems to imply? If yes, maybe it’s not Sukkis! Shoin, fartig ge-endicked de mayseh (period, end of story). Moreover, we all know that Sukkis is but seven days. Or, can we klerr (posit) that even though it’s taka the 8th day, it’s still somehow Sukkis and we must follow the Sukkis rules. Le’my nafka mino (what’s the difference?) Either way, it’s Yom Tov, either way we’re back in Shul. And either way, just in case you’re still hungry or haven’t gained enough weight in the first three days, we get to have six more helpings of challah and kugil and of course for those who enjoy the l’echaim, plenty of scotch and other fine spirits: Gevald (OMG)!!
Here in golus (the Diaspora) we begin the Yoim Tov with Shmini Atzeres and of course we argue and discuss with each other as to what it is. Is it a separate holiday or is it Sukkis? Do we eat in the Sukkah or indoors? As expected, the Chag Somayach and the Sukkis Dovid Hanoifeles (both mythical figures) exploded over this issue in a famous machloikes (discussion where people argue loudly and with emotion.) The Chag Somayach stated emphatically that of course it’s Sukkis, while the Sukkis Dovid Hanoifeles says farkert (opposite.) Do we accept invitations if our minhag (custom) is to eat outdoors but your host holds farkert? The Goan states that if a person whose minhag it is to eat in the house invites a family for a meal whose minhag is eat in the sukkah and causes chas v’sholom (heaven forbid) that person to be nichshol (violate the law)- well- that person deserves malkus (lashes) – perhaps with the hoishanis. Some say that he has to immediately present himself at a club specializing in this technique, if you chap. Others say, that he can, b’shas hadchak (if the club is closed,) allow his 5th grade yeshiva Rebbe, or in case of an emergency, even his Pirchei or NCSY leader to administer them. Is it or isn’t it sukkois?
What’s the maskona (conclusion?) Where do we eat our meals both on Wednesday night and again on Thursday? And every year, though it’s been hashed out hundreds of times and over thousands of years, the same people ask the same questions and argue their position as if they’ve discovered some new concept in halocho. These last two days are mired in controversy; a subject the Oisvorfer knows only too well, nebech. This is the Yom Tov where everything we do seems to be the subject of much debate and varying customs. On Simchas Toirah we duchin during shachris, we do a criss-cross hagba, we make Kiddush before musiff, we make another following and a few in between. On this day we say thank you to those roped into being honored with sponsoring the shul kiddish; we call them chasanim.
As we prepare for the most joyous of days, and what could be more joyous than the completion of yet another cycle of the heylige Toirah, a time we call זמן שמחתנו, “time of our happiness”, the Oisvorfer began to klerr more about this strange holiday which also adds a touch of Yoim Kippur into the mix.
According to most opinions, the Shmini Atzeres Yom Tov meals must be eaten in the Sukkah but we don’t make the brocho of layshaiv b’sukkah. Some say that indeed we must eat in the Sukkah but we may be lenient and use a plastic tablecloth and paper dishes. Some are even more lenient and suggest that the eishes chayil may wear a hat instead of a full sheitel though others argue that the hat must have hair already attached. Others add that the eishes chayil may wear her pundula (house-robe) in the Succah but only on the last day. Others only allow this leniency if all the children of marriageable age are already married. Some say, that if the kids are engaged or at least dating seriously, this heter (leniency) can also be relied on. Others say that under no conditions may one use plastic if the Succah has a window and a neighbor can see in, even from afar. Some have the custom to be lenient on Shmini Atzeres and eat some or all of the Yoim Tov meals in the house. Is this clear or what? One thing is zicher: Moishe Rabaynu is laughing uncontrollably ober not to worry: Moshiach is coming one day soon, maybe taka on the eighth day, ver veyst.
On the other hand: The Toirah says “You shall dwell in booths for seven days, every citizen of Israel shall dwell in booths —–“ (Leviticus 23:42-43). The last the Oisvorfer counted, seven was still seven; when did seven become eight? Furthermore, the heylige Gemorah (Rosh Hashono 4b) mentions that Shmini Atzeres is a separate holiday unto itself in respect to six specific halachic issues. Moreover, the heylige Gemorah (Taanis 20b-31a) declares, “The eighth day is a festival in its own right.” There is of course a machloikes amongst the commentaries regarding what those six issues are, what else is new?
Ok chevra- let’s clarify again. Halt kup (pay attention): here are the differences between Succois and Shmini Atzeres. First: there is no more shokeling of the lulav and esrog and as far as the Oisvorfer is concerned, if one cannot grab and caress his esrog and shokel the lulav, well, it’s just not Sukkis. Ober argues the Oichaze B’yad that whenever we do grab and caresses, it’s taka a Yom Tov, if you chap, especially if a shokel is included somewhere. Second: although some of us have our meals and recite Kiddush in the Sukkah we no longer say the brocho to dwell in it. Nu, you tell me: if one cannot make a brocho of leshev b’sukkah, is it still Sukkis? And if it’s not Sukkis, then one can eat, sleep, shokel, grab and caress indoors. Gishmak mamish!
And while we’re arguing about whether or not we do or don’t eat, make a brocho or not and other such important matters, over in the holy land, they’re having an entirely different sort of argument: On street corners of Yirushalayim and in the lobbies of all the major hotels, stuffed like kishka (derma) with American and other tourists, – they’re getting into fisticuffs about whether the Americans and Europeans need to hold one or two days of Yoim Tov- oy vey!
The heylige Oisvorfer never quite understood this machloikes either and as he sees it, it’s quite a simple issue. One can pick and choose and there are plenty of Rabbis, young and old, dead and alive, who agree with any position you pick. Says the Oisvorfer: You’re on safe ground if you hold one or two days- you’re an apikores mamish of the highest order if you elect to hold either zero or three days. Case closed! In any event- this Yoim Tov- whether you hold seven or eight days and whether you hold one or two days over in the holy land, is all about machloikes and likely money. If you hold one day in Israel, you can of course check out one day earlier and come home with a few shekels in your pocket so that you can pay the mortgage on your house. On the other hand, if you check out and leave Israel one day early, you’ll get home just in time to keep the second day here- yikes! If you hold eight days here, you have to endure another 3 day yom tov this year, a scrappy beard and your shviger (mother-in-law) in the house for yet another three days- gevald!! Is it any wonder that we orthodox are a confused bunch?
Is this what Moishe Rabaynu had in mind? Were these his instructions after spending 40 days alone with the RBSO? Or was he suffering from heatstroke, exhaustion, sunburn and a parched throat? Ver veyst?
A gitten Yom Tov!