First came the blast of the Shofar or trumpet to assemble the people and to announce the coming of their atonement. Then the Day of Atonement came. At that point the people became cleansed of their sin and were able to fellowship with God. For God, it didn’t matter where the people were; in the city or in the field for harvest. He would meet them wherever they were. Therefore, during harvest, the Jews built booths (Sukkot) in their fields in order to fellowship with the Lord there. This was a time of great rejoicing, celebration, and fellowship. It was to last seven days. Now, that’s a party! By the way, the number seven represents completion. Sukkot therefore is a complete time of fellowship and rejoicing with the Lord.
But then, what does the Lord do? In Numbers 29:35 the Lord tells us that on the eighth day of gathering, we are not to work again but to hold back or tarry with the Lord. We are to have a solemn gathering (atzeret). This day is called Shemini Atzeret, the eighth day of gathering (October 8, 2012). Eight is the number of “dedication” in Hebrew (more of that in my Hanukkah teaching). Could it be that since we have heard the Shofar, since God provided the atonement, and since we have celebrated joyously for a week, that we are now to dedicate ourselves to the Lord?
Could it be that God so jealously desires the fellowship of His people that He doesn’t want to let us go? In Zechariah 8:2 the Lord says “I am exceedingly jealous for Zion. . .” Does He so jealously desires our fellowship that He is unwilling to let us go and begs us to stay with Him yet another day? The answer is a resounding “yes.” His people (in the Old Testament) will not gather again for six months (Passover). Hence, he pleads “stay longer, be with me, let us worship together.” God will miss the gathering of His people, the music, the festivities, the unity.
Shemini Atzeret is a separate holiday. The symbols and rituals of Sukkot are not observed. A prayer for rain is recited because the rainy season is coming. There is candle lighting and a prayer over the wine (Kiddush) is said. In Israel, this eighth day is combined with a non-biblical holiday, Simchat Torah (rejoicing over the Torah). In the Diaspora, Simchat Torah becomes the ninth day of celebration. Nine, in Hebrew, is three (perfection) times three (perfection). Another subject for another time, but could it be that God wants to perfect us until we become like Him? You know that answer!
For the Jewish people, perfection comes in the Torah. Although it is a non-biblical holiday, Simchat Torah marks the completion of the cycle of the Torah readings in the synagogue. The rejoicing over the Torah makes a statement. Whatever the law denies, whatever suffering God’s people have undergone for upholding His law, the covenant as written in the Torah, affirms and enriches life. On this eighth or ninth day, the Torah is taken out of the Ark, and delight in His law is observed with great rejoicing, dancing, and singing. It is customary on this day for the Jewish people to go outside and dance around the Torah announcing their solidarity with world Jewry and declare “Am Yisrael Chai,” the people Israel lives, and to declare “Od Aveeynu Chai,” our Heavenly Father lives.
One further note of reflection, Shemini Atzeret is the eighth day—that is the day after seven. Seven being a perfect number in Judaism, signifies a complete unit of time. Thus, the eighth day is the day after time. It is not just the promise of redemption but the actual moment of it. God said, “Remain with me (atzeret) an extra day,” a time beyond time. Shemini Atzeret is a taste of the Messianic Age, a time when we are one with God. This all climaxes with Simchat Torah. Instead of circling around the Torah scrolls (as is done on Sukkot), the Jewish people circle with the Torah scrolls. We take the connecting link between us and God (His Word), our marriage contract, and circle around with the One who fulfills everything. What greater joy is there than to know we are one with God.