Shemini Atzeret is a separate holiday, and therefore we no longer sit in the Sukkah. In English, we know this holiday as the Eighth Day Assembly. You can read about this in Leviticus 23:36, 39. We read that on this day we should have a holy convocation, we should
not do any work (it is a Yom Tov) and that it is a holy assembly.
Within Israel, we combine Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah into a one day celebration. In the Diaspora (outside of Israel), it is a two day holiday. The first day, Shemini Atzeret, is celebrated and then the second day, Simchat Torah, is celebrated. Simchat Torah is not a
Biblical holiday. Simchat Torah ends and begins the annual Torah reading cycle.
Outside of Israel, the Torah reading for Shemini Atzeret is Deut. 14:22-16:17. On Simchat Torah, they read V’Zot HaBracha and Genesis 1:1-2:3. In Israel, we read on Shemini Atzeret what is read outside of Israel on Simchat Torah.
“It Is God’s Instructions To His People That Will Allow Us To Pursue His Will and Find Blessings”
Parashat V’Zot HaBracha is unique because even though it is one of the weekly Torah Portions, it is read on Shemini Atzeret in Israel, and on the holiday called Simchat Torah for those outside of Israel. The other Torah Portions are read always on the seventh
day of the week (Shabbat).
The phrase “V’Zot HaBracha” literally means “and this is the blessing.” When looking at the first verse of this Torah portion, one learns that Moses, who made this blessing, did so before his death. This means that although his death was imminent, he was not thinking about himself, but rather how to bless others. What was this blessing that Moses wanted to place upon the Children of Israel? The answer to this question is found in verse four. In this verse, Moses speaks about the Torah which God through Moses commanded us.
The phrase “commanded us” should be understood as “for us”. God needs nothing. God is eternally perfect and He cannot change. Therefore, whatever He commands, it is not for His benefit, but for our benefit.
In the same fourth verse, there is an important word which relates to a heritage. The message of the verse is this: It is only through the Torah, i.e. God’s instructions to His people, that a Kingdom heritage can be demonstrated by His people. This verse concludes with the phrase “the congregation of Jacob.” There are two primary words which are translated “congregation” and these two words emphasize different principles. One word for congregation relates to the word “testimony or witness.”
However, in this verse, it is the second word that appears, which relates to “an assembly of people who come together for a common purpose.”
It is only through the instructions of God that a congregation can be brought into a common heritage. In other words, it is the truth of God’s instructions that will unite a diverse people and bind them together to do His will.
The verse ends with the phrase “the congregation of Jacob.” Despite what is frequently said, God’s instruction to His people does not make them into the congregation of a deceiver. The name “Yaacov” is derived from the Hebrew verb which means “to follow after or pursue.” The name Jacob is in the future tense, which means it is God’s instructions to His people that will allow us to pursue His will and find blessings.
Dr. Baruch Korman – October 6th, 2023