Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret: the External and the Internal

This Dvar Torah was taken from and was written by Rabbi Simon Jacobson.

Photo by Julia Caesar on Unsplash

...[A little over] One hundred years ago, the Rebbe Rashab [Rabbi Sholom Dovber, the fifth Rebbe of the Chabad Lubavitch Hassidic movement] began delivering a series of discourses...


the Rebbe laid out in the first part of this series of discourses two critical elements that allow us to understand and prepare for every situation, even the most difficult of circumstances.


We will focus on the discourse delivered… on Shemini Atzeret 1909 (the sixth discourse in this series).


In this dissertation the Rebbe Rashab explains the difference between the two holidays that flow one into the other, Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret.


The Torah instructs us that following the celebration of the seven days of Sukkot, "the eighth day shall be a time of Atzeret [translated as “retreat”] for you when you shall do no mundane work."


What is the significance of this eighth day [called Atzeret]?


And why does it follow the seven days of Sukkot?


Explains the Rebbe Rashab-- the secret power of the eighth day lays in the expression "the eighth day… shall be a time of retreat for you…."

,בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁמִינִי מִקְרָא-קֹדֶשׁ יִהְיֶה לָכֶם וְהִקְרַבְתֶּם אִשֶּׁה לַיהוָה
עֲצֶרֶת הִוא--כָּל-מְלֶאכֶת עֲבֹדָה, לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ

We each have two aspects to our lives: Our outer lives and our inner lives.


The things we do to affect the environment and the world around us. And the things we do within our own intimate selves.


The two consecutive holidays of Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret, explains the Rebbe, represent two primary prototypes of human initiative that each one of us has to be involved in - the first external and the second internal.


The purpose for which we were placed on Earth, why our souls were sent down to this material plane, is in order that we illuminate the moral and spiritual darkness of our physical world.


This is the primary focus of Sukkot, when we take on not just our own personal lives, but also the welfare of our communities and societies.


We dwell in Sukkot, made of vegetation of the world; we pray and commit to improve and refine the nations of the world; we dance and celebrate in public; we engage, connect and unite with others.


Following this seven-day immersion in the affairs of the world, we then arrive to the eighth day, Shemini Atzeret, when we enter into our intimate space, "a time of retreat" when we are alone with G-d…


"let them be for you alone, and no strangers with you" (Proverbs 5:17), and [on Shemini Atzeret] we are not involved in any "mundane work" of refining the world.


After refining the entire world during Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret is the single day when everything else is put aside and we are alone and intimate with the King, without any strangers present, for one last time...


No words can describe or minimize the harshness of the 20th century.


But as challenging as those harsh times were, the Rebbe Rashab's words must have gathered much confidence and power knowing that these holidays infuse us with both the ability to transcend all the world's troubles, to enter an "inner" sanctum reserved "for you" alone, as well as to illuminate the dark universe.


In our time as well, though we are blessed to face far smaller challenges, we too have much to learn from Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret.


Whether we are concerned with our uncertain economy and our future security, whether we are frightened by others fears and unknowns, whether we are anxious about our relationships and other personal ghosts...



[C]ome Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret and we are told that these days bring us an unprecedented gift from above. They enable us to realize that we are not victims of circumstances; we can and must illuminate the shadows around us.


And they allow us to access an inner place (which is dedicated "for you" alone) that can never be affected by the storms raging around us.


To take control of your life requires discerning a clear distinction between both parts of our beings.


First, the message of Sukkot: we must know that we were sent to this world, each of us charged with the mission to illuminate our surroundings. Darkness exists for a reason - so that you can dispel it with your unique light and energy.


Second, the message of Shemini Atzeret: There is a place reserved for "you alone." In the depths of your soul resides a private, intimate essence, where no intruder - physical, psychological or spiritual - can enter.


This is your inner sanctum where you and only you and G-d reside. Nothing can wound or even touch that connection.


A practical way to actualize these resources is to dedicate time, as the holidays wind down and we enter the new year, to focus on these two dimensions of your life.


Identify elements that reflect each one of the two; don't allow their boundaries to be blurred and spill into each other - know clearly when you are focusing on improving the people and the world around you and when you are entering into your intimate space.


And above all, designate time to nourish both these responsibilities...


And then - with this intimate and invincible power of Shemini Atzeret - "for you" alone - we have much reason to dance all night and day on Simchat Torah.

Shabbat Shalom