The sages tell us that the gates of heaven do not fully close at the conclusion of Yom Kippur. Some say we have until Hoshana Rabbah (this Friday) to wish each other a “g’mar tov” (a “good finish”), some say Shmini Atzeret (Saturday) and some even say you have until Chanukah! But any way you slice it, this weekend marks the end of the fall holiday season: Sukkot officially ends on Friday and is followed by the 2-day festival of Shmini Atzeret/Simchat Torah, bringing the holidays to an end.
From a liturgical standpoint, the rabbis really wanted to end on a high note. The morning service for Hoshana Rabbah (this Friday at 8am) is remarkable and unique. For one thing, it incorporates musical liturgy from the entire annual cycle – you’ll hear melodies and modes from the daily liturgy, Shabbat, the Three Festivals, and the High Holidays. This liturgical hodge-podge evokes the entire sacred calendar in one service, communicating the message that Sukkot, and in particular this last day of Sukkot, is a grand, sacred culmination of this most holy season. What’s more, Hoshana Rabbah (which means the Great Hoshana) also contains one of the most meditative, mantric offerings of our liturgy. Each day of Sukkot, we recite a single Hoshana – a liturgical litany with the constant refrain of Hosha-na/Redeem us! On Hoshana Rabbah, we recite not one, but seven Hoshanot, driving home one last time our pleas for a year of goodness and bounty and God’s power to fulfill those requests and redeem us.
On Friday night, we begin another holiday, Shmini Atzeret, which is at once a separate holiday and (as its name, the Eighth Day of Assembly, suggests), a conclusion to the seven-day festival of Sukkot. In the diaspora, this holiday gets stretched over two days (Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah). On Shabbat morning, in addition to the regular festival liturgy, we will say Yizkor and recite T’fillat Geshem, the beautiful prayer for rain, as well as reading excerpts from Megillat Kohelet/the Book of Ecclesiastes (see the link below for the text). It’s a beautiful service and I hope you’ll join us for it.
And finally, on Saturday night and Sunday, we celebrate Simchat Torah. With the pandemic, this celebration has posed particular challenges. Under normal circumstances, we would be joyously singing and dancing with the Torah in the Grand Ballroom, unrolling the Torah scroll for our annual Tour of the Torah, and eating candy apples. This year, as with so many things, we will have to do it a little differently. We will still do hakafot, but we will do them on Zoom… and you’ll have to supply your own candy apples (and maybe a little schnapps?). I’m hoping that we can still capture some of the joy of that holiday, so come expecting to sing and be merry!
It has been a most remarkable holiday season. There is no such thing as a “normal” year, but by any standard, this year has been off the charts. My takeaway, as we begin to wrap things up, is that EMJC is remarkably strong. Our community has remained cohesive, adapted to new technologies, and come together consistently for services, classes, meetings, and festivities. As we prepare to read the very last parasha in the Torah this weekend, I am reminded of the fact that when a sofer/scribe writes a Torah scroll, he or she is required to ensure that the final word of the Torah (Yisrael!) appear in the middle of the last line. This is meant to suggest that even though we have come to the end, we are always in the middle – always ready to keep going. That is our community. Many of the things that we have been doing since the founding of the synagogue in 1924 have come to an end – or at least to a halt; and yet we continue on, because our commitment, our sense of community, and our support for one another and for the Center are always “in the middle,” ready to carry on, ready for whatever’s next.
It has been an honor to serve EMJC though this challenging time. We have a great thing going.
Chag same’ach, and G’mar tov!
Rabbi Sam Levine
Here’s the link to the passages that we’ll be reading from Kohelet/Ecclesiastes on Shabbat. Feel free to print it up ahead of time or download and follow on your computer