Stay another day is a chant we hear from our children when a magical, wonderful vacation comes to an end. We don’t want to leave, they exclaim. This is so beautiful; we want to stay another day.
We all have that experience when a wonderful vacation comes to an end. It might be a skiing trip to the Alps, a cruise on the Riviera, or a resort in the Caribbean, no matter how enchanting and delightful the holiday might be, the last day eventually arrives. We all feel the emotional tug that pulls at our heartstrings to stay just another day or even an hour. Alas, the return flights have been booked, the kids must return to school, and our work back home is piling up. We entertain the romantic notion of staying but give in to the burgeoning pull of reality.
Nevertheless, occasionally, we give in to this romantic notion and make new arrangements. Imagine the thrill on your children’s faces when you inform then that mom and dad decided to rearrange everything and stay another day. We all know that we can only stave off reality for so long and that to stay another day will cost us dearly, but the thrill of letting it all fade and holding on to the magic for just another day, is too powerful to ignore. So, we put everything on pause and stay another day.
There is a Jewish holiday that is just like that. It results (not from children begging for it, but) from G-d making that very request of the Jewish people.
Sukkot is a wonderful holiday. It has so many wonderful rituals, so much celebration, and so much joy. It is like an escape from reality and an entry into a magical paradise from which we never want to emerge. So, it comes as no surprise that when the seven days were up, G-d added another day called atzeret, which means to pause. G-d called upon the Jews not to depart; to stay another day. “It is difficult for me to see you depart,” said G-d. “Come let us celebrate, you and I.” We spent seven days and it has been wonderful. We accomplished so much and enjoyed it so much, but I am not quite ready to see you go. Please, stay with me for one more day.
And what do you think we did? We acquiesced. We agreed to stay another day. Thus, we have a holiday called atzeret. A day to pause before the end of a holiday to take it all in, to linger, to hold on to the beauty and magic of the moment for just a little longer.
It makes sense to stay another day at the end of a holiday, but it doesn’t make much sense to call an entire holiday atzeret. When you add to the end of a holiday, you stay another day, but when you make plans for a holiday, it is not another day, it is the beginning of a new holiday. So, why did our sages call the holiday of Shavuot atzeret?
There are many ways to answer this question and I will share one of them. Shavuot is not a stand-alone holiday. Shavuot is a culmination of a forty-nine-day process. The Torah instructs us to count for seven weeks from the day after the Exodus—the second day of Passover—and to celebrate on the fiftieth day.
Since Passover, we took a moment each day to count. First, we had to take stock of where we were in the count. Once we determined which day it was, we had to calculate how many days and weeks had passed since the beginning of the count. Once we had that all sorted out, we recited a blessing and counted. After forty-nine days of counting, G-d says to us come let us celebrate the holiday of Shavuot.
From our perspective, the counting ritual took all of thirty seconds. It was a hassle to keep it in mind each day and to ensure that we didn’t miss a day, but it wasn’t such a big deal. Our sages wanted us to know that to G-d, it was a very big deal.
You see, these fifty days represent a stretch of time in which each day has a unique Mitzvah. There is no such stretch at any other point in the year. There are Mitzvot that we do each day, but they are the same each day. The counting Mitzvah is different. Each day we have a single opportunity to count that day. We won’t repeat it tomorrow because tomorrow will have its own count. Each day’s Mitzvah is unique.
Every single day for the last forty-nine days, G-d enjoyed our little alone time. Our unique offering of thirty seconds to count the day and fulfill His will. From our perspective it was almost nothing, but for G-d, it was a thrill. When the last day arrives, G-d feels the same way we feel at the end of an enchanting, absolutely lovely vacation. G-d feels the tug that says, don’t go just yet. Stay another day.
Our sages wanted us to appreciate just how special our Mitzvot are to G-d. Not just the big ones that cost us time, energy, and money, but the little ones that take almost no effort at all. The fact that we take the time to do it for G-d, thrills Him. And it is not easy for Him to let it go.
Stay Another Day
There are many wonderful things that happen on this holiday. It is the day that we received the Torah at Sinai. It was the day that Jews in Israel would bring a basket of their newly ripened fruit to the Temple to thank G-d for His bounty. Indeed, this holiday has many names to reflect these many aspects.
We call it Zman Matan Toratenu to indicate that it is the day that we received the Torah. We call it Shavuot, which means weeks, to indicate that it completes seven weeks of counting. We call it Chag Habikurim to commemorate the bringing of the newly ripened fruit. But our sages overlooked these many important elements of the holiday and called it atzeret.
Receiving the Torah is huge; it is the foundation of Judaism. Showing gratitude to G-d for His largess is critical; gratitude is so important that our first daily prayer is modeh ani, a thank you to G-d for His gift of life. But our sages chose to call this holiday atzeret to teach us a profound lesson. G-d notices the little things too. G-d isn’t only into the big gestures. He loves the little moments that we spend together.
This is because G-d loves us. Any time He can get with us is important to Him. Even if it was just thirty seconds a day, G-d is sad to see it end. He declares a holiday and asks us to stay another day. And we agree. We put life on hold, let everything else fade, and focus only on G-d. We spend the day luxuriating in the loving enfold of the divine.
This is atzeret. A holiday that says I love you. I love every moment. Stay another day. Don’t go away. The message to us is to never let G-d go. Even if the counting has come to an end, our relationship has not. Let us make space and time in our day for G-d. Every day of the year.