Tonight we begin the holiday of Shemini Atzeret. Shemini means “eighth,” and Atzeres means “stop.” On this eighth day and last day of the holiday of Sukkot, Hashem asks us to stop.
The Sages teach that the holiday of Sukkot has been like a celebration that the King throws for His entire kingdom. At the very end of the festival, all of the guests say their goodbyes and head home. But the King detains His beloved children and says “קָשָׁה עָלַי פְּרֵדַתְכֶם, עַכְּבוּ עוֹד יוֹם אֶחָד/Your departure is difficult for me; stay one more day” (Rashi on Numbers 29:26).
The Sages teach that from this we learn how precious we are to Hashem. But the Lubavitcher Rebbe takes the lesson further. It is not possible for us to depart from Hashem, the Rebbe notes, because He is One and everywhere. Therefore, wherever we go, He is there and thus there is never a departure. What does it mean, then, when He tells us that our departure is difficult for Him?
What is difficult for Hashem, the Rebbe teaches, is that we BELIEVE that we are departing from Him. We are not conscious of His infinite Oneness, and therefore we suppose that it is possible to be distant from His presence. If so, then what good will one additional day do? If we have not come to understand Hashem’s unity by now, then how will one more day help?
But this additional day of Shemini Atzeret is no ordinary day. It is a “יוֹם אֶחָד/yom echad/a day of Oneness” when we will stop and focus all of our energies on internalizing the reality of Hashem’s absolute unity. Afterwards, though we leave the palace and go on our way, there will be no departure because we will understand that there is nowhere we can go where He is not.
To take it one step further, the Rebbe teaches that Hashem’s statement “your departure is difficult for me” refers not only to our departure from Him – for as we have seen, we cannot ever truly depart from Him. Rather, what is difficult for Hashem is our distance and separation from ONE ANOTHER. “פְּרֵדַתְכֶם/pridaschem” means not only “your departure,” but your division, or divisiveness. The acrimony and conflict among His children pains Hashem deeply. He therefore implores us to remain together one more day in order to meditate on our inherent indivisibility.
It is time for us to stop – to stop fighting with one another, to stop focusing on our differences, to stop and listen to one another and realize that though we may have diverse ideas, stories, and beliefs, we have far more in common than we imagine or admit.
On Shemini Atzeret, we stop and contemplate our Universal singularity. Afterwards, we join hands and dance together on Simchat Torah in circles. We dance this way because the circle has no head and no tail, no leader and no follower. We dance as one because this is the ultimate lesson that the Torah was given to teach us: that G-d is One, that we are one, and that our very purpose is to go forth from the King’s palace and spread the awareness of this Oneness throughout the entire creation.