Shemini Atzeret – “The Eighth Day”
The name Shemini Atzeret is taken from Num 29:35, “On the eighth day [shemini atzeret] you shall have a solemn assembly, you shall do no laborious work.” Yet the word עֲצֶרֶת atzeret does not mean “day” but “concluding meal” or “festival.” Thus, the Rabbis understood this language to indicate that this final day is an attempt to make the Sukkot festival linger, to extend it even beyond its prescribed limits. Thus, Shemini Atzeret is a full festival day (as though it were day seven yet entirely seperate), accompanied by meal, the kiddush, she-he-cheyanu, etc. The blessing for the Sukkah is not recited (since it is not Sukkot). Some people do not eat in the Sukkah either, though many do.
This eighth day festival foreshadows the World to Come (‘olam haba) following the Sabbath reign of Yeshua upon the earth. It is connected but seperate. This is the only Torah festival that has such an eighth day appended to it. (Hanukkah, though not a Torah festival, is likewise eight days long, but for other reasons). The symbolism of the eighth day is that of eternity.
In the traditional synagogue a special prayer for rain is included (Tefillat geshem) and is parallel to a prayer for dew recited at the beginning of Pesach. This liturgical prayer evokes the good deeds of the Patriarchs as the foundation for requests for rain. Since withholding rain is expressed in the Scriptures as a means of God’s punishment for disobedience, this prayer bases itself upon the obedience of the Patriarchs. (See coments below).
Yizkor, (service which includes the mourner’s kaddish) is recited also since Shemini Atzeret is considered the final day of the festival Sukkot, and Yizkor is traditionally included in the final services of Festivals. Some of the traditions connected with Shemini Atzeret were introduced by the Kabbalists of the middle ages. For instance, the traditional prayer for rain includes kabbalistic elements and is not appropriate for Messianic communities. Though prayer for rain is always appropriate, the tefillat geshem contained in the traditional siddur has enough nonbiblical and even contra-biblical elements to warrant caution. Yizkor, of course, has biblical foundation, for remembering those who have come before us is a righteous act.
Simchat Torah (Rejoicing in the Torah)
Simchat Torah (Rejoicing in the Torah) is celebrated in connection with Shemini Atzeret, the “eighth” day of Sukkot, being held the day following. In the 3rd or 4th Century of our era the one year cycle of reading through the Torah in the synagogue was adopted (as over against the 3 year cycle which had been extant previously, especially in Jerusalem). The reading cycle was such that it was concluded the day after Sukkot, and a special day of festivities mark this event. The Torah is taken from the Ark, paraded around the Synagogue accompanied by dancing and singing (much like the seven hakkafot of Shemini Atzeret). The final Torah section is read, as well as the first few verses of Genesis 1, acting out the truth that the study of the Torah is never finished. In fact, the rejoicing is not that the Torah reading has been completed, but rather that the congregation is enabled to begin it all over again. In some synagogues there is a special tradition of re-rolling the Torah Scroll to the beginning, using tallitot held by two rows of men as a support for the fully, unrolled Torah. (We have found that tallitot laid upon one long row of tables works well also).
It is traditional to call all the children of the congregation up to the bimah on Simchat Torah (the only time this is done for under-bar/bat mitzva age people). It is a special privilege for the children to participate in the Simchat Torah service and to come to appreciate the value of the Torah as the center of God‘s revelation to us.
The special Haftarah reading is from Joshua 1, incorporating the verse (8) “these words of the Torah shall not depart from your mouth.” Simchat Torah is the perfect symbol of obeying this verse.
An excerpt from book Introduction to Torah Living, by Tim Hegg, p. 157-158