Rebbetzin Chanie Fogelman, the co-director of Central Mass Chabad, in Worcester, Massachusetts, gives an in-depth explanation of Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah. She also explains the connection between all the fall Jewish holidays, from Rosh Hashahna to Yom Kippur, all the way through to Simchat Torah.
We begin the fall holidays with Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, which is the day where we crown G-d as King of the world, and receive a judgement for what our life will hold for us during the upcoming year.
Rebbetzin Chanie then explains that between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are the Days of Awe where we have an opportunity to repent for our sins and apologize to those whom we have hurt.
On Yom Kippur, our judgements from Rosh Hashana are sealed. Rebbetzin Chanie explains that on Yom Kippur, Moshe received the second set of tablet on which the 10 commandments were written. This second giving of the 10 commandments is a symbol that the connection between a Jew and G-d is unbreakable, no matter what a person has done. (The first set of 10 commandments were brought down by Moshe on the holiday of Shavuot. However, when Moshe saw Jewish worshiping the Golden Calf, he smashed the stone tablets on which the 10 commandments were written, and broke them. Therefore, he needed to get a second set from
G-d. It’s this second set of 10 commandments, which were not broken, that Moshe gave to the Jewish people on Yom Kippur.)
Right after Yom Kippur, we celebrate a holiday called Sukkot. We go out of our secure homes and eat (and sometimes sleep) in a flimsy hut called a Sukkah, which is built outside. The walls of the Sukkah are like the arms of a person, enveloping you in a hug and holding you close. This symbolizes G-d’s closeness and love for each and every Jew, no matter where they are in their level of observance. On Sukkot, we shake 4 species. Each specie represents a different type of Jew–all of whom are beloved by G-d. The etrog symbolizes the person who learns Torah and keep the mitzvot (commandments.) The lulav symbolizes the person who learns Torah, but doesn’t keep most of the mitzvot. The hadassim symbolize the person who keeps the mitzvot, but who doesn’t learn Torah. The aravot symbolize the person who doesn’t learn Torah and doesn’t keep the mitzvot. All the species are shaken together and represent the fact that all Jews are needed, and we all complete each other.
The eighth day of Sukkot is a holiday called Shemini Atzeret. The number 8 is above nature, and symbolizes that G-d’s love for us is above anything that any of us do; no matter what, G-d loves us unconditionally. The bond between a Jew and G-d is unbreakable. On Shemini Atzeret, G-d stays close to us for one more day, giving us strength for the entire year!
The day after Shemini Atzeret is Simchat Torah. On this day, we finish reading the entire Torah, and we dance around happily with the Torah. The Torah scroll is closed when we are dancing to symbolize that any Jew, whether they are well-versed in Torah or not, is invited to partake in the holiday because they are beloved by G-d.
For those of you who speak Hebrew, the following website features the Rebbetzin’s dear brother who passed away, sharing the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s teachings on Sukkot: https://www.youtube.com/user/ponipoy