Not everyone knows what Shemini Atzeret is and, personally, I never really understood it, myself. Apparently, I am not the only one and Rabbis still discuss its literal meaning and what one is expected to do and understand about it.
The one thing I knew that begins on Shemini Atzeret is that the prayer for rain is added to the repetition of Musaf (additional service on Shabbat and other holidays), which is included until Passover: This prayer is: masheev ha’rua’ch u’moreed hagashem: “Who causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall.”
While Shemini Atzeret can be seen as straightforward, if we think about it simply in terms of adding the prayer for more rain, so too can Simchat Torah.
One way to describe Simchat Torah is to think of a circle: the starting is reading the beginning of the Torah, Bereshit (Genesis), and reading through the entire Torah through the year, circling around until we reach the conclusion of the Torah at Devarim (Deuteronomy). At this point, we celebrate both the conclusion and the beginning of reading the Torah.
Water: Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah
We add a prayer for rain in Musaf
We complete reading the Torah and begin again
What’s the Consequence?
Hopefully more rain to maintain our earth
What’s the Consequence?
Celebrating and experiencing reading the conclusion and beginning of the Torah
What is Connecting Both Holidays?
Shemini Atzeret: Water (rain); Simchat Torah: Water as a metaphor (experiencing cleansing, an awakening) as one thing ends and another begins
More about the Water Connection
One part of Shemini Atzeret has to do with actual water, rain. On Simchat Torah, the water flows while completing the reading of the Torah and then ebbs, as we return to the beginning of the Torah.
Shemini Atzeret serves as a catalyst to Simchat Torah in terms of the symbolism of rain (water). We pray to G-d for rain with the intention of aiding in the growth of plants, food, basic sources of nourishment for the earth and ourselves.
On Simchat Torah, as we read the end of the Torah and start again, there is almost a cathartic effect to this action. When we feel rain (a consequence of the prayer for rain on Shemini Atzeret), it awakens our senses.
As the rain revives us, we are reminded that the water cleanses us, renews us and the earth we live in. Just as we start something new, beginning to read the Torah on Simchat Torah, we feel excited, ready for change and a reawakening, which is deserving of celebration.
One result of a rainstorm, where we feel awakened by the water, comes in the form of a beautiful keshet (rainbow). The colors are so vibrant, we look with wonder. A rainbow begins and arcs over to its end. There is a clear beginning and end. This is the same as ending the reading of the Torah and starting over from the beginning.
There is a certain beauty and fulfillment of completing something and beginning again.
Along the theme of water, I think of an amusement park water ride that ends with a huge splash all over the riders and the laughter that accompanies that, the riders’ senses now wide open and ready for more fun.
That last moment of a water ride, just like seeing a beautiful rainbow, both represent the Torah flowing forward, from one end to the other, the ride starting at the top of a hill and ending with water everywhere, just as the arc of a rainbow has a starting and end point, as the result of rain.
Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah: What’s Water Got to Do With It? Metaphorically, it’s a Lot
We are awakened with the excitement of celebrating, starting again, while honoring an end. We shift from feeling the rain falling on us, awakening us, to feeling invigorated to begin something anew.
Water (rain) streaming from the sky begins with Shemini Atzeret, which then ebbs as we complete the reading of the Torah on Simchat Torah and then circles back to flowing as we return to the beginning of the Torah. It’s a cycle that is connected by water, ebbing and flowing at different times but joins both Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah in a meaningful metaphoric way.