Chag Sameach! Shmini Atzeret/Simchat Torah Start Wednesday Night
The eight day festival that consists of Sukkot and Shmini Atzeret/Simchat Torah comes to an end Thursday night, bringing an end to the holiday season and starting the regular year.
In Israel, a popular expression is "Acharei Hachagim" - lets' wait till after the holidays - as the entire country seems to put off whatever it can from Rosh Hashanah until the day after Shmini Atzeret/Simchat Torah.
With the Sukkot holiday marking the last of three yearly pilgrimage festivals to Jerusalem and the Holy Temple - preceded by Pesach and Shavuot - and also the end of the Tishrei holidays, Shmini Atzeret, which begins Wednesday evening, is mandated in the Torah as a final "encore" holiday.
It is an extra day, celebrated on the day immediately following Hoshana Raba which is the last and seventh day of Sukkot.
G-d feels for the Jewish people, who want just one more day of joy before returning home from Jerusalem for the winter season and grants it to them. Jewish sages said that G-d, too, says: "It is hard for Me to see you leaving [for home]".
In Israel, Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are combined in a one day holiday. Outside of israel, they are separate and celebrated for two days - Shmini Atzeret on the first day, and Simchat Torah on the second.
On Shmini Atzeret, the solemn prayer for winter rains is said, as well as the Yizkor prayer for deceased parents.
The Simchat Torah final holiday marks the conclusion - and starting again - of the annual public weekly readings of the Five Books of Moses, and commemorates the supreme Jewish idea of Torah study in general. Hours-long dancing with the Torah (known as hakafot) in synagogues, yeshivot, and even in the streets marks the day in Jewish communities around the world.
Every male in the synagogue gets called to the Torah, necessitating, in large congregations, using several scrolls and repeating the reading several times. The young children are called up together at the end of the reading, standing - or held - under a prayer shawl while the congregation recites Jacob's blessing to his grandsons.
It has become customary of late for large groups of youths to spend the holiday in towns where the Jewish community is in need of "strengthening," to extend the Simchat Torah joy as far and wide as possible.
In Israel, once the holiday is over, tens of thousands of people attend Hakafot Shniyot, another round of dancing and singing, at celebrations with live music in honor of the Torah that take place all over the country, indoors and outdoors.
Two of the most well known are the outdoor Hakafot Shniyot honoring the different Jewish "edot" [customs of Jews in different parts of the Diaspora] in Jerusalem's Liberty Bell Park sponsored by philanthropist Eugen Gluck and the Hakafot Shniyot at Beit HaRav, the Jerusalem home of Israel's first Cheif Rabbi , Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook.
Chag Sameach from Arutz Sheva!
For in depth reading on the holiday, go to Arutz Sheva's Judaism section, or click here for Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, here for Rabbi Shlomo Riskin of Efrata, here for Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple and here for a beautiful story of Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook on Simchat Torah during the Yom Kippur War..