As I see it, in the same way as we need all three paragraphs of the shema, so too we need, in close sequence, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, then Sukkot, followed by Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.
In the first paragraph of the shema we accept ol malchut shamayim, the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven, and we declare that Hashem is One and His name is one. It’s all about our belief in God.
In the second paragraph of the shema, we commit ourselves to a life filled with mitzvot – kabalat ol mitzvot, acceptance of the yoke of mitzvot.
In the third paragraph, we recognise that it’s not enough to believe in Hashem and to translate that belief into action. What is also required is that we live sacred lives – v’hyitem kedoshim, that our lives will be infused with the presence of Hashem so that we can live in an uplifted manner.
So too with regard to the festivals of the month of Tishrei. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are all about the malchut of Hashem, the grandeur of the royalty of God, HaMelech. He is the King; that is the prominent theme throughout all of our prayers, leading us to that great crescendo at the end of Neila when we declare, “Shema Yisrael,” – “Hear, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.”
But belief in Hashem alone is not enough. We need to translate that belief into action and that’s why Sukkot comes so soon after the Yamim Noraim. Sukkot provides us with great opportunity for action, through taking the four kinds, dwelling in the suKKah and so much communal activity, to celebrate Jewish life in action.
But that too is not yet enough, because if we just carry out the mitzvot in a mechanical way, that won’t guarantee the continuity of our faith. We need that third component of v’hyitem kedoshim, to lead a sacred existence, and that’s why on Shemini Atzeret we recall the lives of near and dear ones, and those fond memories should inspire us to lead a meaningful, uplifted existence.
Together with that, we celebrate Simchat Torah, recognising that thanks to our study of Torah and the inspiration it gives, we are gifted with an opportunity to live a life of v’hyitem kedoshim which gives us a most incredible opportunity for meaningful and happy existence.
Yes, there are so many major festivals, but we certainly need them all.
I wish you all chag sameach.