By Aaron Eby, First Fruits of Zion—
Looking at a Jewish calendar at this time of year can be overwhelming. There are so many festival days! Where do they all come from, and what do they mean?
Here is a simple rundown of each of the significant days connected with the Festival of Sukkot, sometimes referred to as the “Feast of Tabernacles” or “Feast of Booths.”
The Seven Days and the Eighth Day
The first thing to note is that there are really two holidays here that are adjacent to one another. Sukkot is a seven-day festival. Yet, there is another separate holiday that takes place on the eighth day. The eighth-day festival is called Shmini Atzeret, which means “eighth[-day] assembly”:
On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the LORD seven days. On the first day shall be a solemn rest, and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest. (Leviticus 23:39)
The commandments about dwelling in booths (Leviticus 23:42) and waving the four species of plants (Leviticus 23:40) only apply for the seven days of Sukkot. The eighth day, Shmini Atzeret, has no special commandments other than resting from work.
Even though all eight of these days are holy, appointed times, they do not all have to be treated like the Sabbath. As the verse states, there is a day of rest on only the first and eighth days.
The first time the concept of festival rest days is introduced, the Torah explains that “what everyone needs to eat, that alone may be prepared by you” (Exodus 12:16). In other words, festival rest days are the same as the weekly Shabbat with the exception that preparing food for that day is allowed.
In conventional Jewish terminology, Shabbat usually only refers to the weekly Sabbath, not the festivals. A festival rest day is called a Yom Tov (which literally means “good day”). Continue Reading…