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Friday, October 21, 2011

Shemini Atzeret: Life's glorious circle

Torah Scroll (Photo by Merlin)
There was a Joni Mitchell song back in the 1960s called The Circle Game.   Its haunting refrain speaks of the seasons going “round and round” on this “carousel of time" that we're all riding.

One of the traditional aspects of Shemini Atzeret (“Eighth Day of Assembly”) - and its component celebration, Simchat Torah (“Rejoicing with/of the Torah”) – is to immediately join the completion of last year’s Torah readings with the beginning of this
year’s.  On the morning of Simchat Torah (the second day of the two-day Shemini Atzeret “in Orthodox and Conservative communities outside Israel”), members of the congregations read the end of Deuteronomy (33:1-34:12) from one Torah scroll, and then the beginning of the Book of Genesis (1:1-2:3) from another.  Numbers 29:35-30:1 – which, according to Wikipedia,“describes the prescribed sacrifices performed for the holiday” -  is then read from a third Torah scroll. states that this cyclical reading of the Torah reminds us that “the Torah is a circle, and never ends.”  To celebrate God’s great gift of the Torah, “there are processions around the synagogue carrying Torah scrolls and plenty of high-spirited singing and dancing…”  During these processions, many are given the honor of actually carrying a Torah scroll.  Since these scrolls are quite heavy, children are instead given smaller facsimiles to hold on to.

The number “eight” (as in “Eighth Day of Assembly”) is also presumed by some to have circular implications.
William F. Dankenbring offers these quotes from E. W. Bullinger’s book Number in Scripture:  “As seven was so called because the seventh day was the day of completion and rest, so eight, as the eighth day, was over and above this perfect completion, and was indeed the FIRST of a new series, as well as being the eighth…”


Copyright October 21, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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