Shemini Atzeret – A thought for the week by Mike Lewis

This week ends with what have been sometimes described as the end of the “Autumn Manoeuvres”. On Friday we come to Hoshana Rabba, on Shabbat to Shemini Atzeret and on Sunday we arrive at Simchat Torah.

Hashana Rabbah is very much a “performance” service which, this year, with the Shul closed, will be very much missed. The Hoshanot, the circling the Shul seven times with all of our Sefer Torahs and the beating of the willows involves us all. It has been described as a last effort to attract the attention of God.

Shemini Atzeret, has no historical connection. It includes Yiskor and the prayer for rain. The prayer is actually not directly for rain but is a plea to God to send rain. It is the last day in the Sukkah. We do not need large buildings to meet with God.

Simchat Torah is a celebration. We are all called for an aliyah and the Chatan Torah and Challat Bereishit celebrate that the Torah is an unbroken part of our lives. We will miss the ceremonies this year, but we will still be here each week. The chain will not be broken as we go on to celebrate each Shabbat of the year ahead.

What I will miss is hearing the recitation of Kohelet and the sweetness of hearing the leyning. It is a remarkable Book

The famous phrase “vanity of vanities, all is vanity” derived from the translations of the Septuagint, the translation of the Hebrew into Greek at the time of Ptolemy. It continued through the English Tyndale Bible into the King James translation. The Hebrew “Havel” is more properly translated as “breath”. Kohelet does not find life meaningless or futile or mere vanity. That is an error of translation. Kohelet finds life short.

Was the author Solomon or the enigmatically named “preacher”? The first verses and the last are sometimes ascribed to another hand. (These are the verses we usually read here at EMS).  As it says:

Of making books there is no end

It is worth reading in its entirety.  The wealth of phrases from this book have the ability to inspire as well as making us look at our own fragility and mortality. It famously ends by saying:

The end of the matter, all having been heard, fear God and keep his commandments

What we are being told is to cherish life with all its faults and to live. It is a good message, especially in these times.

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