There are many times when I say to myself or to family and friends, how I wish there could be an extra day of the week to do nothing, where appointments written out on my Planner Pad calendar or AJT article and art project deadlines noted in red on certain pages would instead show a blank space. In today’s pandemic, one would think I would have had more time to unwind, to relax since my husband and I shelter in place as much as possible, but it seems that Zoom has taken over along with taking on new projects and assignments to fill up each day, plus continuing to lead the different roles of being a supportive wife, parent and grandmother.
So where can I ever find that extra day? Is it a figment of my imagination to have it exist? Shabbat’s 24-hour respite had its own rhythms, but it’s not a totally new day without a program.
When wanting to learn more about Jewish holidays, I use “The Jewish Holidays: A Guide & Commentary” by Michael Strassfeld with illustrations by Betsy Platkin Teutsch (Harper & Row, 1985). From that book, I found how Torah prescribes the extra day that I long for, called Shemini Atzeret, known as the eighth day. From Numbers: 29:36, the Torah reads that “On the eighth day, you shall hold a solemn gathering (atzeret); you shall not work at your occupation.”
Just as with so much of Jewish text, rabbis and individuals continue to interpret the words of Torah, to make sense for the modern world. Even though there are no specific rituals to conduct commanded by Torah, it comes at the end of the seven-day festival of Sukkot.
In biblical times, according to Strassfeld, the prayer for rain for the coming year prevailed as the main ritual for Shemini Atzeret, reflecting its agricultural roots. Today the recital of Yizkor also takes place. But for me, the best part of having this “extra day” allows me a full day to daydream, to let me imagine what life can be like in the coming year. I can sit out on my porch with a cup of tea, and if there is a sukkah, to linger in it one more day. Taking time to connect with the natural world with a sense of quiet and reflection is what I need now. Shemini Atzeret inspires me to actually do that this year, before rejoicing with the Simchat Torah agenda, and going back to those appointments and deadlines to finish. One eighth day a year is probably not enough, but it’s a start.
Flora Rosefsky is a regular contributor to the Atlanta Jewish Times.