Shemini Atzeres (Sunday evening, October 23rd) and Simchas Torah(starting Monday evening, October 24th)! In Israel, Simchas Torah is observed concurrently with Shemini Atzeres since they celebrate only one day of Yom Tov. However, outside of Israel we celebrate two days of Yom Tov — and they are celebrated on separate days.
Shemini Atzeret is actually a separate festival adjacent toSukkot. Rashi, the great Biblical commentator, explains that atzeret is an expression of affection, as would be used by a father to children who are departing from him. The father would say, “Your departure is difficult for me, tarry yet another day.” The Jewish people prayed and brought offerings all the days of Sukkot so that the 70 nations of the world would have rain in the coming year. The Torah and the Almighty keeps us one more day for a special holiday to make requests just for ourselves. That’s Shemini Atzeret.
Simchas Torah is the celebration of completing the yearly cycle of Torah reading and beginning it again. The evening and again the next morning are filled with dance and songs rejoicing in the Torah and thanking God for our being Jewish and that the Almighty gave us the Torah! We read the last Torah portion in Deuteronomy, Vezot Habracha and then begin immediately with Bereshit, starting the book of Genesis. If you take your kids to synagogue twice a year — one time should be Simchas Torah!
The Torah portion we read on Simchas Torah is Vezot Habracha. It begins with the blessings that Moshe gives to the Jewish people and each tribe right before he dies. Then Moshe ascends Mt. Nebo where the Almighty shows him all of the land the Jewish people are about to inherit. He dies, is buried in the valley in an unknown spot, the Jewish people mourn for 30 days. The Torah then concludes with the words, “Never again has there arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom the Almighty had known face to face …”
Yizkor, the memorial service for parents and relatives — and Jews who have been killed because they were Jewish or in defending the Jewish people and Israel — is observed Monday morning, October 24th.