How The Shemini Atzeret Haftarah Was Chosen

Connecting the reading to the occasion

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The conclusion of the haftarah notes that the people departed from the Temple "joyful [semechim]  and glad of heart" (I Kings 8:66). This theme was repeated in hymn and homily. For example, the ancient poet Yannai exulted: shillum simchah hi' kol simchah; ve-tosefet simchah sason ve-simchah. By this he meant that the "completion" (shillum) of the Festival of Joy (Sukkot) is the "sum" (kol) of all joy (simchah); whereas the "supplementary" (tosefet) joy of Shemini Atzeret adds "gladness" (sason) to this "joy" (simchah).

But Yannai also implies here that the "reward" (shillum) for joy on Sukkot is the "added measure" (tosefet) of joy experienced on Shemini Atzeret. According to one ancient sermon, the people received an "extra" token of heavenly grace on this day; another states that the Day of Atzeret gave the people further occasion to request rain in the coming season. One midrash even proves that God hinted at this possibility in Scripture itself.

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Michael Fishbane

Michael Fishbane is the Nathan Cummings professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Chicago. His research spans the spectrum of biblical and Jewish studies and he has written numerous books in Jewish Studies.