If you have ever had a big family rite of passage - a Bar Mitzvah, or a wedding, for example - with lots of out of town guests, you know that often not only do you have the ceremony and reception, but you also host a morning after breakfast. This is because all those who are from the local area can go home, but those who make a major effort and travel a distance to be there will not be able to go home that day, and you want to acknowledge their presence and the effort they have made to share in your joyous occasion. In effect, you have some of the family and closest friends hanging around afterwards and visiting.
In a way, that is what Shemini Atzeret is. We have just had the holiday of Sukkot, where all nations/peoples are able to come and worship G-d, and offer their sacrifices in the Temple. A big party, rejoicing in the harvest and in creation, for a large guest list - like a wedding! Most of the guests go home, but the close family hangs around to visit. The most dear relative, of course, is G-d, and we want to have a small private time to spend with G-d, so we have an extra day, a day of tarrying with G-d.
I really love this image of a quiet moment spent with those closest to us, so I have a soft spot for Shemini Atzeret.
Rabbi Joe Blair
Oct 16 2006