We began the fall festivals by turning outward, and we concluded the festivals by turning inward. We turned outward on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur by praying for the spiritual renewal of the world; moreover, we turned outward on Succos by remembering in our prayers the seventy bull offerings on behalf of the seventy primary nations which were offered in the Sanctuary during the seven days of Succos. Immediately after Succos, we celebrated the festival known as “Shmini Atzeres” - a term which can be translated as, “The Retreat of the Eighth Day.” Shmini Atzeres is designated to serve as a spiritual retreat for our people; thus, when we had the Sanctuary, we would bring on this day one bull offering on behalf of our own spiritual elevation (Numbers 29:35,36).
We turn inward on the eighth and concluding day of the festival season in order to experience an intimate encounter with the Compassionate One, as through this intimate encounter, we begin to prepare ourselves for the following mission: We are to become a vessel for the Divine light, so that we can become a “light to the nations” (Isaiah 42:6). We receive this Divine light through Torah, as it is written, “Torah is light” (Proverbs 6:23), and this may be a reason why Shmini Atzeres later became host to the Simchas Torah celebration, when we rededicate ourselves to the Torah with love and joy.
Why, however, do we first turn outward during the holy days which precede Shimini Atzeres/Simchas Torah? It is because we need to be aware of the universal goal of our unique journey “before” we turn inward. Without this universal awareness, turning inward may cause us to desire to become like all the nationalistic groups that are concerned only about themselves. As we discussed previously, we are not to become another national group; we are to become a holy community which can elevate and unify all the national groups through the light of the Torah. With this universal goal in mind, we can now turn inward in order to become a vessel for the Divine light. This challenging task is especially meaningful during the season following the fall festivals, when there is decreasing light in the world.
Just as nature has a winter season of decreasing light, so too, human history has a winter season of decreasing light, and current events are leading many to feel that we have entered the dark season of history. We therefore need to remember that Divine Providence caused us to gain a festival of light which is celebrated during the dark winter: the Festival of Chanukah. This festival serves as a reminder of the life-giving light that will go out to the world in the final stage of human history. During the eight days of this festival, we light the oil lamps or candles by a window facing the street or in front of the door to our home. Through this custom, we remind ourselves that our inner light is destined to go out into the world when we establish a Torah society in Zion. In this spirit, the Prophet Isaiah conveyed to Zion the following Divine promise regarding the future age of universal enlightenment:
“Arise! Shine! for your light has come, and the glory of the Compassionate One shines upon you. For, behold, darkness may cover the earth and a thick cloud the kingdoms, but upon you the Compassionate One will shine…Nations will walk by your light, and sovereigns by the glow of your dawn.” (Isaiah 60:1-3)
Light and Shalom.
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen