Years back, as I was beginning to become more observant, I had the opportunity to learn for a few months at a Yeshiva in Yerushalayim. I was fortunate to have found a chavrusah who was a great guy and at a similar stage in life; becoming more observant, thirsting for growth while struggling to maintain balance. We would learn Hilchos Brochos together, play soccer and trade our inchoate philosophical insights late into the night.
We both returned home to the States shortly before Succos that year. Not long after, he called to ask me to join him for the last days of yom tov at a family friend in Monsey. I gladly agreed.
As newly minted Baalei Teshuvah, we were quite concerned that our lulavim be well protected during the long bus ride from Port Authority in Manhattan to Monsey. We gingerly wrapped our respective lulavim in a manner that we hoped would provide proper cushioning. We cringed at each jostling of the crowd and we silently prayed that our carefully selected specimen would not be damaged or, worse, rendered unusable. Upon reaching Monsey, we carefully disembarked with our precious cargo and when we finally reached our host’s home we were both proud and relieved that we had protected our lulavim throughout the journey.
Immediately after our host graciously greeted us at the door, he took possession of our lulavim explaining “You won’t be needing these, they aren’t used on the last days of the yom tov.”
Sometimes we get so caught up in our physical acoutrements that we fail to perceive what’s actually going on around us. That is perhaps why Shemini Atzeres, as opposed to succos itself, has no distinct mitzva of its own. Shemini Atzeres then is “absolute Yom Tov,” defined not in terms of its own individual mitzvos, but rather on re-focusing our attention on our direct relationship with G-d.
Shavuos is also called Atzeres. It is unique amongst the shalosh regalim (three pilgrimage holidays) in that it is the only Yom Tov that is not centered around physical items. Matzah and the various symbols of the Seder form the focus of Pesach. The Succah and the Lulav ane Esrog form the focus of Succos. On Shavuos, there’s no matzah, no lulav and esrog, no physical object with which to direct our focus (and no, cheescake doesn’t count).
It is a time of pure intimacy with Hashem and his Torah. There is no physical interface because none is needed. Pure, direct connection and a bit of cheesecake to boot. Good Yom Tov.
Originally Published on June 1, 2006