Shemini Atzeret marks the last day of the "Yom Tov Season." While it is quite clear why we celebrate Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot, the reason why we celebrate one last holiday is not quite as obvious. Indeed, Rashi seems to indicate that there is no real reason for Shemini Atzeret. Rather, God says, as it were: "Please remain with Me just one more day, for your departure is difficult for Me to endure." The Ramban suggests that the eighth day of Sukkot alludes to the idea that the Jewish people are the partner to the seventh day - Shabbat - and thus it is observed as a holiday.
I would like to share a thought advanced by Rav Ben Tziyon Ferrer in his sefer "Le-Yom Chagenu." Targum Yonatan Ben Uziel in Parashat Pinchas explains the significance of Shmini Atzeret as follows: "On the eighth day you shall gather in joy as you leave your sukka and return to your home." There is certainly much joy when we enter the sukka and bask in the presence of the Shechina, but why should leaving the sukka be cause for celebration? Rav Ferrer explains that the sukkah represents God’s protection as we wandered in the desert for forty years; by living in a temporary dwelling, we reaffirm the fact that God always protects His nation. When were we able to leave the sukka, to build our permanent homes and lives? That occurred when we arrived in Eretz Israel. The joy of Shemini Atzeret is the joy of leaving our temporary dwelling and entering our final destination - the place where we can set up permanent shop together with the Shechina - in the Holy Land.
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