“Great things are done (only) by great people.” True or False?Shemini Atzeret teaches that this statement is patently false.
Have you ever uncovered an engraved stone deeply buried in layers of moss or grime? Or a hidden pattern concealed in the annals of history? Or, perhaps – like just happened in Israel this past month – a treasure trove of gold coins centuries old? Few things compare to the thrill of discovering a hidden treasure embedded in the earth or underwater, or a long-lost message forgotten over the ages.
As Jews we have countless such gems hidden beneath the layers of our heritage and in the words of the Torah which, once uncovered, explain many historical and modern-day phenomena.
Since today is Shemini Atzeret, the Eighth Day of Assembly which follows the seven days of Sukkot, let’s take the number eight and mine its secrets. The number eight has a special meaning and power in mathematics, science and philosophy. Just check out the Wikipedia entry on EIGHT and you’ll find that eight is unique in practically every field (not just math): music, dance, religion, architecture, engineering, physics, astronomy, chemistry, geology and biology!
What is it about the number eight that makes it so outstanding? What makes the musical octave so magical? We find the answer embedded in the more than 3,300 year-old Torah teaching, in the story of Shemini Atzeret.
This sermon takes the obvious contradiction about Shemini Atzeret – on one hand it’s a “separate holiday,” on the other it’s the eighth day of Sukkot – combines it with fascinating insights into the number eight by medieval sages and reveals the power of Shemini Atzeret and how eight – or, more precisely, seven plus one – contains the secret to life. It also teaches us the power of remembering our loved ones during Yizkor.
What is special about Shemini Atzeret? It teaches us how an ordinary person can do something absolutely extraordinary. How great things can be done by regular people, and why the most realistic thing is to be unrealistic.