Below is audio (MP3) and sources (PDF) for a Shiur I gave at the high school today on Shemini Atzeret. The first half is a Hashkafic (Philosophical) perspective on what Shemini Atzeret is really all about; the second, more Halachic half of the Shiur is a discussion of the background of sitting in the Succah on Shemini Atzeret and a new perspective on all of the different Minhagim about this issue. Enjoy, and please share your feedback!
Follow-up: Over Yom Tov I saw a Taz (see link) who also discusses – and justifies – a significant leniency regarding eating in the Succah on Shemini Atzeret. Here is the Taz:
ט”ז אורח חיים סימן תרסח
כתוב בהגהות מיימוניות: “הא דנהיגי מקצת לאכול חצי סעודה בסוכה, וחצי סעודה בביתו – מנהג זה לא נזכר בשום מקום.” אבל נראה לי ראיה ברורה ממדרש תנחומא פרשת פנחס: “ילמדנו רבינו כו’,” עד “ולמה התירו חכמים להפטר מסוכה ביום טוב אחרון של חג – אלא, כל ז’ ימי החג מתפללים לטללים, ויום טוב האחרון, מתפללין לגשמים! ולכן נפטרים מהסוכה, כדי להתפלל על הגשמים בלב שלם.” עכ”ל:
The Taz notes that the Haga’ot Maimoniot (a commentary on Rambam’s Mishneh Torah – although the copy I have available to me at the moment does not include this comment) is displeased with the Minhag of many in his day to eat part of the Shemini Atzeret meal in the Succah and the rest of the meal indoors. The Taz, however, justifies the Minhag on the basis that it eliminates a Halachic Blue Screen – how, wonders the Taz, can we say Tefillat Geshem even as we continue to sit in the Succah, unless we eat part of our meal indoors? The Taz is worried that no one will say Tefillat Geshem with sincerity (“b’lev shalem“) if we are, only minutes later, to eat our full meal in the Succah and get rained on while doing so!
I have several problems with this Taz:
1) The Taz assumes that Tefillat Geshem is a prayer that one should ideally say with the full hope that it start to rain right now, without any delay. This, however, cannot be our real intention when we say Tefillat Geshem. Tefillat Geshem only ushers in our saying “Mashiv HaRuach,” in which we praise Hashem as rain-giver; we do not ask for rain for two more weeks (in Israel) or several more months (elsewhere). In Israel, for example, actually asking for rain is delayed so that guests who had come to Temple-Era Israel for Succot would not be rained on as they returned home. When Israelis say Tefillat Geshem on Shemini Atzeret, they clearly do not actually want rain to fall right away as its doing so would harm their friends! Americans, too, obviously do not truly want it to rain when we say Tefillat Geshem, as we will not actually request rain in Shemoneh Esrei until early December. The Taz’s premise that eating exclusively in the Succah would prevent an earnest Tefillat Geshem seems to be built on a mistaken notion as to the breakdown of shevach, praising Hashem as rain-giver, which we do daily beginning on Shemini Atzeret; and bakasha, actually asking Hashem for rain, which we do not do for quite some time. The delay in employing bakasha should, at least in theory, allow us to sit in the Succah unworried throughout Shemini Atzeret. This raises an intriguing follow-up question, however: From reading the words and seeing the Chazzan dressed in a Kittel, Tefillat Geshem does seem to constitute a request for rain. So why do we (apparently) ask for rain in Tefillat Geshem, but then cease doing so for weeks or months afterward in our Tefillot? Why not say Tefillat Geshem in two weeks (in Israel) or in early December (elsewhere)? More fundamentally, is Tefillat Geshem in fact bakasha or is it merely shevach? This question seems important for determining when, why, and how we say Tefillat Geshem. If Tefillat Geshem is bakasha, the Taz is right but we encounter a Halachic Wormhole with regard to why we are asking for rain weeks or months before we need it. If Tefillat Geshem is shevach, the Taz is wrong but we can sit care-free in the Succah on Shemini Atzeret because we have not begun to ask Hashem for rain but only to praise Him as rain-giver. (The fact that when Shemini Atzeret falls on Shabbat we still say Tefillat Geshem seems to indicate that Tefillat Geshem is a Tefillah of Shevach, and the Taz is wrong.)
2) Based on the Taz’s reasoning, it would be more appropriate to eat one’s entire dinner meal in the Succah and his entire lunch meal (after he has said Tefillat Geshem) in the house. That is not, however, the Minhag under discussion by the Hagahot Maimoniot, which is to eat half of each meal outdoors and the other half of each meal indoors. That theoretical Minhag, while tempting in consideration of the Taz’s assumption that Tefillat Geshem is a mitigating force in our ability to sit comfortably in the Succah, is also not mentioned in the Pardes or Aruch Hashulchan which we went through in the Shiur.
3) If the Taz is correct and Tefillat Geshem would prevent us from sitting comfortably in the Succah on Shemini Atzeret, why not say Tefillat Geshem on the second day of Yom Tov, Simchat Torah? I know the Tefillah is already long on Simchat Torah, but it would seem to be a fairly simple way to make both the Succah-dwelling of Shemini Atzeret and Tefillat Geshem more sincere. Any takers on that one?