Dear Rabbi Fried,
I know that the last days of Sukkot are technically not really Sukkot, but a separate holiday called Shemini Atzeret and Shimchat Torah. Are the last days of Pesach also a separate holiday or just the end of Pesach? I’ve never heard of it being referred to as a separate holiday, but on the other hand, I know one doesn’t drive, etc. like the first days, so maybe it is a separate holiday?
That’s quite an educated question.
The final day of Sukkos, in Israel, or two days in the diaspora, are indeed a separate holiday. This is as the Torah tells us “The eighth day should be an Atzeres for you…” and goes on to relate that the system of offerings to be brought in the Temple are entirely different from those of Sukkos. (Numbers 29:35-30:1)
The word “atzeres” has multiple meanings: a gathering, also a restriction or withholding. It’s a special day to gather together and “withhold” from returning back to mundane life, rather to remain one more precious day with the Divine Presence before finally leaving the high holiday period. The Torah considers this a separate holiday, one where we put down the four species, leave the Sukkah, return to our homes and rejoice in our connection to G-d.
The final days of Pesach, however, are different. The Temple offerings brought the last day of Pesach are identical to that of the first and intermediate days. The Talmud says this is indicative of the final days not being considered a separate holiday, rather a continuation of the same holiday of Pesach. Although the Torah also invokes the word “atzeres” in relation to the final day of Pesach, (Deuteronomy 16:8), nevertheless, since the offering is identical and the mitzvos of eating matzoh and refraining from leavened bread are the same as the first days, we consider it the same holiday. The meaning of atzeres in the context of Pesach would only be referring to its prohibition of forbidden activity, similar in many ways to Shabbos, where we refrain from certain categories of activity, but not to infer it is a separate holiday.
For this reason, on the final day or days of Pesach, we do not recite the full Hallel prayer, as we don’t on the intermediary days of Pesach. This is because we only recite the full Hallel prayer when there is either a new miracle to celebrate or a new holiday. On Sukkos, since there is a different offering brought each day, every day requires a full Hallel prayer. Shemini Atzeres is no different. The final day(s) of Pesach, however, are just a continuation of Pesach with identical offerings, therefore only a partial Hallel is recited.
One thing which is unique about the final days of Pesach is that not only are we celebrating the leaving of Egypt, but the seventh day of Pesach is the day of the monumental miracle of the splitting of the Sea of Reeds. Many miracles were performed and noted at the sea that far transcended the miracles of Egypt. In fact, the Talmud says that even the simplest Jewish maidservant witnessed greater revelation at the Sea than the greatest prophets observed later in Jewish history. Some have the custom to stay up the eve of the seventh day of Pesach to share words of Torah about that miracle and the subsequent song sung by the Jewish people at that time. (Exodus 14:30-15:19)
There is so much to be said about this event, not within the purview of this column.
A joyous continuation of Pesach to all the readers.
Dear Rabbi Fried,