Haftarah: Shemini Atzeret: Post Wedding Blues
1Kings 8:54 – 9:1: What an experience! King Solomon and Israel have completed the construction and dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem. All are united in the effort and the emotional high
at witnessing their success when God’s Glory filled the Temple. Solomon’s gala was so extensive that the altar did not have sufficient space for all the sacrifices. Solomon had to sanctify the floor to provide the necessary room. (TBZevachim 59a-b) It was not only a once in a lifetime experience. It was probably a unique experience in history. Israel was at peace, safe, strong and stable. Solomon ruled with his miraculous wisdom. The economy was booming. Everything was great. What can Solomon possibly do for his next act?
Solomon’s situation does not seem too different from that of a young couple one week after their wedding, when they realize that the gifts will stop coming, the seven days of parties are over and now they must face the realities of life.
We are about to conclude almost a month of holidays. We have lived in the intensity of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Succot and now Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. The holidays are wonderful, and rich with meaning. They provided a vibrant spiritual life. What are we supposed to do the day after Simchat Torah when everything returns to the way it was?
Solomon was concerned. (Targum, Ecclesiastes 1:1) Solomon understood that his kingdom, as it was, would not survive his death. He saw that Israel would not be able to maintain all they experienced with this celebration. The Haftarah, which includes his prayers and the party, describes his response to this question.
This was not the first unrepeatable experience for the Jewish People. The Exodus, the splitting of the Red Sea, Sinai, crossing the Jordan into Canaan, were all unmatchable events. (Targum, Song of Songs 1:3) They had all become part of the collective experience of the nation. They live on in our souls. What could Solomon do to ensure that this encounter with greatness and almost limitless joy would become part of the nation’s soul forever?
The story of this celebration also appears in the book of Chronicles. (II 7:9) Solomon bade them farewell, but the people remained in Jerusalem one more day to observe Shemini Atzeret. (Stone Tanach page 828) Solomon said goodbye before the people were able to leave. They stayed together in Jerusalem for one more day. Solomon intended that time they would spend together reflecting on their experience, each sharing his perspective would plant the seed of permanent experience in the nation.
The first hours after a moment of transcendence will determine how long that moment will last. They will mold the experience’s permanent impact on our lives. It is essential that we use the closing hours of the holiday, when all the dancing has finished, and we prepare to bid farewell to this, the most spiritually intense, month of the Hebrew calendar, to review and reflect what we felt and what we gained.
Solomon had another response to this question, an unstated answer, but powerful in its silence: “Don’t Ask!” The question reflects an assumption that the experience will not and cannot last. The question of “What can possibly be next?” dilutes the power of the impact of the entire month and all its holidays. We assume that we will soon lose what we have gained. The assumption is dangerous. “Don’t ask!” advised Solomon. “Celebrate as if this will not only last, but will improve over time.”