During the time when the Temple stood, a total of 70 sacrifices were offered during the 7 days of Sukkot which are celebrated in the Land of Israel. Zechariah, the prophet, said (chapter 14 of his book) that during the messianic era all nations of the earth will send pigrims to Jerusalem on Sukkot. Sukkot is a very univeral holiday in many ways.
Today, as in Temple days, we still wave the lulav and
etrog as mandated in the Torah. The lulav is made of a palm branch,
willow, and myrtle. The etrog is a citron. Together the lulav
and the etrog are refered to as the 4 species. We also say hoshanas
(hosanas in English) during Sukkot. In fact, one day of Sukkot is
called Hoshana Raba or the many hoshanas which falls on the 7th
day of Sukkot. Hoshana Raba is seen as the day when G-d apportions
water for the comming year to all the world. After Hoshana Raba,
the 4 species will no longer be used and are laid asside. The palm
branch is often used later in the year during Pesach (Passover) to burn
the chametz (leaven), since it is appropriate to use them only for fulfilling
another mitzvot (commandment).
Atzeret is the eight and final day of
Sukkot. We no longer use the four species, as yesterday was Hoshana
Raba. We still eat in the Sukkah until the very end of this day,
when the Sukkah will no longer be used -- until the next year.
While Sukkot is universalistic in scope, including all nations as seen
above, Shemini Atzeret is very particular. We turn inwards, and on
this day, unlike the rest of Sukkot, we begin to say the prayer for rain
to be sent to the Land of Israel, as in Israel, this is when the rainy
season is supposed to begin. We will continue to pray for rain until
Simchat Torah or rejoicing in the Torah falls on the day after sukkot in the diaspora and celebrates the completion of one cycle of Torah reading, and the immediate start of another cycle of Torah reading. Every year the Torah is studied, from Bereshit or Genesis to D'varim or Deuteronomy, by Jews all over the world. The Torah is divided into Parashot or portions so that it can completely studied in one Jewish calendar year. On Simchat Torah, the last book is finished, and the first book immediately begun.
There is much celebration surrounding this yearly cycle
and the Torah itself. All but one of the Torah scrolls are taken
out of the aron or ark in which they are held. Congregates of synagogues,
with the Kohenim (priests, decedents of Aaron) and Leviim (Levites) getting
the first opportunities, carry the scrolls around the synagogue, dancing.
The scrolls, like the 613 mitzvot (commandments) contained on them, are
heavy burdens, and yet they lift us up making the load lighter, light enough
that we dance with joy. We dance in celebration of the joy that only
living under the Torah's guidance can give us. We dance celebrating
the freedom only the guidance of the 613 mitzvot can give us. We
are carried by the Torah, even as we carry it. We dance as King David
did in front of the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the very same
Torah that we now carry. Only in the presence of G-d and His Torah
can we truly experience simcha, joy, and such we experience on Simchat
A special thanks to my teacher, Rabbi Moshe Berger for teaching me some of the insites contained in this page. All errors that may be here are purely my own.