It used to be that when I wanted to throw a party, attend a rock concert, go for a swim or even take a haircut, I stopped myself and thought: Wait. Can I do this? What month is it? Am I allowed to celebrate? Or is it a Jewish mourning period?
Imagine the Jewish calendar as three concentric circles: the Torah reading cycle, the holiday cycle and your personal life cycle.
When I began to study Torah seriously as a college student, I was introduced to its spiritual depths. I found that the meanings of the holidays went beyond the agricultural and historical sources, and often had complex spiritual teachings woven in. I remember that, back in those days, I could find little spiritual or poetic meanings of Shemini Atzeret. It was blank, or more accurately, a cipher.