From the Chassidic Masters (Shemini Atzeret)
"Back to the House"
On the verse "On the eighth day an atzeret there will be for you"
the Targum Yonatan translates "On the eighth day move from
your sukkot to your homes be with joy." Exactly what, however, is
the joy of moving from one's sukkah to one's house?
To explain: the spiritual influence elicited on Sukkot is an "encompassing
light," like a sukkah that surrounds a person but at a certain distance.
On Shemini Atzeret, in contrast, this light is absorbed in the soul. This
is the reason that moving from the sukkah back to the house, from a temporary
dwelling to a permanent one, arouses joy. The move signifies that all
the spiritual revelations of Sukkot have been permanently absorbed.
(Days of Awe, Days of Joy, P. 278)
From the Rebbes of Chabad (Shemini Atzeret)
"Wind and Rain"
In the Musaf prayer of Shemini
Atzeret we begin saying "He causes the wind to blow and the rain
to descend." This can be connected to the coming of Mashiach:
The phrase "he causes the wind (ruach) to blow"
uses the same word as the verse "The spirit (ruach) of G-d
hovered on the surface of the waters," and our Sages say "This
is the spirit of King Mashiach."
"He causes the rain (geshem) to descend" means
that the coming of Masiach actually occurs, in physicality (gashmiut
- related to geshem). Not only "the spirit of Mashiach,"
but a soul in a body, i.e. Mashiach in the simple, literal sense in this
Moreover, "geshem" has the numerical value
of 343, and this is connected to the prophecy that in the Messianic future
"the light of the sun will be seven-fold as the light of the seven
days." Rashi paraphrases this as "seven sevens as the
light of the seven days, i.e. forty-nine sevens, equaling three hundred
From the Kabbalists (Shemini Atzeret)
"Mystical Purpose of the Festivals"
"On the eighth day shall be a solemn assembly for
According to the plain meaning of the text the word atzeret
means: "to be prevented from performing one's regular work."
A kabbalistic approach: The word atzeret is a term
describing the Knesset Yisrael, the spiritual concept known as
'Israel." (In colloquial parlance: 'this people is where the buck
stops.') In other words, were it not for the concept represented by the
Jewish people, the whole universe would lack meaning and purpose. It is
also an expression denoting malchut, authority, dominion. For the
above-mentioned reasons Shemini Atzeret is a festival all by itself. Among
the four species, it corresponds to the etrog which represents the Jewish
people and which is held separately, in a different hand than the other
three. The Shemini Atzeret festival is related to the festival of the
giving of the Torah, meaning the festival of Shavuot, which the Talmud
always refers to as atzeret. We find the name atzeret also applied by
the torah to the Seventh day of Passover (Deut. 16:6), although that day
is an integral part of the festival. Thus, the term appears in connection
with all three pilgrimage holidays.
What does all this mean? Just as the word Shabbat is applied
by the Torah to the various festivals on various occasions to show that
the Knesset Yisrael is the "bride" of the Shabbat, so
the word atzeret when used in connection with the festival conveys
the idea that the Jewish people, spiritually speaking, are the purpose
of all these festivals. In kabbalistic terms, they are the yesod
[borrowed from the emanation by that name], the "foundation,"
without which the entire legislation of the festivals would lack meaning.
Selected from the seven-volume English edition of The Torah Commentary
of Rebbeinu Bachya, as translated and annotated by Eliyahu Munk.
From Ascent Quarterly
#25: (Simchat Torah)
"Different Heads, Same Feet"
by Yerachmiel Tilles
One Simchas Torah the wife of the Baal Shem Tov saw that his chief
disciples were rejoicing and dancing, and drinking a great deal of wine.
Worrying for Kiddush and Havdalah she said to her husband: "Tell
them please to stop dancing and drinking, for otherwise you won't have
enough wine left."
The tzaddik smiled and said: "Good point. Go along and tell them
to stop, and they'll go home." The rebbitzin opened the door and
saw the disciples dancing in a circle, while over their heads hovered
a canopy of fire. Thereupon she herself went down to the cellar, and brought
them as much wine as was needed.
Sometimes a sliver of anguish assails me during
the tumultous joy of Simchat Torah. It happens whenever I become too aware
of Jewish men standing on the sidelines, passively watching the traditional
lively dancing, resisting all polite invitations and rough arm-jerkings
to join in. I am not talking about the ones that may have tried participating,
but for whatever reason enjoy it more as spectators. Although I sometimes
feel sorry that they are passing up a special opportunity, at least I
can assume that they are clear about their options.
What makes me wince is people sitting it out because of a simple, yet
profound miscomprehension. "I don't study the Torah the rest of the
year," they say, "so how can I presume to dance with it now.
I don't deserve the privilege." And it is not only the three-times-a-year
attendees I hear this from. My attempts to explain the fallacy in their
assumption while the dancing is going on are too often skeptically viewed
as yet another, albeit subtle, ploy to draft some more dancers, so here
is a bid to head off the problem this year by addressing it comfortably
In one respect they are right: Jews are supposed to energetically study
the Torah throughout the year. And in that context perhaps it is possible
to distinguish between Jews according to the effort they make, the depth
of their understanding, and the knowledge they accumulate. It could even
be that some Jews at the top of this list will feel more joy during the
dancing on Simchat Torah than others who have made less of an investment.
But that is far from the whole story.
The name Simchat Torah is usually understood to refer to the joy we have
in dancing with the Torah. An equally valid explanation, however--and
one which is emphasized by the Sisu v'simchu prayer after the dancing--is
the joy that the Torah has from us. That is, we do not dance for our own
pleasure, we dance to honor the Torah.
Every other time of the year we have the opportunity to honor the Torah
by studying it. On Simchat Torah, however, the Torah scroll remains covered!
It is not available for intellectual study, only for being rejoiced through
our dancing. And while we each attain our own unique personal level in
Torah-study, when it comes to circling around the Torah together, we are
all equal--two feet each! Distinctions based on level of intellect or
even committment are irrelevant. We just dance. Then the Torah is "happy,"
G-d is happy, and we have a good time too. Afterwards, we should find
that the dancing itself arouses us to increase our Torah study efforts
throughout the new year. Shanah Tovah!
Once on Simchat Torah, several Jews who had no connection to Torah
during the year, entered the synagogue of Rabbi Shalom DovBer of Lubavitch,
and joined the dancing. One Chassid stood by and derisively smiled at
them. The Rebbe said to him: "You are profaning the holy!"
Last year's Simchat Torah page
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insights on Simchat Torah