Shemini Atzeret / Simchat Torah 5781

Holiday #4 (284)

Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah 5781


From the Chassidic Masters From the Kabbalists From Ascent Quarterly Some Laws and Customs

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From the Chassidic Masters

"You have been shown to know, that the L-rd is G-d, there is none else aside from Him." (from the verses recited on Simchat Torah)

The entire month of Elul, Rosh Hashana, the blowing of the shofar, the Ten Days of Repentance, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, the Four Kinds and Hoshana Rabba are only preparations for the "You have shown to make it known" of Simchat Torah.

[Rabbi Moshe of Kobrin]

From the Kabbalists

"The Fruit of Desire"

From Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman's commentary on the Torah:

In the mystic teachings of the Kabbala, "the fruit of the goodly tree" [Lev. 23:40 - in Hebrew, 'pri etz hadar'] is the fruit in which there is a great deal of desire. This is the fruit with which Adam sinned, as it is said, "And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat." (Gen. 2:6) ...we obtain His favor by taking the etrog together with the other species… Thus, the sin consisted of taking the etrog ("the fruit of the goodly tree" mentioned above) alone, and we obtain His favor by taking the etrog together with the other species...

From here you can understand that the etrog is not bound up with the other three species, and yet it invalidates [the performance of the commandment] if it is not taken together with them. It is comparable to Atzeret (the eighth day of Sukkot), which is a festival of its own, and yet is supplementary to the first days. They are one in potentiality but not in actuality.

[Adapted from Rabbi Dr. Charles Chavel's annotated translation.]

From Ascent Quarterly


Rabbi Shaul Leiter


Sukkot, which begins four days after Yom Kippur, and Simchat Torah, are eight/nine days of celebration that are all the more joyful because they follow our intense Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur days of judgment. Therefore, being happy is an important and overriding aspect of these days, displaying confidence that the Almighty has heard and accepted our prayers.

The Four Species of Sukkot, the lulav, etrog, hadassim and aravot [date palm branch, citron, myrtles and willows], are not only symbols of our victory, they also hint towards the unity of the Jewish people. The sukka, the mitzvah that we fulfill by immersing ourselves in it, is G-d hugging us. Literally! On Simchat Torah we dance with the Torah while it is closed. We are so focused and satiated on our connection to G-d and His Wisdom that we do not even need to know what it says!

In addition to the special Torah portions that we read each day of Sukkot, the portion that we must draw our inspiration at this time is the final portion of the Torah, Zot Habracha. It ends with the words, "All the signs and wonders that Moses did in sight of the Jewish people." (Deut. 34:12) Rashi brings the traditional explanation that these words refer to Moses breaking the first set of the Tablets of the Law at the time of the sin of the Golden Calf.

In the Chasidic text Beit Avraham it is explained why these are the last words of the Torah: Knowing there is a problem is the most important part of the solution. It is a tragedy if a person has fallen from the spiritual level he had attained previously and doesn't know it. For this there is no cure. Alternatively, if a person feels his loss and shouts in despair about it, he has hope to resolve his problem in a positive way. If Moses had not broken the tablets, our people would not have felt the great blemish and loss. The verse hints to the awakening of the nation to the seriousness of their sin and opens their hearts to heaven.

It will take a lifetime to fix all of our bad traits. The least we need to accomplish at this point is to know we have a ways to go. This is why the Torah ends with these words on Simchat Torah, only to begin again immediately with "In the Beginning G-d created…", the opening verses of the Torah, signifying our ability to strengthen ourselves and make a truly fresh start.

May this be a year of spiritual and physical advancement for the Jewish people, and may we see the final redemption now!

Some Laws and Customs

Dancing AND Reading

 The fundamental element of Simchat Torah is joyous dancing. Nevertheless, we connect this celebration with the reading (and thus the study) of the Torah, for the dancing is done around the platform where the Torah is read. Moreover, the celebrations are introduced by reciting seventeen verses. Thus on Simchat Torah, the foundation of acceptance of Torah and its commandments is emphasized through joyous dancing, but verses are read to link us to the actual study of the Torah.

This connection is actually a complementary process. Extending this acceptance into one's conceptual powers brings fulfillment to the essence of the soul. For if one's essence is expressed only in faith and kabbalat ol, one's personality and thinking processes remain separate from G-dliness. There is a dichotomy between what the person believes and the way he thinks. G-dliness cannot be comprehended by such a person, and can affect him only in an encompassing manner.

When, by contrast, a person feels at one with his faith, he is at one with G-d. His faith affects the way he thinks, and even the way in which he carries out his mundane activities.For this reason, we associate the dancing of Simchas Torah with the reading of verses from the Torah. For the study of Torah complements and validates our Simchat Torah celebrations.

(Likutei Sichos)

Chag Samayach - Have a joyous holiday!

The ASCENT staff



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