Shemini Atzeret / Simchat Torah 5782


Holiday #4 (303)

Simchat Torah 5782

Sept. 27-28(29)

From the Chassidic MastersFrom the KabbalistsFrom Ascent QuarterlySome Laws and Customs

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Simchat Torah

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From the Chassidic Masters

Shmini Atzeret
“The Eighth Day shall be a gathering (Atzeret) for you." [Shemini Atzeret Torah Reading]
All the elicitations of holiness and the revelations that take place during Sukkot are “encompassing.” On Shemini Atzeret they are absorbed and internalized.    [Likutei Torah]

Simchat Torah
"Rejoice and be happy in the Joy of the Torah" [Simchat Torah Prayers]
A joy that is felt by one side while the other side is morose and bitter is not a true joy. Therefore, on Simchat Torah the relatives from both sides have to be happy: the Jews with the Torah and also the Torah has to take pleasure in the Jews.   [Peninim] 

From the Kabbalists

"The Secret of the Eighth"

"On the fifteenth of this [seventh] month shall be the festival of Sukkot to G-d for seven days. On the first day is a holy convocation. ...The eighth day is a sacred holiday to you...." [Lev. 23:34-36]

Just as the sukkah symbolizes a temporary abode, so life on earth represents only a transient part of man's existence. It is divided into 7 decades. The first decade is sin free, hence, "the first day is a holy convocation." During the 7 days we offer sacrifices also on behalf of the rest of mankind, (70 nations) since G-d will rejoice when all of mankind proves that it was worthy of having been created.

The 8th day, representing the 8th decade of our lives, i.e. life after the evil urge has lost its power over us, the holy convocation will be "for you," i.e. for us rather than "for G d," since it will be Israel who will be entitled to celebrate its own achievements then.

(adapted from Torat Moshe - 16th commentary of Rabbi Moshe Alshech of Zefat on the Torah, as translated and condensed in the English version of Eliyahu Munk)

From Ascent Quarterly

(from Ascent Quarterly) 

The cycle of the year begins with Rosh HaShanah, and is followed by Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah, all within the same month. The concluding celebrations are characterized by dancing in a circle, the Hebrew term for which is "machol." This word has the same grammatical root as the world "mechilah," meaning "pardon," which is the theme of the preceding Holy Days of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. This double entendre is not at all coincidental.

Dance consists of movements that alternately separate the dancing partners and then draw them towards each other again. This process is evocative of the ebb and flow – the "yearning and returning" that characterizes our spiritual lives. There are times when we feel a sense of distance from G-d, and other times when the distance is bridged and we feel a great closeness. Were it not for this periodic distancing, the moments of closeness would not be so appreciated.

Throughout history the Jewish nation has experienced a collective ebb and flow in its relationship with G-d. Positively viewed, the periods of distancing are only for the purpose of experiencing the joy of closeness over and over again. Man, by nature, is not static, but keeps oscillating in this manner.

The Divine attributes of "Kindness" and "Severity" generate the "right" and "left" dimensions of existence respectively. Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are colored by the severity of the left side. They epitomize the first half of the verse from the love sonnet of Song of Songs [2:6], "His left hand under my head, His right hand embraces me." The theme of this verse is similar to the rabbinic expression: "The left hand pushes away while the right hand draws close."

As the verse indicates, a Jew's service begins with the left side. Accordingly, Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, the days of awe and judgment (both of which are aspects of severity), come first in the cycle of Holy Days. On these days and the seven days in between we are introspective, analyzing the distance that has ensued as a result of poor judgment and inappropriate actions on our part. Subsequently, on Yom Kippur, we become more involved in regret for these shortcomings. Seeking purification from (hopefully) the very depths of our hearts, we make a firm resolution that from now on our sole aim and main endeavor will be to conduct our lives in a way that G-d would approve.

This period then gives way to the days of Sukkot when the closeness between man and G-d is re-established ("His right hand embraces me")--the s'kach "hugs" us!. Pulling the lulav towards the heart after each waving--the same spot we tapped on the High Holy days during the Confessional prayers!--draws G-dliness into our hearts.

"Mechilah" (pardon) reaches its culmination in the act of "machol" (dancing) that is the highlight of Simchat Torah. The two together comprise a cycle and process whereby the Left Side of existence fuses with the Right Side, where the ebb and flow of distance and closeness meld in the mystical bond between G-d and His people.

Some Laws and Customs

Whose Joy is it?

 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.


Chag Samayach - Have a joyous holiday!

The ASCENT staff

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