Shemini Atzeret / Simchat Torah 5784


Holiday #4 (335)

Shemini Atzeret 5784

Oct.6(sunset) - Oct. 7(+8)

From the Chassidic Masters From the Kabbalists From the Rebbes of Chabad From Ascent Quarterly

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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 physical world.

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 forty-three."

(Likutei Sichos)

From the Kabbalists (Shemini Atzeret)

"Mystical Purpose of the Festivals"

"On the eighth day shall be a solemn assembly for you." [29:35]

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 advance.

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!"



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