1. To understand the concept of Simchas Torah the question is often asked 1 s why does the rejoicing of Simchas Torah consist of dancing with a sefer-Torah while it is rolled up and covered with its mantle so that it is impossible to read any of what is written it (2). Although regarding Torah it states “for it is your wisdom and your understanding” (3) nevertheless at this time we express our joy not through study and contemplation but rather through dancing with the Torah. This form of rejoicing provides the opportunity for every Jew to share in the joy of Simchas Torah including the simplest one — who is not geared to grasp the Torah intellectually.
(Moreover, as we see in practice, the dancing during Hakkafos attracts even those Jews whose attachment to the Torah is not apparent during the rest of the year).
The fact that the joy on Simchas Torah can be shared equally by every Jew, is further expressed by our dancing specifically with a sefer Torah — the Written Law, for regarding the Written Law we find that even one ignorant of the meaning of the words is obligated by the Torah the Torah of Truth) to say a Berachah prior to reading it (4). This making a berachah, indicates to us that even the most ignorant Jew is truly attached to the Torah since he too is able to illuminate the Torah which he learns with the light and presence of the Infinite G-d, the Giver of the Torah.
Another question often asked is why we celebrate Simchas Torah on Shemini Atzeres when seemingly it should be celebrated on Shavuos — the day the Torah was given ? (5)
2. The explanation (6) of this can be understood from the Midrash (7) which states that it would seemingly have be more fitting that the Atzeres (extension) of Sukkos should occur fifty days later as does the Atzeres of Pesach (Shavuos) which is fifty days after Pesach. The Midrash then explains the difference between the two Atzeres by way of a parable. There was a king whys had many daughters, some of whom lived nearby and others far away. One day, they all came to visit the king their father to inquire after his welfare. Said the king, “Those daughters living nearby have the time to go home and return to me, while those living in far away places do not have time to return. Therefore, now that all of us are here together, let us now make a day of festivity and rejoice together”.
So too, concerning Pesach, which occurs at a time when we are entering into summer from winter, the Almighty says that there is time to go home and return, so the Atzeres (Shavuos) can take place fifty days later. However, regarding Sukkos, the going from summer into winter does not allow for an opportunity to go home and return. So while “everyone is here together with me, let us make a festive Holy Day and rejoice together”.
This is why we celebrate Simchas Torah on Shemini Atzeres; for the “one day” on which all His-daughters (i.e. the souls of the Jewish people who are called ‘the daughters of Zion and Jerusalem’ (8) ) come to ‘visit’ the King their Father refers to the day of Yom Kippur (9). Correspondingly when He says, “let us all make a day of festivity and rejoice together”, the reference is to Simchas Torah (9) (which is fixed on Shemini Atzeres), referred to as the “one festive-day”, similar to the one day of Yom Kippur.
3. This will be understood in light of what was previously explained (in the discourse “In Sukkos you shall dwell”) that each festival in Tishrei expresses the concept of uniqueness, each in its own way.
Concerning Rosh Hashanah our Sages o.b.m. state (10), “the mitzvah of the day is shofar.” In other words Rosh Hashanah stands apart from all other festivals with its one (and only) mitzvah-shofar. The mitzvah itself, according to the Rambam, is a commandment of Torah transcending reason. For although the mitzvah of shofar expresses extremely exalted ideas of teshuvah (as the Rambam himself continues)(11), nevertheless it is primarily a commandment transcending human wisdom.
Similarly Yom Kippur, the culmination of the ‘ten days’ starting from Rosh Hashanah, is unique in all three categories of “Space, Time, and Soul” for, that service performed only on-Yom Kippur (12) (.:unique in Time)was in the Holy of Holies (unique in Space) by the Cohen Gadol1 of whom it is said, “and He separated Aaron to sanctify him, that he be most holy” (unique in Soul).(13)
Similarly with Sukkos, the mitzvah of dwelling in the Sukkah, (which extends throughout the entire festival, from the moment it begins) itself expresses unity, since, to quote the Sages o.b.m., “It would befit all Israel to dwell together in one Sukkah” (14).
This is also evidenced by the taking of the Four Species (whose purpose is to cause the All-Encompassing and Transcendent Light (as in the “one Sukkah”) to illuminate internally). (15).
The theme of unity is apparent in each of the Four Species, and particularly in the esrog, which is therefore first o£ the Four Species mentioned in the Torah (16). The Torah calls the esrog ‘pri etz hadar’ translated in its literal sense as “the beauteous fruit of a tree”, but also meaning “the fruit which lives on its tree from year to year” (17). The esrog weathers through all the seasonal changes in the year, not only enduring them, but also being nurtured by them. Thereby the esrog symbolizes unity in the midst of diversity.
Just as the requirement of beauteousness mentioned in the Torah regarding the esrog is explained in the Talmud () as extending to the other three species — i.e. that each must be a beautiful specimen so too the idea of unity expressed in the esrog extends to the other three species.
The mitzvah of the Four Species as a whole also signifies unity. The mitzvah consists of taking four different species and binding them together. Each species represents a different type of Jew (): binding them together symbolically expresses the unity of the Jewish people — “and they shall all form one union to do Your will, wholeheartedly.”
4. The true and lasting unity of all four types of Jews can only be effected through teshuvah, for teshuvah transcends division – it can be in ‘one turn and in one moment’ (). This is precisely the difference between the first tablets (which represent Torah per se) and the second tablets given after the Jews committed the sin of the golden calf (which represent Torah as acquired through teshuvah). Receiving the first tablets necessitated Moshe’s being on the mountain forty days in addition to the requirement () of counting the seven weeks of Sefirah by all of the Jewish people.
Regarding the second tablets, however, Moshe’s forty day stay on the mountain was primarily to appease the Almighty and to be wholeheartedly and joyfully inclined towards the Jewish people(). Then the tablets were given in a moment. The fact that teshuvah occurs in one turn and in one moment stresses the fact that teshuvah transcends all measure or limitation (). This is because true teshuvah permeates the innermost and indivisible essence of the soul — the level of ‘one-ness’ of the soul.
It is this quality of teshuvah which effects a unity of all types of Jews, “from the heads of the tribes to the wood-choppers and water-carriers’. It is written, “you stand firmly.. all of you together”, meaning that the Jewish people stand firm only when united. The word for “standing firm”, “nitzav”, also means “one appointed to rule” as it is written, “The Nitzav was king”(23*)&(). Thus the unity of the Jewish-PE-a~. effected through teshuvah elevates them to the status of “kings” and masters of everything which exists in the world. This mastery begins with their being inscribed for a sweet and good year — the good being apparent in their material as well as spiritual affairs; for teshuvah transcends the division between the most sublime form of existence and the most mundane, between the spiritual and the physical.
We can now understand the statement (see end of section 2.) that the “one day on which the King’s daughters visit Him” refers to Yom Kippur, and the one day of festivity which follows, refers to Simchas Torah. For as explained (Section 3.), Yom Kippur is the one (unique) day in “Time, Space, and Soul”, and from the teshuvah of Yom Kippur there follows the one day of festivity.
5. This arousal of the level of ‘one-ness’ of the soul which transcends division must affect the lower levels of the soul where differences do .exist (just as this _spiritual arousal must be connected to some physical action, e.g. dwelling in a sukkah, taking the Four Species , dancing with one’s feet). Therefore in the Torah after it is said, “ ....you were standing f irm1~. , .all of you together.” (which refers to the unity of all the Jews () through the aspect of ‘one-ness’ found in each of them), the Torah immediately continues with an enumeration of the ten separate types of Jews from the heads of the tribes down to the wood-choppers and water-carriers, indicating that the unity springing from the ‘one-ness’ inherent in each Jew must also be recognizable in all Jews even as they are separate and distinct from one another.
As it is with the ‘Soul’ of a Jew, so it is with ‘Time’. The ‘one-ness’ of Yom Kippur and Simchas Torah must affect and influence every day in the year(beginning the very next day), so that in an individual’s every action is detectable the stamp of his having ‘gust experienced Yom Kippur and Simchas Torah. Notwithstanding the passage of many days, weeks, or months, one’s arousal on Yom Kippur and Simchas Torah should not weaken, but rather maintain its effectiveness — having come from a Divine source which transcends division or change — “I am G-d; I have not changed.” ().
This in turn uplifts the level of the lone day’ of Yom Kippur and Simchas Torah, as explained earlier regarding the esrog’s capacity not only to endure all seasonal change, but also to draw nurture from it.
6. May it be G-d’s Will that all of the above be fulfilled for each and every member of the Jewish people — that this year be a visibly good and blessed year, in the abundant blessings of health, family, and prosperity in the material sense, and also in their spiritual sense () (from which the material derives) (). Thus we will immediately proceed with joy from Simchas Torah to the Service of G-d in the form of — “and Yaakov went on his way” ()2, so that even the mundane affairs of our everyday lives, including the weekdays, Shabbos and Yom Tov, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, including the minutest of details, will be filled with the core and essence of the soul, which is bound to the Essence of G-d.
7. Since this conduct derives from Simchas Torah and Simcha — Joy bursts through all barriers; it is above limitation and beyond containment (32); therefore one’s rejoicing in Divine Service will surely break down all barriers or limitation imposed both by one’s inner exile, and the exile in its literal sense. And we will soon merit to see With our own eyes G-d’s return to Zion in the true Redemption which will take place upon the coming of our Righteous Mashiach, may he soon lead us proudly to our land, “And he will rebuild (33) the Temple in its place, and gather together the dispersed of Israel. Then “I will purify the speech of all the nations, that they will call upon the Name of G-d, and they will serve Him together as one” (34) and (35), and G-d alone will reign supreme. (36)