From the Chassidic Masters
Eighth Day shall be a gathering (Atzeret) for you." [Shemini Atzeret Torah
All the elicitations of holiness and the revelations that take place
during Sukkot are “encompassing.” On Shemini Atzeret they are absorbed and internalized.
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.
"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.
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)
"THE DANCE OF FORGIVENESS"
(from Ascent Quarterly)
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
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.
(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
Last year's Simchat Torah
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insights on Simchat Torah