What is in a Name: Simchat Torah



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Simchat Torah

By Nachum Mohl

Why does only the festival called "Simchat Torah" have the word "simcha" added to its name? Each of the three pilgrimage festivals, Passover, Shavuot, and Succoth are imbued with special joy. During the time of the holy Temple, the Jews would go up to the Temple with their families, bring sacrifices to thank G-d for the goodness that He bestowed upon them and regale with a simcha that would permeate their souls and instill in them happiness for months to come.

The truth is that Simchat Torah is not the real name of the holiday; the real name is Shemini Atzeret, and it is the concluding holiday which follows the seven day Succoth holiday. Shemini Atzeret is observed in the Land of Israel as Simchat Torah, and in the Diaspora where two days of Shemini Atzeret are celebrated, the first day is called Shemini Atzeret and the second day is set aside for distinction and called Simchat Torah.

Let us understand what exactly is the specialness of the day? Why does it alone from all of the holidays have the word "simcha" attached to it, to define the unusual quality which distinguishes this day from the other holidays?

When we are probe the holidays to see the exclusivity of each holiday we find that Passover has its matzoth and it is seven days. Shavuot is only one day and is celebrated as the day that the Torah was given to the Jews. Succoth is also seven days and we dwell in succoths and have the additional mitzvah of the four species. The day after the Succoth holidays is Shemini Atzeret and there really is no Biblical central theme or observance that denotes its character – so why should this be called Simchat Torah?

The general concept of simcha as it relates to the holidays is that on these special days, as mentioned above, the Jews converged en mass into the holy Temple. Three times a year they witnessed the priests perform their services and the Levites accompany them with their songs. A holy spirit came down upon the Jews as G-d in His goodness gave them a divine revelation in the Temple.

This can be compared in a manner to the kings of old, who on special happy days would invite the local peasants to come to visit the palace. Normally the king would be secluded in his palace and would not available to the inhabitants, nor seen by them. Now if the king was beloved by the people, when they were allowed to enter the castle and see the revelation of the king, it would generate tremendous excitement and enthusiasm in the hearts of the common folk. They would strain and push to get a glimpse of their beloved ruler who in his personal "simcha" would regale and reveal himself to his people. The people would be overjoyed at the experience of seeing the revelation of the king in all of his glory in a state of happiness.

We on Simchat Torah finish the reading of the Torah and we begin again a new cycle of the weekly Torah portions. The Torah is the wisdom of G-d as is comes down from the loftiest heights and descends into our material world. We can not fathom what G-d's wisdom is as it is to Him, but when it is enclosed into worldly garments, meaning the various mitzvoth as brought down in the Torah, then we can begin to comprehend its depths. Of course, the more one studies, the more one can understand.

But on Simchat Torah the unique aspect is not the learning that is done through out the entire year. The special aspect of Simchat Torah is the singing and dancing with the Torah Scrolls. In this manner, all Jews achieve equality, the wise man and the simple man together both dancing and singing; both apprehend only the externalities of the Torah on this day.

This relates to the essence of the Torah. It is beyond our ability to truly fathom the depths of G-d's wisdom. Even the greatest scholar is likened to a simpleton when his intelligence is compared to that of the Almighty G-d whose wisdom is unfathomable.

But the fact that G-d in His endless goodness has revealed Himself through His wisdom to us in the Torah. Now we are completing another cycle of studying that very book and it fills us with joy and happiness that knows little limits. So on this special day, the day of Simchat Torah, we dance and sing with the Torah Scrolls in our arms. And as we whirl around the floor of the synagogue we draw down from G-d's blessed countenance happiness and joy that will take us through the dark winter nights and be with us into the next spring.


from the October 2006 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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