The Meaning of Simchat Torah

    October 1998         
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Simchat Torah's Meaning in Relation to the Other Holidays

By Eliezer Cohen

Each of our holidays have its own label or descriptive phrase to describe the essence of the holiday. In the prayer books, for Pesach, we say "the time of our freedom," on Shavout, we say "the time of giving the Torah." On Succah, we say, "the time of our rejoicing" but on Shmini Atzaret, (which is also Simchat Torah) which comes at the conclusion of the holiday of Succah, the Rabbis have told us that it is also a holiday to itself, not connected to Simchat Torah, even though it is the day after. Strangely enough, it doesn't have a label of its own; we say the same thing that we say for Succah, "the time of our simcha." Why is it that Shmini Atzerit and Simchat Torah which are two separate holidays, have the same label?

Another interesting thing is that on the last day of our holiday when, hopefully we have reached a high level of clinging to G-d, after living in our Succah, separate from the grasp of the physical world, we ask G-d for the most physical blessing - rain. Couldn't we wait until tomorrow when the Festival of Succah is over and we are back in the world. Then it would seem appropriate to ask. I wouldn't expect my son to ask me for money on Yom-Tov - what could he do with it on Yom-Tov? Why do we have to ask for rain on this most spiritual day?

In order to understand this, we have to take note of another thing:

One other interesting aspect of Succah is that it is the opposite of Pesach. In the Zohar, the most ancient and mystical book we have, matzo is called the bread of faith, where as the Succah is called the shadow of faith. On Pesach we take the mitzvah (the divine commandment) which is matzoth and we put it inside of us. However on Succah we put ourselves inside of the mitzvah, inside the Succah.

Another difference is that we can't share the same exact mitzvah on Pesach. Although I can give you a piece of my matzoth and we can each do the mitzvah at the same time yet we are separately doing the mitzvah. By Succah we are both able to sit in the very same mitzvah at the very same time.

What this all is telling us is something very deep.

Pesach is the first holiday in the cycle of holidays. It is our coming out of Egypt a people lacking a deep rooted belief in G-d. Therefore the mitzvah is to eat matzo, the lowest form of bread, in order to develop this new belief and faith in G-d. Just like an infant is fed physical food, starting with mothers milk and slowly progressing in accordance to each individual infants development. Slowly pureed food is added and then as teeth begin to grow, solid foods are added. Similarly we coming out of Egypt, in terms of our faith we were on the level of infants. Therefore we were given the simple bread of faith to eat and then the mitzvah of S'firot HaOmar, counting the forty-nine days from Pesach to Shavout to prepare for the giving of the Torah.

Succah comes at the end of the planting year and is called the Festival of the Harvest. After the harvest we are commanded to take the leftovers from the harvest and to make a Succah and to dwell in it for seven days and to rejoice. Now anyone who made a good harvest certainly will have no trouble rejoicing and this is certainly the time of joy. However as we sit in the Succah and rejoice we realize that the reason we are happy is because of our good fortune and the reason for our good fortune is only because of G-d's goodness. That in reality G-d really is the ruler of the world, and as we realize this, our focus of rejoicing changes from our physical blessing to the source of physical blessing, namely G-d. Another words, from the world around us we are building and reinforcing faith in G-d. This is the concept of the Succah, to go from Pesach, the simple faith that requires nurture to develop the person; to Succah, where the faith in G-d is brought to fruition from the surrounding world.

After these two steps, finally we arrive at the apex of the holidays - Shmini Atzeret. No longer are we developing the faith and belief in G-d, but we rejoice in G-d Himself. He and only He alone is the object of our happiness. And this is manifest in our taking out the special gift that He gave us, the Torah scroll, and dancing with it.

Then after we have completed this cycle we are now prepare on this very special day to ask Him for rain. Rain the necessary ingredient to give us the ability to serve G-d on an even higher level during the year to come.


from the October 1998 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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