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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
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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