Simchat Torah, the conclusion of the High Holidays
By J. Goldman
Simchat Torah, or as it is called in the Torah, Shimini Atzeret, is the conclusion of a month packed with holidays. First comes Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment, followed by Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, then Succoth and the intermediate days, which have the status of a holiday, and all of this is concluded by Simchat Torah.
Normally each holiday has its own sacrifices, which distinguishes it from the next. In our case, Simchat Torah has this one thing in common with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The sacrifices that were brought to the altar in the Temple were the same. This should tell us something.
If we analyze the aspects that these holidays share, in light of their differences, we would be forced to say that the method of service in these holidays differs thus: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur seem to be a service of the head and the heart. We must contemplate and analyze our deeds to see if they were proper. If upon our accounting they were not proper, we must make amends. That requires use of both the heart and the head.
Succoth is different. In Succoth we utilize our body to serve G-d. How? We sit or we sleep and eat in the Succoth. This requires our body, not our head. This mitzvah extends for the entire week of Succoth.
On Simchat Torah we emerge from the Succoth. It is the time when we take out the Torah from the Ark and we dance with it in the synagogue. We do not use our head or heart to understand it. And while we must bring our body to the synagogue, it is our feet that are utilized in this mitzvah. We simply dance and dance and dance with the Torah until our feet cannot dance anymore.
Now we must inquire, why is it that the usage of the body seems to go in a descending manner as we progress from Rosh Hashanah to Succoth? It would be more understandable if we were to go in an ascending manner - we are always supposed to go up!
Not only this, but if Simchat Torah is really the conclusion of the High Holydays, it should be like a finale, the purpose revealed, not the lowest form! Is not the head much loftier than the foot?
But in reality, the year begins with Rosh Hashanah, a time of reckoning and contemplation, a time of renewal of our relationship to G-d. Sin is not just a bad deed; it causes a separation between G-d and us. We must use our heads to understand what is our iniquity.
Yom Kippur is the time of reconciliation, atonement. This is the time of forgiveness. This is the time that G-d forgives us for our sins, and the breaches that the sins caused are repaired. Our relationship to G-d is restored!
Succoth is the time in which this renewal of our close relationship to G-d is actualized. We utilize G-d's Holy commandment to dwell in the Succoth to firm and strengthen our relationship to him.
Yet reality is such that we cannot sustain this close relationship to G-d. We must leave the comfort of G-d's intimacy to seek our fortune in the world. That is the importance of Simchat Torah. We must know that even with the lowest aspect of our being, our feet, we can be connected with G-d.
There is a story about a famous Chassidic teacher, Reb Shulem who was known to never to sleep in a bed. However, he always slept with a pillow.
One day his students came in and saw him asleep on a bench in the study hall with his feet upon the pillow. Upon being questioned about this strange sight, he replied, "I gave up luxury to study Torah. Since it is through my head that I have come close to G-d, I reward its helping me, by giving it a pillow to rest upon at night. Yesterday, however, a poor man came to me requesting my help to raise money for him for a most important matter. I walked with him all around the town from house to house to insure that he would be able to raise his funds. I was not able to learn at all. Tell me, don't you agree that it is my feet with which I served G-d that deserved to be rewarded?"
The same with us. After Simchat Torah, we are going to go about our mundane tasks. We are going to utilize our lowest elements but by going about our mundane business in according to the dictates of the Torah we have succeeded in bringing the Torah into every aspect of our life. This is the divine will.
Is it no wonder that we celebrate Simchat Torah by dancing with the Torah?
from the September-October 2004 Edition of the Jewish Magazine