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When the Jewish people camped at Sinai, the Torah tells us that they were united. Rather than saying that they camped at Mount Sinai, the Torah says, he camped at Mount Sinai.[1] This draws the attention of Rashi, the eleventh century biblical commentator, who observes, “As one people with one …

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Home » Simchat Torah

Simchat Torah: Circular Logic

Submitted by on September 11, 2006 – 10:05 pmNo Comment | 2,170 views

Two Types

There are two types of people; the first sees tragedy, the other sees opportunity.

If their homes go up in flames, the first would reflect on the beautiful home that was, the second would contemplate the even more beautiful home that can soon be.

Replacing the Shattered Tablets

As we approach Simchat Torah, the culmination of the High Holidays, we reflect on the holiday season that just passed. The High Holiday season began on the Seventeenth of Tamuz, the day that marks the beginning of the destruction of the ancient Jewish temple.

On this day we mourned the lost glory of our past and yearned for the restoration of our temple. Acknowledging that our ancestors were exiled from their land for their sinful behavior, we strove, from this day onward, to mend our ways.

The Seventeenth of Tamuz also marks the day that Moses destroyed the first set of tablets. Climbing down from Mount Sinai Moses beheld the terrible sight of his nation dancing around a golden calf. Swiftly concluding that they were no longer worthy of their divine mandate, he hurled the tablets to the ground.

This sin was the beginning of a long slide that culminated with the second tragedy , marked on that day, the destruction of the temple. Mindful of these two tragedies we initiated a period of repentance that extended till Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the new year.  On that day G-d sat in judgment and we beseeched him to judge us favorably.

Our fate remained uncertain till Yom Kippur, the day deemed by history as day of atonement. On this day G-d forgave our ancestors for the sin of the golden calf and consented to provide Moses with a new set of tablets. On this day he forgave us too.

The circle closed. What began on the day the tablets were shattered ended on the day the tablets were replaced. What began as a drive for repentance ended with absolute atonement. This positive conclusion was a cause for celebration and we did indeed rejoice. We launched into the holiday of Sukkot, a festive time of joy and celebration.

A Sudden Reversal

As we danced our way through the holiday we reveled in our newfound piety and enjoyed our  status as G-d’s righteous people. Indeed, the festivities culminate on the last day with a celebration of G-d and Torah. We rejoice with G-d and G-d rejoices with us. We celebrate with the Torah and the Torah celebrates with us; the people that embraced it.

It is fitting that we chant the final portion of the Torah on this festive day. The verses ring with praise for Moses and his people. An ode to our nation; to our strength and spirit. An ode to Moses; to his prophecy and leadership.  The last climactic words are finally chanted,“The awesome power that Moses performed before the eyes of all Israel.”  Chazak, we are strengthened. (1)

Wait. Just a moment. What were those last words again? What was the awesome power that Moses performed before our eyes?  Our sages taught that this was the power with which Moses shattered the tablets. (2)

What? That again? I thought we were past that. That was the beginning of the journey. This was supposed to be its culmination! Are we turning the clock back?

The Purpose of Sin

This goes to show that Torah is aligned with the second group. circular logic - innerstreamThe one that views tragedy as potential opportunity and a sinner as a potential penitent.

The Talmud teaches that our ancestors were compelled, by a divine force, to worship the golden calf. They were in a pious state after receiving the Ten Commandments and would not have betrayed G-d had he not compelled them to. He did this to demonstrate the power of repentance. (3)

Lest we breach our relationship with G-d and despair of repenting, the sin of the golden calf demonstrated the potency of repentance. Repentance brought us back even from the brink of idolatry. Not only did it repair our bond, but made it stronger that ever before.

Just as a rope is sturdiest where it broke and was knotted back together so is a relationship strongest when it was betrayed and then repaired. Th process of repentance began for our ancestors when Moses dropped the tablets. The Torah does not see that as a moment of failure, but as the moment the healing began.

Simchat Torah

At the height of our celebration, when we are most confident in our own piety, we are reminded of the power of repentance. Lest we sin again, we are reminded to never despair.

Sin closes one door, but opens another. It closes the door to piety, but opens the door to repentance. The latter is far larger than the former. Rather than perceive our sins as barriers, we are encouraged to view them as  opportunities for repentance.

The Circular Dance

This is why we dance in a circle on Simchat Torah. The scholar and the ignoramus, the pious and the wicked, all in one equal circle. A circle has no beginning and no end, no high point and no low point; all are equal in a circle.

On this day we are reminded that the ignorant and the wicked are not sinners, but  potential penitents. It is not a question of if, bur rather of when. On that day they will not  join the scholarly and pious ranks, but surpass them. (4)

Footnotes

  1. Deuteronomy 34: 12.
  2. See Rashi’s commentary (R. Shlomo Yitzchaki, Troyes France, 1040-1105) ibid.
  3. Bab. Talmud, Avodah Zarah, 4b.
  4. This essay is based on Likutei Sichos IX p. 237 (R. Menachem M Schneerson, Rebbe of Lubavitch, NY, 1902-1994).
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