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Home » CBT, Simchat Torah

Simchat Torah: On Foot

Submitted by on October 5, 2012 – 8:55 pmNo Comment | 4,015 views

The Odd Celebration

Simchat Torah is a festive holiday. We carry the Torah scroll around the Bimah (Torah reading table) and dance the night away. The reason for this great joy is the completion of our annual cycle of Torah reading.[1] Every Shabbat we chant a portion from the Torah and the last portion is chanted on this day.

This explanation only begs a question: Why was this day chosen to complete the Torah reading? Wouldn’t it make more sense for the final Torah reading to coincide with Shavuot, the holiday that marks our receiving of the Torah at Sinai?

Once we raise the holiday of Shavuot we are forced to ask another question. Shavuot is celebrated with a marathon session of Torah study, but Simchat Torah is celebrated on foot with joyous dance. Wouldn’t a study oriented celebration make more sense?

Married Daughters

Our sages, in their inimitable way, answered these questions by posing an entirely different question.[2] Citing the fact that Shavuot and Simchat Torah both carry the Biblical nomenclature Atzeret,[3] they wondered why the Atzeret of Simchat Torah is celebrated immediately after Sukkot whereas the Atzeret of Shavuot is scheduled fifty days after its preceding holiday, Passover.

They explained this inconsistency with a parable. A king had many married daughters, some lived nearby and others, at a distance. One day all the daughters gathered to visit the king, their father. The king declared, those who live nearby always have time to visit with me, but those who live at a distance rarely have the time to visit, now that they are all here, we shall have a celebration.[4]

Wise parables often require decoding and this is one is no different. On the surface the parable doesn’t seem to answer the question, but under the treatment of the Chassidic Masters the parable is understood in an entirely new light.

The king in the parable is obviously G-d and the daughters are us. The Chassidic Masters[5] explained that the daughters are married to their mission of carrying G-d’s word to the nations and elevating the moral stature of society. All of G-d’s daughters are married and dispatched to earth, some remain close to G-d and others wander a fair distance away.

The righteous and morally upstanding among our people live outside of G-d’s heavenly palace, but in their minds and hearts they feel close to G-d. They might be physically distant, but they are spiritually nearby. Then there are the rest of us, the ordinary people, who among the multitudes of society, follow their own hearts and dance to their own tunes. These souls are somewhat distant from G-d.

Passover and Sukkot

Under this treatment the parable yields an entirely new message. The difference between Passover and Sukkot is that Passover celebrates the birth of our nation and Sukkot follows Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the annual period of introspection and repentance.

At birth, all children are innocent. When it is first born, every soul feels close to G-d. It is only with time and maturity that some of us stray from the path of Torah and grow somewhat distant from G-d. The same principle applies to the collective. When the nation was in its infancy it was innocent and still close to G-d, it was possible for them to take their time and gradually prepare to receive the Torah. There was no urgency; they were already close to G-d.

Yom Kippur and Sukkot represent those, who realize how different their lifestyles are from the Torah and resolve to change and improve. These are the daughters that come from a distance to visit the king, their father. Such people don’t have the luxury of leisure. A fire burns under their feet. They feel desperate to make up for lost time and are driven to great urgency.[6] They don’t want to take fifty days to prepare for the Torah; they want it now and feel they need it now. G-d responds in kind and grants them the holiday of Simchat Torah immediately after Sukkot.

Second Tablets

This explanation is especially poignant when we take into account that Shavuot marks the day that Moses was given the set of Tablets that he shattered, when he beheld the spectacle of the Golden Calf. Only after the Jews repented for that sin did G-d grant Moses a second set of Tablets. The second set of Tablets was presented to Moses on Yom Kippur.[7]

The first set of tablets represent a time when the Jewish people were righteous and in a posture of devotion and spirituality. The second set of tablets represent a time of return, repentance and forgiveness. When we return from a great distance we feel the need for urgent progress and don’t have time to waste, which is why we celebrate with the Torah immediately after Sukkot.[8]

Everything now falls into place. Simchat Torah follows immediately from Sukkot because we are in a posture of urgency and return, making up for lost time. The annual Torah reading is scheduled to be concluded at this time to coincide with the time that the second set of tablets, the one that remained with us and represents the Torah that we read, were granted us.[9]

On Foot

This celebration takes the form of dancing rather than study because the primaryon foot - innerstream celebrants of this holiday are former sinners that become returnees. These are not great Torah scholars and they might very well be unable to expound on the esoteric nuances and legal complexities of the Torah.[10] These Jews cannot celebrate through Torah study, study is not their forte.

In fact it wasn’t their study that sparked their return from their distant wanderings to G-d’s home, it was their realization that their true home is with G-d and their true vocation is the Torah. They might not have demonstrated a longing for the Torah in the past, but they now know that they always belonged to the Torah. Today they celebrate their belonging to the Torah and their deep and newfound longing for the torah. It is premature for them to celebrate with their minds, but they can celebrate on foot.

The Torah needs legs, it needs someone to carry out its precepts and share its message with others. Today we become those legs. The Torah stands on us as we pledge to carry it forward.

[1] Tur Orach Chayim 669.

[2] Shir hashirim Rabbah 7:4.

[3] Numbers 29:35 and Deuteronomy 16: 8.

[4] The Midrash concludes with positing that Shavuot is in the summer when the days are long, thus there is time to wait. But Simchat Torah arrives in the fall, when they days grow short and thus there is no time to waste. See footnote #9.

[5] Sefer Hamamarim 5706 pp 34-47 and Toras Menachem 5742 v. 1 pp 241-246

[6] The urgency is not a negative brought on by sin, but a distinct positive. To find the strength to pull themselves back, returnees need to dig deep into their souls to a place beyond the facets we tap every day. This gives them the strength to catapult over their obstacles and reach for G-d in ways that enable them to establish ties with G-d that ordinary people don’t and can’t.

[7] Mishnah Taanit, 4:8.

[8] We wait till after Sukkot rather than celebrate on the morrow of Yom Kippur to give the returnee time to digest this new found passion and absorb it. This is also why the holiday is called Atzeret, which among others things means to gather. It is a time of gathering the many High Holiday experiences and absorbing them.

[9] The long days of sunlight in the summer represent enlightenment and close proximity to G-d. The short wintery days represent our distance from G-d. Passover leads to lengthening days because it is a time of spiritual birth and growth. Simchat Torah leads to short wintry days because it represents the Jew returning from a great distance.

[10] Although these Jews chanted the Torah all year long, they are hardly scholars. Firstly chanting the Torah does not expose one to the depth offered only in the Talmud and oral tradition. Second, even in the written text, letters are the last level of understanding. Our sages derived their teaching, first from the cantilation notes, second from the vowels, third from the crowns above the letters and only last from the letters. The letters are thus the lowest level, or the feet of, the Torah.

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