I can’t believe we are now in the month of October. The time is flying by! We are almost at the end of celebrating the holidays for the Hebrew month of Tishrei. The last days of Sukkot consist of Hoshana Rabbah, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah. Hashem begins to judge each individual on Rosh Hashanah and it is sealed on Hoshana Rabbah. During Sukkot, the holiday we are currently celebrating, the whole world is judged concerning water, fruit, and produce. On Hoshana Rabbah we pray for life, not only for ourselves, but for all of humanity. It is also the last day that we fulfill the mitzvah of eating in the Sukkah. We conclude this “holiday season” with Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.
The Torah states: On the eighth day you shall hold a solemn gathering; you shall not work at your occupations (Bamidbar 29:35).
בַּיּוֹם֙ הַשְּׁמִינִ֔י עֲצֶ֖רֶת תִּהְיֶ֣ה לָכֶ֑ם כָּל־מְלֶ֥אכֶת עֲבֹדָ֖ה לֹ֥א תַעֲשֽׂוּ
On Shemini Atzeret we add the statement מַשִּׁיב הָרוּחַ וּמורִיד הַגָּשֶּׁם —-he causes the winds to blow and the rain to fall within the Amidah (standing prayer).
It is interesting to note that in Israel, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are celebrated on the same day, but outside of Israel, they are separate days. We conclude the cycle of the reading of the Torah on Simchat Torah, then we begin again with Bereishit (Genesis). Our sages tell us that the soul of B’nei Yisrael (the Jewish people) achieves freedom from the yetzer hara (the evil inclination). We are purified and cleansed from our sins after Yom Kippur, and we attach ourselves to Hashem. We, therefore, extend that love to Torah by engaging in song, dance, and joy (though this year won’t quite be the same due to Coronavirus). Our joy and love that we feel towards Hashem during Sukkot extends into Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah which is implanted into our hearts when we fulfill the Mitzvot (commandments).
The joy of Torah is greater than any other for us because the Torah is constant and endures forever. Even though our Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple) was destroyed, even though we’ve been in exile from our homeland (the Land of Israel), our love for Torah never wanes. Moshe commanded the Torah to us as an inheritance (morashah) for the congregation of Yaakov (Devarim 33:4).
תּוֹרָ֥ה צִוָּה־לָ֖נוּ מֹשֶׁ֑ה מוֹרָשָׁ֖ה קְהִלַּ֥ת יַעֲקֹֽב
The word morashah can also be read as me’orasah which means betrothed. The Torah is betrothed to us and we rejoice with it just as a groom rejoices with his bride.
In a normal year on Simchat Torah, every male congregant to be called up to the Torah. My favorite part of Simchat Torah is when an adult male is called for Kol Ha-Nearim (all the children) and reads the last part of the Parasha. All of the children of the synagogue stand up there next to him under a Tallit (prayer shawl) and repeat the brachot (blessings) on the Torah. Afterwards, all of the adults sing Ha-malach Hagoel (The Angel who redeemed me). It really is a special moment that shows continuity with the children! When the last words of the Torah are read we proclaim “Chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek” — Be strong, be strong, and may we be strengthened!
This year Simchat Torah will be very strange. We are not able to congregate with our community and celebrate the Torah with dance and song. Which may seem odd in the first place, why dance with a book or scroll? B’nei Yisrael (the Jewish people) are known to be people of the book. We learn and read from the Torah, and if you enter most Jewish homes (observant or not) you will find many books. I grew up in a traditional, but more Conservative home, yet, we always had a lot of Jewish books. Both of my parents read often from various books and looked up laws and customs when they needed to be reminded of something. Rabbi Tzvi Freeman says that “when you learn Torah, you’re G‑d’s child, sitting with Him at one small table, discussing with Him His thoughts.”
How can we make Simchat Torah special when we can’t be with our whole community? We can prepare delicious festive meals, make flags or other crafts with our children, prepare our favorite drinks (drink responsibly!), light candles, pray at home with our family, dance around with a Chumash (printed version of the Five Books of Moses). The Chassidic masters tell us that “joy breaks through all barriers.” When we sing and dance in our homes, our joy pierces through the walls and miles that may separate us from our fellow Jews. The Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson said “a Jew’s life, wherever he may dwell, is illuminated in all its aspects by the light of Torah and Mitzvot … .” By intensifying this light in his or her own daily life, the individual is able to change for the better not only their own immediate surroundings, but transform the entire world. On this Simchat Torah, dance with your families and enjoy! Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach!