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Shiurim & Adult Education
D'VAR TORAH BY RABBI WILKINSON
Yom Tov again! Three words but, depending on the emphasis, they can convey very different messages. I hope that you read them with enthusiasm. A friend in Israel sent me a voice message on erev Shabbat and signed off with numerous seasonal greetings and then said how different it will be next week when life will return to ‘the standard’ weeks without articulating these wonderful brachot .
Sukkot is zman simchateinu – the time of our happiness. One simple explanation for this is that it refers to the happiness of the farmer who rejoices in the new harvest. Others explain that Sukkot is a time when we feel simcha for the atonement we achieved on Yom Kippur. The Vilna Gaon explains that it was on Yom Kippur that Hashem forgave Klal Yisrael and agreed to rest His Shechina on them, and then on Sukkot He reaffirmed that commitment by returning the clouds of glory which represent the Shechina. Sukkot is the time that Klal Yisrael saw Hashem’s intense love for them when He returned the clouds of glory and He established a covenant to rest His Shechina only on them. This appreciation that we enjoy such a special relationship with Hashem is a source of great simcha and it transforms Sukkot into zman simchateinu.
The expression of love between Hashem and Klal Yisrael reaches a climax on Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. On Sukkot we sacrifice a total of seventy bulls but on Shemini Atzeret we sacrifice only one bull. Rashi quotes the Midrash which explains that the seventy bulls we sacrifice on Sukkot correspond to the seventy nations of the world, while the one bull we sacrifice on Shemini Atzeret represents Klal Yisrael. The korbanot of Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret demonstrate the unique bond between Hashem and Klal Yisrael. Over the Yamim Noraim we have stressed that Hashem sustains the entire world and as Sukkot celebrates the new harvest it is relevant to all the nations. Hashem, however, has a special relationship with Klal Yisrael that is expressed by the private feast that Klal Yisrael enjoys with Him on Shemini Atzeret.
There are no special mitzvot on Shemini Atzeret because the simcha of Shemini Atzeret comes from simply feeling a sense of closeness to Hashem. On Shemini Atzeret we don’t need a simcha shel mitzvah to help us express our joy because we are overcome by a feeling of “nagilah v’nismecha bach – we will rejoice and be happy with You”. Therefore, Simchat Torah is linked to Shemini Atzeret. When Hashem forgave Klal Yisrael on Yom Kippur he gave them the second luchot, the gift of Torah, to demonstrate his love for them. On Shemini Atzeret this love is expressed once again when Hashem asks Klal Yisrael to be his special guest for one last day of yom tov. We reciprocate by rejoicing with the Torah and showing how much, we appreciate his gift and his expressions of love for us.
Shemini Atzeret is the day we proclaim that ultimate happiness can be felt only when a person connects to Hashem and His Torah, when one recognizes that our strength and success come only from Hashem. On Simchat Torah, we circle around the Torah to demonstrate that we want to subordinate ourselves to the spirit of the Torah and to live by the dictates and agenda of the Torah. Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz zt”l (1862 – 1939) who was one of the most prominent students of Rav Chaim Brisker, made an interesting comment once during the dancing on Simchat Torah. What was the statement? “Vei es tantz zich – lerent zich!” This means, “The way you dance on Simchat Torah is the way you will be learning [throughout the year]!” This year we should realise the power and significance of every step, every time we raise a foot to dance. Rebbe Nachman taught ’get into the habit of dancing. It will displace depression and dispel hardship.’ Our joy when dancing with the Torah should be an expression of our desire to cling onto the tefilla of the yamim noraim that Hashem’s kingship should be recognized by everyone, including ourselves.