Monday, October 20, 2008

Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah

I would like to impart a quick thought about this particular Chag, and you can see part of it similarly quoted in any Artscroll Sukkot Machzor.

The concept of the number 8 in Judaism is that it is one step above the normal, the natural. In Hebrew, 8 is called Shmonah, and the same root is used for oil, Shemen. Water is the very essence of life, a basic essential, and oil rises above it. This is symbolic of the spiritual always being "Me'al Teva," above the natural.

Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, celebrated simultaneously in Israel, are intrinsicly related. The Matteh Moshe explains why we call the day Simchat Torah. He says that the Satan comes before Hashem, condeming the Jewish people saying, "They study the Torah, but they wilk not complete it." (The inference being that we will get overly involved with our Sukkot celebrations and neglect our responsibility to study the Torah.) When we do complete the Torah reading though, Hashem responds to the Satan, "But they have completed it!"

The Satan is not easily deterred, and responds, "They might have finished it the once, but they won't start it again!" The Satan charges Am Yisrael with learning the Torah out of theoretical interests, not because we truly revere it. If we were truly close to Hashem, we would appreciate the Torah far more, we would learn the Torah endlessly.

But Hashem trumps the Satan, "They have already started!"

Is this not the meaning of "L'Asok B'Torah?" When we say each morning that we immerse ourselves in Torah, this is what it refers to, a never-ending cycle of learning. Is this not the meaning of "Ki Hem Chayeinu v'Orech Yomeinu?" By continuing to learn Torah, we sustain ourselves, we make ourselves "Nitzchi," eternal.

The name Simchat Torah is not derived from our Simcha in completing the Torah. Not at all! It is because we are to start all over again. It is because we are eternal, it is because by learning Torah, we are above nature.

Chag Sameach!

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