Friday, October 09, 2009

Shmini Atzeret, Simchat Torah - שמיני עצרת ושמחת תורה

I covered an event for work yesterday and I heard an interesting D'var Torah there that I'd like to share here. The D'var Torah comes from Rabbi Metzger, who is the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, and was one of the guests of honour at the event.

R' Metzger pointed out that a number of the Jewish festivals are referred to by multiple monikers; for example Sukkot is also known as Chag Ha'Asif, Shmini Atzeret is known also as Simchat Torah and Pesach is known as Chag Hamatzot. We also call Rosh Hashana by the names Yom T'ruah, Yom Hazikaron and Yom Hadin, while Shavuot is known variously as Chag Habikkurim, Chag Hakatzir and Zman Matan Torateinu.

Each of these names have a different meaning and represent a different aspect of each festival. R' Metzger suggested though, that some of these names are linked. While he didn't go through all the names of all the chagim, he took a few examples.

The two names Pesach and Chag Hamatzot, R' Metzger suggested, are a pair; Pesach refers to Hashem's passing over the houses of the Jews; it is Bnei Yisrael's way of being grateful for Hashem's kindness in overlooking them while killing Egyptians worthy of death. Chag Hamatzot is Hashem's name for the festival - he looks favourably upon our swiftness to leave Egypt when the time came.

In the same way, two of Sukkot's names can be seen as a pair; Chag Ha'Asif, Festival of the Collecting (of the harvest,) is the one of the names that the Jewish people uses for it - we thank God that we He has given us sustenance. But Hashem has refers to it from a different perspective; His name for the festival is Sukkot, for He recognises the Jewish people's devotion to sitting outside in the Sukkah, often through rather unpleasant conditions.

And so too we have the names of Chag Shmini Ha'atzeret and Simchat Torah. Shmini means eight, and Atzeret means stopping. Rabbi Metzger explained that this name can be understood as belonging to Hashem - after seeing the Jews observing Sukkot for seven days, he says to us "today is the eight day - you may stop dwelling in your Sukkot now and dwell inside with me." But the name Simchat Torah represents a completely different aspect, showing the love of the Jewish nation for Hashem; when we celebrate Simchat Torah, we are thanking Hashem for the greatest gift given - that of the Torah.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and a Chag Sameach!

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