AS EXCITEMENT BUILDS UP IN ANTICIPATION OF SIMCHAT TORAH, IT IS WISE TO REFLECT FOR A FEW MOMENTS ON THE VERY NAME OF THE HOLIDAY, WHICH IN THIS INSTANCE IS COMPRISED OF TWO NAMES 1) SIMCHAT, FROM SIMCHA-JOY, AND 2) TORAH.
By Rabbi Raphael Tennenhaus
By defining and understanding the true meaning of each of these words, we can better appreciate the name and theme of this most joyous holiday, Simchat Torah, when we celebrate the completion of reading the Torah with dancing with the Torahs.
Simcha, true joy, is not a reckless, external expression that one perhaps can experience in a bar in Miami or New York. True joy is internal, and for a Jew it reflects an expression of connecting to G-d in which the joy is a two-way street. The Jew is joyous in his Maker, Hashem, and Hashem is joyous in His people Israel. Hashem rejoices in His “dwelling place below,” which primarily becomes “His dwelling place” thanks to the service and dedication of the Jewish people. In turn, the Jew truly rejoices knowing his involvement in causing G-d Almighty to rejoice.
A further dimension of joy can be found in the works of the Rebbe Rashab, Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneerson (1860-1920), the fifth Rebbe of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. In his classic series of discourses that started in 1912, one hundred years ago, the Rebbe Rashab gives further depth and benefits that derive from Simcha.
Included in these teachings is the insight that Simcha is so powerful, that it alters the normal procedure of order in one’s life and in one’s world. Normally, the world as we know it runs in an orderly fashion, with a system, in which intellect precedes emotions. During an experience of Simcha, however, this order ceases, and intellect and emotion can simultaneously be expressed without intellect coming first, thereby altering the normal and natural experience of everyday living.
Every letter, every nuance, every true insight in Torah is an instruction on how to live our lives…
Furthermore, because of this “break” from the normal pattern of living, the Rebbe Rashab explains that during an experience of Simcha, difficult scholarly matters, that one was unable to perceive under “normal circumstances,” can now be grasped and understood as a result and benefit of the powerful “Simcha experience.”
The Rebbe Rashab also explains the benefit that others gain when you experience a Simcha. The Rebbe points out that it is very common, for even those who are less observant, to connect to Torah and Hashem when they participate at a Simcha. A Simcha therefore not only adds benefit to the one experiencing it, but even Jews who for whatever reason consider themselves “less traditional,” they too are aroused at a Simcha to cling to Hashem and to reconnect to His Torah.
The above gives us some deeper appreciation to the word Simcha, the first name of our two-name holiday, Simchat Torah.
As to the word and meaning of Torah, we must always remember that Torah is the Will and Wisdom of Hashem. Hence Torah, as much as it can make sense to us, is far more than anything that ‘’just makes sense.” Since it is the Will and Wisdom of G-d, the Torah has no limit, and whether we do or don’t understand something in the Torah, we always are aware that Torah is beyond our human limitations.
In addition, the Torah, although it contains stories, is not a story book. Although it contains history, it is not a history book. Although it contains laws, it is not merely a law book. Torah, as the Rebbe often emphasized, comes from the word Hora’ah, which means instruction. Every letter, every nuance, every true insight in Torah is an instruction on how to live our lives, not only when we study Torah, not only when we fulfill a Mitzvah, and not only when we observe a holiday. Torah is a guide that instructs us how to live as Jews 24/7, from the cradle to 120!
When we pause to contemplate these mentioned dimensions of Simcha and Torah, we can truly work on ourselves to celebrate Simchat Torah this year like never before.
By realizing that Simcha is 1) internal, that it 2) breaks the normal order of human experience, 3) it enables one to understand things one could never comprehend before and that it 4) attracts those who are “less observant” to Yiddishkeit, one becomes aware how the power of Simcha “breaks all barriers,” and allows one to experience personal growth together with a new ability to reach out to others.
Combine this Simcha with Torah, the 1) Will of Hashem, the 2) Wisdom of Hashem, and 3) the awareness that every aspect of Torah is an instruction and guide for daily living. You will then experience a Simchat Torah that 1) brings you to new heights, 2) brings all those you invite for Simchat Torah to new heights, and 3) your Simchat Torah celebration lasts and impacts your whole year, as you study Torah, fulfill the Mitzvot, and live the life of a Jew 24/7, infused with the joy that knows no boundaries, forever internalized in a manner that transcends all previous limitations.
Chag Sameach! Good Yom Tov! May we celebrate Simchat Torah this year in Jerusalem, with Mashiach, now!