The Connection Between Simcha Torah, Shemini Atzeret, and Sukkot
G-d commanded the Children of Israel to carry out the mitzvah of the Sukkah on the fifteenth day of the seventh month (Leviticus 23:24). Why precisely on this date? As we know, the Sukkah is the “shadow of faith” (Zohar III:103a), and we should therefore believe that the mitzvah of the Sukkah derives its power from the fact that it unifies G-d’s Name: The yud-hei to the vav-hei. When this Name will be perfected and complete, without any defect, we will attain perfection, for the “fallen Sukkah of David” (Amos 9:11) will be raised, and we will draw closer to the Final Redemption.
Herein lies the explanation: We celebrate Sukkot on the fifteenth day of the month, which represents the Name yud-hei (numerical value: 15), and by the merit of faith, the Sukkah will be restored to perfection. This is because the word sukkah has the same numerical value (91) as the Tetragrammaton and the Name Ado-nai together. To the yud-hei of the fifteen of the month, we add the letters vav and hei of the word sukkah (thereby leaving it with its remaining letters samech and caph, which form the word sach – a designation for the Shechinah). It then follows that the Name of G-d becomes fully unified, to the point that the Shechinah will arise from the dust and salvation will arise, quickly in our days.
In reflecting upon this, we understand the nature of the holiday of Sukkot. After Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, days of prayer and tears, comes Sukkot, which is a holiday of joy, as it is written: “You shall rejoice on your festival” (Deuteronomy 16:14). We move from mourning to celebration at that point, and although these days of Sukkot are devoted to rejoicing, they are apt for prayers to be answered, given that we behave with sanctity and believe that G-d actually forgives us. This is what we call the “shadow of faith,” and therein lies the potential of this holiday. A person sins during all seven days of the week, but he repents on the eve of Shabbat. Similarly, each of the seven days of Sukkot comes and repairs what was damaged on the corresponding day of the week during the whole of the year. The potential of the holiday of Sukkot is thus quite considerable.
From what we have said up to now, we fully understand why G-d commanded the Children of Israel to live in a Sukkah, which recalls the clouds of glory (Sukkah 11b and Rashi). When a person recalls that his holy ancestors were also surrounded by clouds of glory and protected from wild animals (seven clouds of glory corresponding to the seven days of the week), he then comes to recognize the wonders of the Creator. Faith then penetrates his heart, and thanks to this faith G-d hears his prayers each day. This idea is alluded to in the words ananei kavod (“clouds of glory”). In fact the word ananei evokes ania (“answer”) and may be read as aneini (“answer me”). The word kavod designates the Holy One, blessed be He, Who is the Glory of the world, and Who responds to our prayers by the merit of our faith in Him, which reverberates favorably upon all the generations.
To go a bit further, let us add that faith is not only the privilege of the Children of Israel; it also benefits all the nations of the word by the merit of Israel. How does that occur? In the Haftorah of the first day of Sukkot we recite: “It shall be that all who are left over from all the nations who had invaded Jerusalem will come up every year to worship the King, the L-RD, Master of Legions, and to celebrate the festival of Sukkot. And it shall be that whichever of the families of the land does not go up to Jerusalem to bow before the King, the L-RD, Master of Legions, there will be no rain upon them” (Zechariah 14:16-17). This means that in the future, at the time of the Final Redemption, all the peoples will acknowledge Hashem and proclaim Him King, as it is written: “The L-RD will be the King over the land” (v.9) and all the peoples will believe in Him.
We must understand why G-d commanded all the peoples to come to Jerusalem, and why they must come precisely during Sukkot, rather than during another holiday. Moreover, we know that in the future all the holidays will be cancelled, Sukkot included (Yerushalmi Taanith 2:2), an idea that also appears in the writings of the Rambam (Hilchot Megillah 2:18). Consequently, how is it possible that in the future there will still be a holiday of Sukkot and that everyone will have to come to Jerusalem at that time?
We have already seen that Sukkot is called the “shadow of faith.” Consequently, the nations have certainly heard of all the miracles that G-d performed for the Children of Israel in the desert, as it is written: “Peoples heard – they were agitated” (Exodus 15:14). However the miracle that G-d did for the Children of Israel in the desert by surrounding them with clouds of glory – that, the nations did not witness. Even if they perhaps heard of that miracle, they did not believe it, for it was something that was beyond their comprehension. This is why G-d wanted, for the future – when there will still be the holiday of Sukkot (i.e., before the coming of Mashiach) – that all the peoples come to the Temple to see and believe that G-d surrounded the Children of Israel with the seven clouds of glory, similar to the way that He surrounded them in the desert. They will then recognize and certainly believe in Him, but if they do not come, this will mean that they definitely don’t believe in this. This is what the expression “shadow of faith” means: In the future, the Sukkah will make faith penetrate even into the peoples of the world.
Since we have arrived at this point, we may understand the connection that exists between Simcha Torah and Sukkot. Immediately after Sukkot, on Simcha Torah we must rejoice with the Torah, which is alluded to in the words Hag Ha’atzeret (Simcha Torah), which have the same numerical value as Etz Torah (“Tree of Torah”). Why do we rejoice with the Torah during Simcha Torah and not during the holiday of Shavuot? It is because after Rosh Hashanah (when through repentance we make G-d our King – Rosh Hashanah 16a) and Yom Kippur (the day of forgiveness), we immediately build a home for the Shechinah, in the spirit of the verse: “They shall make a Sanctuary for Me – so that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). Each person builds it according to his personal level, at the time following forgiveness, in order to never again return to his previous sins.
This is the theme of Shemini Atzeret. Once the Children of Israel have built a dwelling place for the Shechinah and rejoiced with the King for seven days, G-d asks them, “Stay with Me for one more day. Your leaving is difficult for Me” (Sukkah 55a). He wants us to rejoice with the Torah that He gave us, as it is written: “Now there on that day was one of Saul’s servants, ne’etzar [who lingered] before the L-RD” (I Samuel 21:8), the meaning of the word ne’etzar begin that he himself had stopped in front of the Tent of Meeting to rejoice and study Torah. Hence through the intermediary of the holiday of Shemini Atzeret, G-d will enable us to benefit even more from His Shechinah, for then we are clean of all sin and in a position to welcome Him and rejoice during Simcha Torah.