Simchat Torah: Strength for the Entire Year
Shemini Atzeret was named by the Sages from the expression, “Women have been atzurah [united] to us [previously]” (I Samuel 21:6). In fact the Holy One, blessed be He, is telling the Jewish people to unite (la’atzor) to Him for yet another day, “since it is difficult for Me to leave you.” In other words, Hashem has difficulty leaving us after the holiday ends.
We need to understand just how difficult this separation is.
The month of Elul, a time for mercy, has already passed. The days of Rosh Hashanah have also passed, and the same applies for Yom Kippur, the day of forgiveness; it is already behind us. We have built our sukkah and have benefited from the seven days of the holiday in the shadow of the holy Ushpizin. We have accomplished so many mitzvot during the month of Elul, but now the holidays are about to end. We feel a certain spiritual void after such great and holy days, and we again long for the holidays because we find it difficult to leave them. What shall we do until Chanukah? How are we going to again come closer to G-d? How are we going to again draw from the sanctity of the holidays, and how are we going to purify our souls?
This is why the Holy One, blessed be He, draws close to us and gives us the holiday of Simchat Torah, Shemini Atzeret. We are then able to unite ourselves to Him for one more day! We can thus firmly retain all the sanctity that we absorbed during the entire holy period that we have just lived through, prolonging our spiritual strength and closeness to G-d.
Each and ever person, even one at the lowest spiritual level, can learn a lesson from this and realize that it is precisely the holiday of Simchat Torah, no other, that Hashem gave us last of all. It is the holiday of the Torah – when we dance with the Sefer Torah – as if to teach us that the energy we can draw from it for the remainder of the year comes directly through Torah study.
It is by studying the Torah that we connect ourselves to it, and consequently to the Holy One, blessed be He. This is why He tells us at the end of the holidays, “Gather yourselves to Me for one more day.” It is in order that we are not left with a feeling of emptiness that comes at the end of the holidays, but instead that we fill this void by Torah.
When we fill our entire beings with Torah, we can obtain the strength that we need for the entire year, for it renews itself each day (Pesikta Zutah Va’etchanan 6:6). This is why it is forbidden to think that we have completed the Torah and that everything is done.
Definitely not! The Torah renews itself each day and continues onward. It is a perpetually beginning. It is not without reason that at Simchat Torah we once again read, “In the beginning….” For the Jew, there is no end! There is always a start and renewal. There is always a “beginning,” a continuation that brings us to renewal and an increase in serving G-d, all while providing us with strength for the entire year.
This is why we say, “in the eyes of all Israel – In the beginning G-d created….” This means that all Jews should realize that there is only renewal, and that this renewal – this strength – is drawn from Simchat Torah.
In the final analysis, however, we must understand that instead of us telling the Holy One, blessed be He, that it is difficult to leave Him, it is the opposite that happens! It is He Who tells us that it is difficult for Him to leave us. How is that possible?
When we examine the month of Tishri, we in fact see that just as it is difficult for us to leave Hashem, it is also difficult for Him to leave us. During the entire month we have prayed, sounded the shofar, fasted, called upon the merit of the Patriarchs, built a sukkah, taken the lulav and etrog, and asked G-d for a good year. In this way we have shown Him that it is difficult for us to leave Him and His mitzvot. This is why He now comes and says to us: If you really want to purify yourselves, and if it is difficult for you to leave Me, then I also find it difficult to leave you! How can this connection maintain itself?
It will maintain itself through the Torah. The Torah is what connects Israel to its Father in Heaven. In fact the entire world was only created for Israel and the Torah. Without the Torah, the Holy One, blessed be He, would not have created the world (according to Jeremiah 33:25). This is why the Jewish people connect themselves to Hashem through the Torah.
In addition, the relationship between Israel and the Holy One, blessed be He, teaches us that the essential thing for each Jew is spiritually, not materiality. This is because during the entire month of Tishri we have used material objects to carry out the mitzvot, objects such as a shofar, a prayer book, a sukkah (which we built using pieces of wood and branches), a lulav, an etrog, etc. However when Simchat Torah arrives, everything is spiritual! There remains nothing but the Torah itself – nothing else in addition – thereby teaching us that we connect to G-d by spirituality.
If we are to connect ourselves to Hashem by the Torah, however, He should have given us a holiday of Simchat Torah that lasted several days, not just one! Yet as we know, “One day in a year is reckoned as a year” (Rosh Hashanah 2b), for the power of one day can sustain the entire year by giving it extra energy for Torah study and serving G-d. This is why we must all strengthen ourselves in Torah study. We must take hold of the power contained in the holiday of Simchat Torah and Shemini Atzeret, preserving the holiness of all the days of Tishri and elevating ourselves in Torah observance and study. This will be our reward for the entire year.