Everyone Becomes a New Person on Simchat Torah
The holy Torah begins with the word bereshith, which is composed of the letter beit (having a numerical value of two) and the word reshith. This alludes to the present world and the World to Come, which can both be designated as reshith (“beginning”). The present world elevates man and makes a “beginning” of him – but only if he defeats his evil inclination – and the World to Come is also a beginning for man, since he continues to elevate himself even after death. This is because the Torah and its mitzvot continue to protect a person after his life on earth. Conversely, the holy Torah ends with an account of Moses’ death. However instead of mourning for him, we are overjoyed on Simchat Torah. This is due to the fact that the essential thing is not the end, but rather the beginning, the bereshith. Thus the Sages have said, “Happy is he…whose labor was in the Torah…and who grew up with a good name and departed the world with a good name” (Berachot 17a), since everyone is happy when he succeeds in rectifying everything. Hence a person must not waste his time in youth by failing to study Torah, which is called reshith (Bereshith Rabba 1:1). The Torah is also called truth (Berachot 5b), this being alluded to in the very first verse of the Torah, for the last letters of the expression Bereshith bara Elokim (“In the beginning G-d”) form the word emet (“truth”).
Hence instead of lamenting the fact that we are ending the Torah on Simchat Torah, we rejoice in having the merit to complete it. We also rejoice in being able to start it again from the very beginning, from Bereshith, for this will enable us to perceive still more amazing things in it. We will be able to renew our faith that Hashem is One and His Name is One, and that He will continue sustaining us in life in order to serve Him, given that we have studied His Torah and completed it. Therefore in us will be fulfilled the words of the Sages, “Learn it and learn it, for everything is in it” (Perkei Avoth 5:21). Without the Torah, people might fall without any chance of arising.
As a result, we must realize that the concept of an end does not exist for a Jew. The Holy One, blessed be He, does not even let a wicked person die immediately, but instead waits for him to repent, as it is written: “He devises means, that he who is banished should not be an outcast from Him” (II Samuel 14:14). Even if we feel that a person has an end, this is incorrect, for a new spark immediately begins to ignite, a spark of renewal (bereshith). Even before the flame of one flickers out, the flame of another begins to illuminate the darkness.
Therein lies the nature of Simchat Torah’s joy. Simchat Torah is also called the festival of Atzeret, as it is written: “The eighth day shall be atzeret [a closing festival] for you” (Numbers 29:35). At that time everyone is immersed in great joy because he has “restrained” (the root of atzeret) himself before Hashem for one more day. At this time of joy a person also connects to Hashem, as it is written: “You shall ach [solely] rejoice” (Deuteronomy 16:15). Since the word ach has the same numerical value (21) as the Name Eh-yeh, this means that one’s joy is due solely to Hashem’s presence. Hence in spite of all the high holidays that a person observes, he does not experience weariness in the service of Hashem. On the contrary, it is precisely on this final day that he adds to his joy and forgets all his problems. Since he realizes that he is in Hashem’s presence, he forgets all else as he dances before Him. He merits having Hashem connect his soul to that of Moses in a great act of renewal, thereby becoming a new person.
Nevertheless, everyone must realize that to properly prepare themselves for Simchat Torah and to be joyous before Hashem, they must begin by putting an effort into becoming a new person as early as the night of Hoshana Rabba. The word rabba is composed of the same letters as bara (“he created”). We can achieve this by connecting ourselves to King David, the ushpizin (“guest”) of Hoshana Rabba, for King David said of himself: “How I love Your Torah! All day long it is my conversation” (Psalms 119:97), as well as: “I considered my ways and returned my feet to Your testimonies” (v.59). In other words King David told the Children of Israel: I examined all the ways that are devoid of Torah and mitzvot, seeing if there is any advantage to them, or if they eventually lead to sin. I saw that all the nations err in their ways because they do not have the Torah. The only proper way is “to Your statutes” – Hashem’s Torah – the holy Torah only.
In fact King David’s great love for Torah makes him an example and symbol for all Jews. As Scripture tells us, he danced before the holy Ark with all his might despite the scorn of his wife Michal (II Samuel 6:16). King David also respected the talmidei chachamim and studied Torah with great humility (Moed Katan 16b). Furthermore, although he learned only two things from Ahitophel, he called him his teacher, his guide, and his mentor (Perkei Avoth 6:3). His only desire was to study Torah, which is why he merited being connected to Hoshana Rabba. Even in the future, King David will be chosen to recite the blessing over the cup in the great banquet for the tzaddikim (Pesachim 119b), for he is the symbol of Torah and joy. Hence when someone studies Torah during the night of Hoshana Rabba (which is similar to Yom Kippur) and recites Psalms written by King David, he is cleansed of all sin. This is just as the Sages have said: “If a man busies himself in the study of the Torah and in acts of charity…all his sins are forgiven” (Berachot 5a-b). In that case the Holy One, blessed be He, will certainly help him in becoming a new person, for one who desires to purify himself is given help to do exactly that (Yoma 38b). This is Hoshana Rabba: Hashem delivering a person from the evil inclination during the entire year.
After this holy day, when a person arrives at Simchat Torah, he merits standing next to the Creator with great joy. At that point in time, in that moment of divine favor, Hashem infuses him with the strength of King David, with the strength of Moses our teacher, thereby transforming him into a new person. The world owes its entire existence to such a person, since the entire world was created for his sake. Citing the Sages, the book Beit Aharon states that a person receives all these blessings from Hashem. Furthermore, Hashem restrains (otzer) all good things from returning to Heaven on the holiday of Shemini Atzeret, ensuring that they remain below to help the Jewish people. This is due to the fact that on Simchat Torah, Hashem pours His blessings upon the Jewish people more than on any other day of the year. This is what constitutes the joy of Simchat Torah.