By Simon Jacobson
September 11, 2001 Elul 23 5762
October 10, 2001 Tishrei 23, Simchat Torah 5762
Today the world trembles: On Rosh Hashana eve the world
is in a faint and it trembles. On Simchat Torah, during
birchat Shehechionu on the Torah, the world calms down
Rebbe Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch, Simchat Torah 5650 (Likkutei
Dibburim vol. 1 p. 5)
What can be accomplished on the two days of Rosh Hashana
with tears can be achieved on Shemini Atzeret and Simchat
Torah with joy The RebbeYosef Yitzchak
Jews celebrate and
it is called Simchat Torah, and they adorn the Sefer Torah
with its crown Zohar III 256b
As we have been struck by the passions of violence from another
part of the world, we now have been challenged as to what
our true passions stand for. What we believe in and are ready
to fight for.
What more appropriate time to be entering into the climax
and finale of the High Holiday season: Simchat Torah.
Simchat Torah this year is 30 days since September 11. Jewish
tradition teaches that 30 days shloshim - concludes
a distinct stage of grief and mourning over loss. It represents
a psychological state where we can begin to move from shock
and tears to a new cathartic stage when we can channel our
powerful emotions into positive and proactive change.
What is Simchat Torah?
Following the seven days of Sukkot and the eighth day of Shemini
Atzeret we celebrate Simchat Torah (in Israel Simchat Torah
is celebrated on the same day as Shemini Atzeret), the simcha
(joy) upon concluding the reading of the entire Torah.
All of us dance and sing the day and night away with Torah
scrolls with an unlimited joy that is greater than any other
time of the year.
Why celebrate with the Torah? Because there is no greater
joy than the celebration of having the Divine mandate and
spiritual blueprint with which to live by. Torah is a roadmap,
an x-ray, if you wish, of our soul and of the universe that
allows us the eternal power to make sense of our lives and
the world around us. Torah empowers us with tools to navigate
our way through the dark and unexpected roads of the journey
called life. No gift is greater than having direction in this
world, particularly in uncertain times. And that is the best
reason to celebrate. And celebrate we do, without restraint.
Why do we conclude and celebrate Torah at this particular
point in time and not during Shavuot when the Torah was given
at Mount Sinai? Because the true celebration of Torah is possible
only after we have been forgiven and received the Second Tablets
on Yom Kippur. On Shavuot we cannot celebrate, because the
Torah and its recipients were not yet tested. As we see, 40
days after Moses received the First Tablets on Shavuot, the
people built the Golden Calf, which led to the breaking of
the tablets. Only after Moses prayed for 80 days; prevailed
upon G-d to forgive us and received the Second Tablets on
Yom Kippur; only then is it possibly to truly celebrate. Because
now we have been broken and learned that we can rebuild after
loss. Now we know that even flawed human beings can grow through
the process and embrace Torah and use it as a map for life.
On Shavuot we appreciate that perfect people can use Torah
to live their lives. But what about all the rest of us? After
Yom Kippur all of us, including the imperfect ones among us,
can embrace Torah and live by it.
So we dance on Simchat Torah. All of us dance together, regardless
of background, education and age. And we dance with a wrapped
Sefer Torah, demonstrating a celebration that transcends intellect.
The Torah contains a very complex philosophical system and
legal structure. However on Simchat Torah we celebrate the
essence of Torah, the essential connection between
us and Torah and G-d.
The connection with the system and logic of
Torah distinguishes between us, recognizing the distinctions
of education, intelligence, level of commitment and effort.
The celebration of this dimension of Torah is also defined
and limited relative to the particular level of understanding
and commitment each of us has to Torah. But the essence of
Torah - the integral bond that we have with our Divine mandate
and calling - connects us all as one, and its celebration
is unlimited and absolute.
That is the celebration of Simchat Torah: a celebration and
dance of absolute and unconfined passion. We dance with our
legs and they lift our entire bodies and minds to another
dimension. Simchat Torah is both our celebration with Torah
and the celebration of Torah with us. Yes, we have the power
to crown the Torah and lift it to an entirely new level.
War has been launched by America and its allies against the
enemies of humanity, and in some ways we are left with even
more uncertainty. As we analyze the present situation our
minds seem quite inadequate. The only thing that stands us
in good stead in uncertain, insecure times like this, are
our absolute foundations. We are in need of absolute faith
and belief in our inner value system. We are in need of passion,
a passion for our cause and calling, a passion no less than
the passion of those waging war on us.
Now more than ever we are in need of the Simchat Torah dance
- a dance of unbridled passion, passion that we need today
that is beyond any limits and definitions, a dance with no
One of the most defining moments of my life that I only appreciate
today in retrospect, as it is with most true defining moments,
was back in 1966. Sukkot that year was a very wet one. Unceasing
rains saturated the Sukkot (portable shacks) in New York,
which left those sitting within, well wet, quite wet.
The Rebbe, as was his custom each year, led a farbrengen
(gathering) in the central Sukkah adjacent to the synagogue
at 770 Eastern Parkway. As a young child I walked into the
Sukkah and it was pouring inside. Not just pouring. The schach
evergreens covering the Sukkah were drenched and dripping
globs on the Rebbe and the hundreds of people participating
in the farbrengen.
I dont remember how I processed it as a child, but today in
retrospect I remember that this scene had a most profound
impact on me. The Rebbe could have easily postponed the farbrengen
to a dry day. What we call a rain date. He could
have held the farbrengen indoors. After all, no meal
was being eaten, and the farbrengen could have taken
place without the saying of Lchaim. There was no real
necessary reason to be sitting in the Sukkah. Its one thing
if a meal had to be eaten, then Chabad custom is to eat even
in a wet Sukkah. But here there was no meal.
So, why did the Rebbe insist on sitting in the Sukkah for
hours on end, and causing all his Chassidim to follow suit?!
As a child the deep impression it left on me was this: Here
was a man who was absolutely dedicated to his cause. A man
ready to go all the way. A man of complete and undiluted passion.
Rain, shine, no matter every year a farbrengen was
held on this day of Sukkot, this year was not going to be
And instinctively, I as a child, trusted the Rebbe because
I saw a man who would not compromise. Nothing could shake
him. Life was determined not by circumstances and comforts.
On the contrary, the Rebbe and his cause defined his circumstances.
That is what we need today: Absolute passion for our cause.
There is no way that we can remain comfortable and complacent
in a war against passionate enemies. Complacency is no match
for passion, no matter how misplaced the passion.
So we have Simchat Torah when we celebrate with unbridled
passion in a dance and song that transcends out limited intellects
Someone asked me what will stop people from returning to the
comfort of complacency and thus losing our commitment to fighting
this war. My answer: It is our work to STOP anyone from falling
back into the sleep of complacency. I, for one, am completely
committed to be relentless and not allow people to fall asleep.
To awake them as we linger into spiritual slumber.
If anything should remain forever changed after September
11th it should be that we will no longer be complacent about
our freedoms and blessings; that we always continue to fan
the ignited flames of passion for our beliefs.
And thats why we have Simchat Torah: To awaken us to
our true passions and beliefs. And to keep us awake.
The absolute passion of joy on Simchat Torah gives us strength
for the entire year.
May we use this day well. May we embrace it and allow it to
connect us in joy to our essence. To who we really are and
what we really stand for.
As we say the 17 (the numerical value of the word tov)
verses preceding the Simchat Torah dance, let us remember
You [G-d] have revealed yourself your true essence so that
we can perceive that Hashem is Elokim [the transcendent dimension
of G-dliness is one with the G-dliness within nature]; there
is none else besides Him.
To Him who alone performs great wonders, for His kindness
G-d will give strength to His people; G-d will bless His
people with peace.
Whenever the Ark set out, Moses would say, Arise, o G-d,
and Your enemies will be dispersed and Your foes will flee
Your sovereignty is sovereign over all worlds. And your
dominion is throughout all generations.
And finally, the 17th verse:
For from Zion shall go forth Torah; and the word of G-d
How prescient and relevant today are these words of Isaiah:
It shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain
of G-ds house shall be established on top of the mountains
and all the nations shall flow unto it. And many nations shall
go and say, let us go up to the mountain of G-d and we will
teach us of his ways and we will walk in his paths, for from
Zion shall go forth the Torah; and the word of G-d from Jerusalem.
And he shall judge among the nations and they shall beat their
swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks,
nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall
they learn war any more.