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 constraints.
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 L’chaim. 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 different.
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 and tools.
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 that’s 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 their message:
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 is eternal.
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 before you.
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 from Jerusalem.
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.