Simchat Torah is usually understood as us rejoicing with the Torah. As we read the last passage of the Torah and immediately turn around to read the first passage, we rejoice over studying the Torah.
However, Simchat Torah has a deeper meaning. It is not only we who rejoice over the Torah but also the Torah that rejoices over us. The Torah was given by G-d so that Jews would study and observe it. A Torah that is neglected, G-d forbid, is like a diamond that goes unnoticed. It has no value to G-d and, moreover, to itself. The Torah’s value comes only from our study and observance. When we complete our study of the entire Torah, the Torah rejoices. It has achieved its value and served its purpose.
The Torah without a student is like a teacher in an empty classroom. Imagine an empty school building. It might be a snow day, and none of the parents got the memo that school was open. All the teachers arrived, and no student made an appearance. The teachers would have wasted their time. They might be the authority in the classroom, but the students are the purpose. When the students arrive, the teachers rejoice. They have found their purpose. They have value. The same is true of the Torah.
Simchat Torah 1815
It was 1815 in the synagogue of Rabbi Dov Ber, the second Rebbe of Chabad. The Rebbe was in his private study as the Chasidim danced with the Torah around the sanctuary. The Rebbe’s son-in-law and future successor, Rabbi Menachem Mendel, danced with immense enthusiasm. He was so energetic that even the teenagers couldn’t keep up. The young rabbi danced without letup and continually encouraged everyone to dance. He cried out, “Dance, Jews, dance, rejoice with the Torah. In its merit, you will be blessed with good health, children, and abundance.”
His wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, entered her father’s study and told him that her husband was tiring the congregation with his intense dancing. He can’t contain himself tonight, he is beside himself. The Rebbe, her father, replied, “On Simchat Torah in the Temple, a transcendental Divine light was manifest through which Jonah attained a state of prophecy. Tonight, your husband is in the throes of a transcendental spiritual experience through which his soul has attained lofty heights. The Torah itself is uplifted and gathered into G-d’s embrace by your husband’s flaming joy.”
Indeed, it is said that the forty-eight hours of Simchat Torah are precious. Through dancing and joy, we draw down buckets and buckets of material and spiritual wealth.
The Torah Profits
The Torah profits from our joy. As we complete the Torah, the Torah is complete. As we rejoice with the Torah, the Torah rejoices. As we leap off the floor and rise into the air, the Torah is uplifted. The Torah needs legs, and on Simchat Torah, we are its legs.
That is as far as this festival is concerned. But what about the rest of the year? How does the Torah profit from the rest of the year?
George W. Bush, former president of the United States, came to religion later in life. In his biography, he recalled being woefully ignorant. At his first bible class, someone asked if he knew what a prophet was. He replied, “It is when revenue exceeds expenses, and there is precious little of it in the US today.”
In the Temple, the Torah profited from a new prophet—Jonah became a prophet during the festivities of this festival. Today, the Torah profits when we become more observant of its traditions and more committed to its study. This is the serious part of our Joyous festival.
As soon as we complete the last passage of the Torah, we open a new scroll and start over again. With this, we begin the cycle of our next year’s study. We rejoice over the Torah we just completed. The Torah rejoices over the Torah we just began. In other words, we rejoice over our past studies, and the Torah rejoices over our future studies.
Of course, we both rejoice over both. However, the Torah rejoices over our past achievements for our sake. We rejoice over our future achievements for the Torah’s sake.
Our sages once debated the question of which is primary, Torah study or Torah observance. They concluded that study is more important because it leads to observance. The entire purpose of Torah study is to be inspired and to know how to observe.
It follows that the most important element of Simchat Torah is to strengthen our observance of the Torah we study. A new year comes with new resolutions. Simchat Torah is the culmination of our New Year festivities. Thus, it is the time to concretize and ensure the resolutions that we made on Rosh Hashanah.
Resolutions can be intimidating because we never know if we will be able to follow through. There is no value to unfulfilled resolutions. The antidote to this very real concern is to take on manageable resolutions. I will offer several examples:
Charity is a huge Mitzvah, and there are many ways to do it. We can invite people who are impoverished for dinner. We can write daily, weekly, monthly, or annual checks to institutions that support people in need. Then there is a small, very doable way to do this Mitzvah if you don’t already do it.
Purchase a tzedakah box and affix it to the wall of your kitchen (you can use industrial-grade Velcro). Fill a box with coins and place it right next to your charity box. Put a coin in this box each morning as soon as you enter the kitchen before you do anything else. When the box is full, count up the coins and send the amount to an institution that supports people who are poor. You can also give it directly to someone in need. This way, you do a Mitzvah each day, and the money supports people in need.
Torah study is another huge Mitzvah, and you can easily do it every day. Thousands of Torah podcasts are available on every podcast platform. There are multiple times in your day when you perform mindless tasks. Gardening, driving, jogging, preparing lunch, washing dishes, etc. Choose a favorite podcast and choose one mindless daily task. Resolve to listen to this podcast each day while performing this task. This way, you will study Torah every day and, over time, accumulate many hours of Torah study.
The same is true of Shabbat, Kosher, etc. Even if you can’t take the entire Mitzvah, there is value in taking on some of it. Resolve to observe Shabbat for an hour each week. Resolve to observe one element of Shabbat; for example, do your shopping before Shabbat. Resolve to make one ingredient in your kitchen exclusively kosher.
If you already keep these Mitzvot, you can increase them with similar baby steps. These are manageable resolutions that can be easily fulfilled. When we do, the Torah rejoices with us.
Rabbi Eliezer (Lazer) Gurkow, currently serving as rabbi of congregation Beth Tefilah in London, Ontario, is a well-known speaker and writer on Torah issues and current affairs.