Torah for the Times    

Friday, October 9, 2012 - 19 Tishrei, 5772


Candle Lighting Time: 6:12 PM
Shabbat ends: 7:10 PM

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The Torah Celebrates With Us

The Torah Reading Cycle of the Ba'al Teshuvah

The annual Torah reading cycle revolves around the Festival of Sukkot-Simchat Torah. On Simchat Torah we conclude the fifth and final book of the Torah and soon after we begin anew with Bereisit-Genesis. 

The question has been asked, why the Torah cycle coincides with Sukkot and Simchat Torah rather than with the Festival of Shavuot which is the anniversary of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai? 

The classic answer is that Sukkot and Simchat Torah are the joyous culmination of Yom Kippur, the day we received the second set of tablets. This event represented the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people after they repented for their egregious sin of worshipping the golden calf. Yom Kippur thus represents a renewed and reinvigorated giving of the Torah. The cycle of Torah reading becomes a more poignant experience when it follows the giving of the Torah to a nation that has returned to G‑d and internalized the lessons of the Torah.

Beginning the new cycle of Torah reading in the aftermath of Yom Kippur reinforces the opinion in the Talmud that a person who returns to G‑d-the Ba'al Teshuvah-is superior to the Jew who has never sinned-the Tzadik. Thus, the Torah reading that is linked to the Ba'al Teshuvah carries more weight than the Torah reading that is associated with the Tzadik.

There is still a need for further clarification. If we consider the status of the performance of a Mitzvah, we can easily comprehend why the Mitzvah performed by one who has returned to its practice surpasses the Mitzvah performed by one who was always faithful to it. One can appreciate the notion that one who embraces a Mitzvah after having shunned it demonstrates a greater measure of intensity and conviction. However, here we are discussing the reading of the Torah. What specific advantage is there when a Ba'al Teshuvah reads the Torah over the reading of a Tzadik?  And if the Torah reading cycle is connected to Yom Kippur, why do we wait until Simchas Torah-after the Holiday of Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret—to conclude the reading of the Torah and commence again the cycle of the annual Torah reading with Bereishit?

The Two Dimensions of the Torah -Israel Relationship

Chassidic thought discerns two aspects in our relationship with Torah [and Torah's relationship with us.]

First, in the more classic sense, the Torah links us to G‑d, its Giver. In the words of the Zohar: "There are three knots that bind: Israel is bound to the Torah and Torah is bound with G‑d." We need to be bound to the Torah in order to connect to G‑d. Even though we possess a G‑dly soul, we cannot maintain a vibrant relationship with G‑d without the Torah. The reason for this is that our G‑dly souls exist within the confining parameters of the physical world, our bodies and the influence of our Animal Soul. The Torah, by contrast, is unfettered G‑dly wisdom, and is therefore free from all of these worldly constraints and obstructive influences. Torah can, therefore, connect us to the Divine. We depend on the Torah to facilitate our relationship with G‑d.

In the second aspect of our relationship, the Torah depends on us to elevate it spiritually.  There is a part of us that is spiritually superior to Torah and, by our Torah study, we instill a Higher Divine energy into the Torah. Thus The Torah depends on us to enhance its relationship with G‑d's essence.

Chassidic thought explains that the soul exists on two planes. There is the soul that is cloaked within our bodies and is subject to the limits imposed on it by the body, and there is the part of the soul that transcends the body and can never be sullied or constrained. It is this aspect of the soul that is so inextricably bound with G‑d that it even transcends the Divine manifestation within the Torah.  We can refer to these two dimensions of the soul as the "Inner Soul" and the Outer Soul."

Connecting to Our Outer Soul through Teshuvah

How do we express the "Outer Soul"? How do we "break out" out of the constraints of our existence to access the soul's essential energy - the energy that transcends the Divine contained within the Torah? 

One approach is through Teshuvah. By returning to G‑d, G‑d unleashes the powerful soul energy that heals all of the breaches that were caused by our transgressions. The relationship with G‑d that is dependent on and effected through the observance of the Mitzvos has been damaged. On a lower level, Teshuvah merely repairs the damage, but the relationship is not as strong as it was before the transgression.  In the higher level of Teshuvah-the one associated with Yom Kippur-a new relationship is generated based on the "Outer Soul's" connection to G‑d, which can never be damaged or weakened.  

Thus, after Yom Kippur, when we return to G‑d and experience the deeper and unconventional dimension of our relationship with G‑d, we then are empowered to endow our Torah reading-study with unconventional Divine power. 
 
We can now understand why we wait for Yom Kippur to start the Torah reading cycle. It is to instill a more sublime Divine energy into the Torah, which we can only do after experiencing a heightened level of our souls. 

A question still remains, why do we not start the reading of the Torah immediately after Yom Kippur? Why do we wait until after Sukkot?

The Yom Kippur Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, Simchat Torah Continuum

Sukkot, Chassidic thought teaches us, is not independent of Yom Kippur. Whatever transcendent spiritual energies we generate on Yom Kippur have to be internalized within our normal faculties without compromising the sublime nature of these energies. They have to touch and affect our intellect and our emotions. Ultimately, the spiritual energies must even reach our legs and feet. The goal is for our entire being to be engulfed in the light of Yom Kippur.

If Yom Kippur is the day when our deepest soul connection with G‑d is revealed, Sukkot is the time when we feel the enveloping warmth and joy of that energy. Sukkot is the Divine embrace. If Sukkot would have been any other time of the year, it would have involved an embrace of a far less sublime aspect of G‑d. After Yom Kippur, the embrace is at its peak.

However, the Sukkah, with all of its spiritual energy, remains an external force. It is therefore complemented by the taking of the Four Species (Lulav-Date Palm, Etrog-Citron, Hadassim-Myrtles, Aravos-Willows), waving them in all six directions and then clutching them to our heart. With this Mitzvah, we enable this Divine energy to come into all facets of our lives until it penetrates our hearts and affects our emotions. 

It is no wonder that Sukkot is such a joyous holiday. Surely, there is no greater joy than to discover and experience our soul's deepest connection with G‑d.

However, the climax of this process is Shemini Atzeret when, as the Kabbalists put it, "conception" takes place. The seeds of Divine energy take root and are now fully internalized within every part of our being to the extent that it has even reached our feet. They cannot stay put to the ground and we dance uncontrollably with the Torah.

We can now appreciate how commencing reading the Torah on Simchat Torah is not just starting
another cycle of a ritual; it is introducing a new energy into the Torah. 

The Simchat Torah Twins

Hence Simchat Torah has a twin meaning: We rejoice with the Torah and the Torah rejoices with us. We rejoice with the Torah because the Torah informs us about our obligations and instills meaning in our lives. Moreover, we rejoice with the Torah because it tells us how our souls' connection to G‑d actually transcends the connection of G‑d to the Torah. 

And the Torah rejoices with us not only because we have dedicated ourselves to its study but because after Yom Kippur and Sukkot, we are able to realize our essential bond with G‑d that transcends the bond with Torah. The Torah is ecstatic because through our attachment to it we infuse it with new vitality, vigor and Divine energy.

Simchat Torah thus represents the mutual benefits Torah and Israel receive. We grow through the Torah and the Torah is uplifted through us. 

The Moshiach Connection

Of all the Holidays in the month of Tishrei, Simchat Torah stands out as having a special connection to Moshiach. In the hymn that we recite after dancing with the Torah on Simchat Torah day, we mention the fact that Moshiach ("Tzemach") shall arrive on Simchat Torah. This does not mean Moshiach cannot come at another time; it merely underscores the conceptual and spiritual relationship between Moshiach and Simchat Torah.

One of the contributions of Moshiach with respect to Torah knowledge will be that he will reveal heretofore dimensions of Torah that were hidden even from Moses. Where will Moshiach receive this unprecedented knowledge that he will impart to the Jewish people?

One answer is that in the Messianic Age, Moshiach will experience the unprecedented opening of all dimensions of his soul. Moshiach's personality is a Simchat Torah personality throughout the year. And Moshiach's soul will radiate new light and depth to the teachings of the Torah. Moshiach, though, will not keep this Simchas Torah mindset for himself. He will share it with all of us. 

One way of preparing for the perpetual Simchat Torah of the future is to truly rejoice and dance with the Torah now with the understanding that we enjoy a reciprocal relationship with the Torah: We rejoice with the Torah ad the Torah rejoices with us!

Moshiach Matters

 

“Though it is not a universal custom, I believe that the banging of the Aravos (willows) on Hoshannah Rabbah should not be done until after all the Hosha’anos prayers are said, for - though the Hosha’anos discuss blessings for rain, sustenance and the like - the main thrust of those prayers is to beseech G‑d for our redemption, the redemption of our souls and the end of the exile of the Shechinah. Therefore, no interruption should occur in the midst of the Hosha’anos.” (Nit’ei Gavriel from Nahar Mitzrayim 12)

Moshiach - It’s a Jewish issue. For more info, visit www.moshiach.com