Simchat Torah

Torah Fax

Friday, October 17, 2003 - 21 Tishrei, 5764

Candle Lighting Time (10/17): 5:55 PM
Candle Lighting Time* (10/18): after 6:53 PM
Yom Tov ends (10/19): 6:52 PM
* from a pre-existing flame

The Beginning's End

One of the themes of Simchat Torah, is that the end is followed by the beginning. No sooner do we conclude the reading of the entire Five Books of Moses, we begin reading from the Book of Genesis all over again.

The obvious message for us is that the Torah truly has no end. As deep as we can plumb the mysteries of the Torah there is always a new and refreshing level of understanding that we can reach when we start learning the Torah anew. The fact that we read the beginning of Genesis after concluding the final verse of Deuteronomy suggests that there is a thematic connection between the two. In other words, the verse "In the beginning G‑d created heaven and the earth" can be understood in light of the concluding verse of the Torah: "And for all the great might and awesome power that Moses displayed before all Israel."

What possible connection can there be between Moses' prowess and the creation of the world by G‑d? One answer to this question can be traced back to the statement of the Zohar (the principal work of Kabbalah): "G‑d looked into the Torah and created the world, man studies the Torah and sustains the world." Torah is much more than just a guide for life. Torah is the very blueprint of creation. The only way the world can function properly is when it conforms to the plan that was responsible for its very existence. To not follow the Torah is not just the wrong or immoral thing to do, it negates our very existence. Conversely, to follow the Torah is the most validating thing we can do.

We can now understand the connection between the end of the Torah and its beginning. The beginning of the Torah introduces us to the concept of creation by a Creator. More specifically, the word in Hebrew "Bereishit" which is often translated as "In the beginning" can actually be translated as: "With the Torah (that is called "the beginning" or the primary force) G‑d created heaven and earth."  This expresses the way in which the Torah was used by G‑d as the very instrument of creation.

When G‑d created the universe, His objective was that we continue to sustain the world by way of Torah study. This objective or "end" is reflected in the end of the Torah. According to Nachmanides and other classical commentators, the "awesome power that Moses displayed" is a reference to the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Here the Torah highlights Moses' role as the one who transmitted the Torah to all of Israel. And it is through the study of Torah that we sustain the world that was created by G‑d. The end of the Torah thus speaks of how we contribute to the process of creation discussed at the beginning of the Torah.

We may take the connection between the end of the Torah and its beginning a step further: The very last words are "before all Israel" (literally the translation would be: "before the eyes of all Israel"). The great Sefardic commentator, the Or Hachaim, explains that this stresses the uniqueness of the Sinai experience. All of Israel were witnesses to the revelation of G‑d to the world. Judaism does not rest on the claim of one or several people that they had a vision or that they were appointed by G‑d to deliver a specific message to the world. One can never know whether that individual who made the claim might be a charlatan or simply hallucinating.  Judaism's claim is that the entire Jewish nation witnessed the revelation of G‑d on Mount Sinai, and heard how G‑d summoned Moses to receive the rest of the Torah.  By ending the Torah on this note-that we were all witnesses to G‑d's revelation to the world-we can easily attest to the fact that "In the beginning G‑d created heaven and earth." Our knowledge of G‑d's role in the world is not just based on philosophical speculation and rational arguments on the one hand, or strictly on blind faith on the other hand. Our knowledge of G‑d as the Creator is based on our own collective experience of G‑d coming to the entire Jewish people and communicating with us.

Thus, the connection between the end of the Torah and the beginning of the Torah is that the end enhances our faith in what it says in the beginning. The end of the Torah adds a new dimension to its beginning. The end of the Torah reminds us of the Biblical designation of the Messianic Era as the "end of days." Just like the end of the Torah does not mean literally that it comes to an end, but that it is a stepping stone to start the Torah with a new and refreshed understanding, similarly, the "end of days" is not the end of the world. Rather it is the world reaching its goal and objective, so that we can continue on a much higher level. We then start all over again with a completely new approach to life. Simchat Torah, when we conclude the Torah and begin it anew, is an auspicious time to usher in the new age that comes on the heels of the end of the old age.  The End!

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)

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