“Ask the Rabbi” column, reprinted with permission of Texas Jewish Post.
By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, DATA Rosh Kollel
Dear Rabbi Fried,
My favorite holiday for over 80 years has always been Simchat Torah, and I still remember the great joy as a young girl in Poland, I’ve often wondered why we do Simchat Torah at the end of the Sukkot holiday, and not at Shavuot. Since the Torah was given on Shavuot, it would seem to make a lot more sense to do that celebration at the time we received the Torah. Why now?
I envy your having been witness to the joy of Simchat Torah in pre-war Europe, as I’ve heard from many that what we have today is but a shadow of the joy and ecstasy shown by the Jews of that time when they danced and showed their love of the Torah. I would hope that you will tell as many people as possible about your experiences, as so much of what we hear about Europe is its destruction, and far less about what the world was like before. It’s certainly a mitzvah to pass on those memories to the next generation; in that way people and their joy will live on through the Jews of tomorrow.
In answer to your question, I have a surprise for you. The Torah was given to us on Yom Kippur! That is not to negate its being first given to us on Shavuot; however, those first tablets were broken when Moses came down the mountain and saw the golden calf. The final 40 days that Moses spent back on the mountain, atoning for the Jewish people and the misdeed of the calf, ended on Yom Kippur when G‑d accepted their repentance and had Moses carve out the Ten Commandments from wood to copy the original ones of stone from G‑d. The Torah of Shavuot was broken. The Torah we have in our hands today is really the Torah of Yom Kippur that was re-given through repentance and forgiveness, with a special act of loving kindness from G‑d.
Sukkot is a twofold holiday. It is a harvest celebration, and also a celebration of the newly found closeness to G‑d that we attain from Yom Kippur. That closeness is celebrated by sitting in a sukkah, and also by celebrating the Torah that was re-given on Yom Kippur.This is done on the last day of the holiday, which is called Simchat Torah or the Joy of Torah.
We have often quoted a leading outreach leader in the Jewish world today, that if one is going to take the family to synagogue twice a year, let it not be Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Let it be Simchat Torah and Purim! Let the people, and especially the children, experience the joy of Jewish living, that they may then desire to expand their Jewish horizons. The joy and ecstasy I have seen in Jerusalem on Simchat Torah is something no words can describe; let us do our best to emulate that in Dallas as well!
Sadly, due to the current pandemic many synagogues will be closed for services this Simchat Torah, and even those which are open will be holding very limited services and many will not experience the usual dancing with the Torah as in years past. Nevertheless, our simcha is not diminished. The Jewish people have been in far worse circumstances, as you know far better than I do, and despite it all we have found ways to keep our Simcha alive and well. The Sukkah teaches us that, despite us leaving our creature comforts behind and exiting our homes, we celebrate our “time of joy”. We have been the “wandering Jews” for millennia and still, we are not without our joy. This holiday we, too, will find the place to rejoice in our Torah despite our inability to dance with it joyfully; we still will be dancing in our hearts!
May you and all the readers have a joyous Simchat Torah!