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Simchat Torah: The Closed Scroll Which Opens the Gates to True Joy

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

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The culmination of any great achievement is accompanied by a natural feeling of satisfaction and joy. Each year on Simchat Torah we celebrate the completion of the Torah with great revelry and dancing: we bring out the Torah Scrolls, form a human circle, and dance away. Ironically, however, on the day when we celebrate our achievement in Torah study, no emphasis is placed on the scholastic aspect of Torah. Instead of opening the Torah and delving into its beautiful ideas and discussing its intricacies, we take a closed and covered Torah and dance. Wouldn’t it be appropriate for the People of the Book to celebrate in a more scholarly manner?

In truth, to a certain extent the actual study of Torah emphasizes the differences which exist amongst our people. The typical format of a study session consists of a teacher who knows more, and students who know less. Actually, even amongst the students, or even among two study partners, no two people possess the same intelligence, and every individual has his own method of study. Is it possible to unite as one in genuine joy when each member of the congregation is distinct and different? Can the child who barely knows how to read a verse of the Scriptures experience the same joy as the wise scholar who has unlocked many of the brilliant secrets of the Torah?

The child who reads a verse of the Torah... is uniting with the Giver of Torah as much as the pious rabbi who is engrossed in Talmudic thought
The question is in fact much deeper: Do certain Jews have an intrinsically greater connection to the Torah than others, due to their intelligence, analytic skills, Jewish education, lack of learning disability, etc.? All other Mitzvahs are performed equally by all Jews – the Tzaddik and the simpleton both eat in the Sukkah, shake the Four Species, etc. – but is Torah the domain of a select talented few?

A deeper understanding of the essence of Torah dispels all these questions. Unlike all other studies, the fundamental nature of Torah study isn’t its profound logic and intellect. Rather, the core of the Torah is its Giver Who incorporated Himself in every word of both the Written and Oral Law. And in this core, all Jews are equal. The child who reads a verse of the Torah, albeit without any comprehension whatsoever, is uniting with the Giver of Torah as much as the pious rabbi who is engrossed in Talmudic thought. Since G-d transcends all intellect, it cannot be said that the scholar has a greater connection with G-d due to his superior intellect.

On Simchat Torah we celebrate the G-dly nature of Torah. We therefore dance with a closed Torah scroll, a dance which is joined by all members of the Jewish nation, for every Jew, no matter his intelligence, age or abilities, has an equal share in this wonderful gift.


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Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Oral Law
G–d orally explained all the 613 Commandments to Moses. These explanations constitute the Oral Law.
Tzaddik
(fem. Tzidkanit; pl. Tzaddikim). A saint, or righteous person.
Sukkah
The temporary structure in which we are required to dwell for the duration of the holiday of Sukkot. The Sukkah must have at least three walls and its roof consists of unsecured branches, twigs or wooden slats.
Simchat Torah
An extremely joyous one-day autumn festival following the holiday of Sukkot. In Israel it is the eighth day of Sukkot, outside of Israel it is celebrated the next day, the day after Shmini Atzeret. Every Sabbath we read a portion of the Torah. On this holiday we celebrate the completion of the yearly cycle.
Four Species
There is a Biblical command to take "Four Species" on the autumn holiday of Sukkot. These species are: palm branch, citron, myrtle and willow. It is customary to shake these species to all directions.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.