Food For the Soul
Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah
Following the seven joyous days of Sukkot, comes the happy holiday known as Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah (evening, September 27 to evening, September 29). In the diaspora, the first day is known by its biblical name, Shemini Atzeret. We still dwell in the sukkah, but without a blessing. Yizkor, the memorial for the departed, is also said on this day.
The second day is known as Simchat Torah, during which we complete and immediately begin the annual Torah reading cycle. This joyous milestone is marked with dancing, traditionally following seven circuits known as hakafot, as the Torah scrolls are held aloft.
Both days are celebrated by nightly candle lighting, festive meals at both night and day, and desisting from work. In Israel, the entire holiday is compacted into one heady 24-hour period.
“A classic element of the Simchat Torah celebration is for children to join the festive dancing in synagogue while waving flags. If you are staying home because of the pandemic, the little ones can have their own colorful homemade flags to flutter around your home-turned-sanctuary,” suggests Rabbi Menachem Posner.
For information on how to celebrate these holidays in the traditional way or at home, visit Chabad.org.
The last Torah reading
This week we celebrate the joyous holiday of Simchat Torah, as we finish the yearly cycle of Torah readings. The Torah is divided into portions; every Shabbat we read one, sometimes two, portions, to complete the entire Torah. To celebrate our completion of the cycle, we joyously dance with the Torah on Simchat Torah in circles that go round and round, reflecting the circles and cycle of life itself.
Interestingly, the last Torah reading, Vezot Haberachah, doesn’t have its own Shabbat on which it is read. Instead, we read it on the holiday of Simchat Torah, while on the Shabbat following Simchat Torah we have already begun with the first Torah portion of Bereishit (Genesis).
Perhaps the point is that there should never be a closing Shabbat in which the Torah is concluded. Rather, the readings are continuous, always ongoing, beginning immediately afresh, never taking a break and never ending.
From an article by Chana Weisberg
Mind Over Matter
Never compromise your ideals. Never give in to defeat or despair. Never stop journeying merely because the way is long and hard. It always is. Moses’ eyes were undimmed. He did not lose the vision that made him, as a young man, a fighter for justice. He did not become a cynic. He did not become embittered or sad, though he had sufficient reason to be. He knew there were things he would not live to achieve, so he taught the next generation how to achieve them. The result was that his natural energy was unabated. His body was old but his mind and soul stayed young. Moses, mortal, achieved immortality, and so, by following in his footsteps, can we. The good we do lives on. The blessings we bring into the lives of others never die.
From an article by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sachs
The story is told of a renowned saint who, as a little boy, asked his father for an apple but was refused. The precocious youngster then quickly recited the appropriate blessing for an apple. His pious father did not want his son to be guilty of having recited in vain a blessing with G-d’s Name, and promptly handed him an apple. The same may be applied to our present condition: If we shall now already rejoice in the Messianic redemption, with absolute faith that G-d will speedily send us Moshiach, this joy in itself will (as it were) “compel” our Father in Heaven to fulfill His children’s fervent wish and speedily redeem us! Our present rejoicing in the Messianic redemption will effect a reciprocal fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy that “The redeemed of G-d shall return, they shall come unto Zion with singing, and ever-lasting joy shall be upon their heads. They shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isaiah 35:10)
From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
Joy and Pride
Rabby Yossy Gordon recounts a story about a chassid who traveled to one of the Chabad rebbes. He related to the rebbe that his deceased teacher had appeared to him in a dream with a frightening message: it had been decreed in heaven that one of this chassid’s children would pass away that year.
The rebbe heard his words, sighed, and remained silent. A reaction that certainly did not bode well. As it was shortly before the holiday of Sukkot, the chassid remained till after the holiday. When it was time for him to return home, he approached the rebbe for his blessing. The rebbe happily assured him that his family would be well. “Besides,” the rebbe asked, “what special deed did you do on Simchat Torah?”
The chassid recounted how during the hakafot he was standing on the side crying when he remembered that, after all, it was Simchat Torah! He washed his face and joined the dancing, ignoring his dread.
“You should know,” the rebbe said, “this is what caused the change in your situation.”
Rabbi Levi Avzon writes: “Before we roll back the Torah from the Jordan River to 2,500 years earlier, let us reflect for a moment on Moses’ final words, uttered just before he went up to the mountain and was buried by G-d. Let his last words linger in our hearts: Fortunate are you, O Israel…
What wonderful parting words. Moses was proclaiming to the Jew of Israel and of Babylonia, the Jew of Tunisia and Spain, of France, Poland, and America: My beloved nation and my fellow Jews, how lucky, how fortunate you are. How wonderful it is to be a Jew.
No, being a Jew is not an “eternal damnation.” No, it’s not hard to be a Jew; nor is it a burden you must carry. No, secularism, assimilation and self-hate are not the way for a Jew. Rather…Yes, you are lucky to be Jewish! Yes, although you may live through hell on earth for the next three millennia, you should – and will – always hold your head high! Yes, being Jewish is a gift, a cause for joy, a piece of heaven. Yes, Torah and mitzvot are a blessing. They connect us to our Creator, and transform this world into a better place for all mankind.