By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Once again, a Yom Tov has come and gone.
Once again, after much preparation and hard work, we merited celebrating the beautiful, joyous Yom Tov of Sukkos. Sadly, by the time we turned around, it was over.
Throughout its duration – from constructing the sukkah, to decorating it, to shlepping the tables and chairs and mattresses and making it inhabitable, to selecting a lulav and an esrog, to all the buying and cooking and cleaning that the Yom Tov requires – we fantasized that it would last for a very long time.
We put out of our minds all the things that we had to attend to after Sukkos. We blocked out the thought of having to go back to dealing with the realities of life. After the teshuvah of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the tefillos of the Yomim Noraim and Yom Tov, and being mekayeim all the mitzvos hachag with so much simcha and devotion, we were sure that Moshiach would reveal himself sometime before the end of Yom Tov.
But it was not to be. We have not yet merited the arrival of Moshiach who will deliver us from golus. We are still enmeshed in our problems and worries; we still have to contend with all those unpleasant realities we wished would go away.
Having just experienced a most uplifting experience, we have to hold onto it and keep it fresh in our consciousness to propel us further. The Yomim Tovim are not meant to be like a typical vacation that becomes a distant memory the minute the plane lands and you are back home.
Yomim Tovim have to teach us and change us into better people. They have to leave an impression on our souls and minds. They have to leave us with important lessons that have the capacity to improve us and our lives.
One day we celebrate Simchas Torah with all its spiritual highs and the next day we are expected to cheerfully return to business as usual. One day we dance away without a care in the world and the next day it is back to the bleak burdens of work and school.
How is it possible not to feel let down?
Simchas Torah is commonly viewed as a celebration of the completion of Torah, and it surely is. But on Simchas Torah, as soon as we finish Vezos Habracha with great fanfare, we start Bereishis with the very same level of excitement. For many of us, the beginning is an even greater cause for celebration than the siyum.
The laining of Bereishis on Simchas Torah tells us that we all get another chance. Even if we didn’t learn the Torah as well as we could have during the past year, Vezos Habracha tells us that just as there is bracha in completing, there is also bracha in the beginning. We all get a chance to start again from the beginning. Even if things went wrong last year and we didn’t do as well as we should have, we are given a fresh opportunity to try again.
What a cause for celebration that is! What a special blessing is granted to the Jewish people, who for that very reason are compared to the moon. We have been gifted the special ability to bounce back. We are able to come back from near failure and oblivion.
When we dance on Simchas Torah, we do so due to the joy of completion and gratification, but also with a sense of anticipation.
As Jews, whenever we finish a limud, we immediately begin learning something else, Maharsha, Ovada Zara, 19a, D.H. Slick. No matter how hard it may have been to reach our goal, no matter how great the accomplishment, we don’t rest. We begin the trek all over again. The energy that propelled us to this point will now push us on further to even greater heights.
So we learn Bereishis and we understand that Hashem created it all. We realize that it is for a greater purpose. We live in a time when we are forced to work so hard to make ends meet. We are so trapped in the pursuit of our livelihoods that we allow ourselves barely a moment to wonder what it’s all about.
As the winter begins its steady descent, we attempt to keep the embers of the Yom Tov warmth glowing inside our hearts for as long as we can.
As we slide from the yemei kodesh to the yemei chol, we try to recapture the lessons of those sacred days and understand how to apply them during the days and months ahead.
To do otherwise would be to rob ourselves of the full benefits of the special days of Tishrei.
Sukkos is a sort of halfway house. During the days of Elul, we sought to raise ourselves to a higher level of holiness and increase our devotion to mitzvos and our fellow man. Rosh Hashanah and Aseres Yemei Teshuvah brought us to a new level of appreciating our obligations in this world. Yom Kippur was the apex of that evolution. In shul all day with our machzorim and tefillos, nothing came between us and Hashem as we communicated with Him in a way we don’t do all year. Klapping ahl cheit, we went through the list of temptations which can affect man and promised to never fall prey to them again.
But then Yom Kippur is over and we are confronted by our old foibles again. Sukkos comes along and we become ensconced once again in a cloak of holiness. The Yom Tov of Zeman Simchaseinu helps us adapt once again to the real world. While no longer on the lofty plane to which the Yomim Noraim carried us, we are nevertheless enveloped in kedushah and separated for eight days from the mundane stress and pressures that dominate the rest of the year.
As we resolve to tackle life with our renewed attitudes, the simcha of the chag reaches out to us and gives us the strength and skill to do so. Thus, even on days which are not as awe-inspiring and uplifting as Yom Kippur, we work on being better people, stronger in our yiras Shomayim and in our bein adam lachaveiro.
On Simchas Torah, every Jew can reconnect to Torah and begin its study once again with a renewed intensity that has been building up since Rosh Chodesh Elul. Simchas Torah renews a Jew’s feelings for kiyum hamitzvos and on this day he is suffused with an otherworldly joy. On this day, as Vezos Habracha is read, he can appreciate that the Torah is the essence of bracha, blessing. He begins his study of Torah again with Parshas Bereishis armed with a fresh perspective and a determination to understand it better than he did last time around.
He opens up a Chumash and begins learning the first posuk. He then turns to the first Rashi we are all so familiar with, which asks why the Torah begins with the story of creation. Should it not have begun with the parsha of Hachodesh Hazeh Lochem, which describes the first commandment given to the Jews as a nation?
He reads the answer: “So that if the nations of the world accuse the Jews of being land robbers for stealing the land of Eretz Yisroel from other nations, you will be able to answer them and tell them that the entire world belongs to Hashem; He created it and He can give it to whomever He pleases. First he gave Eretz Yisroel to the other nations, and then He took it away from them and gave it to us.”
But the Jew wonders: Do the nations of the world really care about what it says in the Torah? Will they be satisfied with an answer based upon what it says in the Torah? Even if it is important to establish Hashem’s exclusive ownership of Earth, why must the Torah begin with this fact?
He continues on to the next Rashi: “Bereishis, bishvil Torah shenikrah reishis ubishvil Yisroel shenkire’uh reishis… Why does the Torah open with the word Bereishis? Because it signifies that the world was created for the Torah, which is also referred to as reishis, and to teach us that the world was created for Am Yisroel, which is called reishis.”
He ponders the connection between the two Rashis. Rashi doesn’t actually mean to say that the goyim will be influenced by the arguments of the Torah. Perhaps Rashi‘s intent is for us to continually remind ourselves of some fundamental truths that dictate our purpose in this world: Hashem created the world and singled out the Jewish nation as His chosen people for all time. He designated them as the recipients of the Holy Land where they could elevate themselves through Torah to perfection.
Since time immemorial, Jews have been singled out for hatred by the nations of the world. They have accused us of every conceivable sin and have sought our destruction. The Torah opens with the statement of creation and Hashem’s dominion over the world to remind us that where ever we are and no matter what the nations of the world accuse us of, we should not become dejected.
The Aleph-Bais of Torah is to know that Hashem created the world and fashioned a special place for us in that world. This is why the second Rashi tells us that the world was created for Torah and Am Yisroel.
The Jew appreciates this and is able to stand up to all the scoffers who mock his devotion to Torah. The Jew recognizes that the Torah is not a history book designed to trace the odyssey of a people. It is the Creator’s “guidebook,” whose purpose is to teach His people how to live in the land he created in six days. Nothing that anyone says or does can change that immutable fact. We cleave to its every word and base our lives upon it.
On the day we end a cycle of study and begin anew, our celebration and joy are unparalleled. On this happiest of days, we dance and sing songs of praise of Hashem and thank him for choosing us and for giving us the Torah. We sway to tunes which express our love for Torah and our devotion to it.
We realize that the Torah is as relevant today as on the day it was delivered to the Bnei Yisroel on Har Sinai, and on the first day of creation. That awareness increases the fervor of his dance and heartfelt simcha.
As he danced away until he felt that his feet could no longer carry him, he understood why Sukkos follows Yom Kippur and why Simchas Torah follows Sukkos. Because following the spiritual levels that he attained on Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur, he needs a little sukkah to wrap it all together and to enable him to hold onto it.
He can only do that, however, if he detaches himself from all that is temporary and all the figments of his Olam Hazeh-ish imagination. He’s got to get back in touch with what is real and permanent.
He sits in his little sukkah, surrounded by his children’s little decorations, and he looks up to the heavens and realizes that he is not alone. He is happy. For once in his life, he has merited true happiness. He has learned a lesson in what is real and what is not, what is temporary and what is permanent.
Now he knows the secret of simcha – simcha that comes from working to understand Torah, simcha that comes from knowing that a Jew is never alone, simcha that is contagious. And nothing will deter him from being b’simcha.
He can now move back into the temporary world and still keep that simcha in his heart. He resolves to remember that simcha, that feeling of joy, of finally understanding what is important in life and what is temporary, as he returns to his job or to school to face the countless pressures and challenging moments that fill our lives. Nothing can take that feeling of satisfaction he attained on Simchas Torah away from him.
He has a new beginning and he intends to take full advantage of it. He will improve in every way possible as he carries the messages of Elul and Tishrei with him. No matter what is thrown in his path, he will maintain his belief in the Creator Who guides his life. He will be neither broken nor depressed during the coming cold days of winter, for he knows that he is not alone and he knows that if he tries hard enough, he can attain the blessings of Vezos Habracha.
Yes, it really is difficult to be freilach ah gantz yohr, but the memories of the warmth of the sukkah and Simchas Torah, the joy of the esrog and lulav, will certainly help.
Ah gutten, freilechen, un gezunter vinter to all.