I read through a wide variety of articles around Simchas Torah time, on various Jewish websites. Many of them were describing the issues that exist with drinking on Simchas Torah. Others spoke about trying to feel the true joy of the chag. I think that these issues are connected – many people drink because they want to feel the joy. It’s sad that they need the alcohol to get there.
I’m sure that most people have learned about the Simchas Beis HaShoevah which took place in the Beis HaMikdash. The Mishnayos and Gemara describe the festivities that took place. It says that anyone who didn’t witness such joy has never seen real joy in their lifetime. But one thing often gets left out when it is spoken about in modern times – most people did not participate! Only the biggest Rabbonim of the time got to partake of the actual celebration. Everyone else just watched.
When I was younger, I used to enjoy watching my Rav on Simchas Torah. Wrapped in his tallis, clutching the Sefer Torah close, he did not move quickly – but you could see his face shining from the joy. I envied him, and felt sad that I did not experience the same feelings. As I got older, life took over. Working full time, dealing with small children – many of you can relate. The time I spent learning slacked off. I still never felt that joy on Simchas Torah.
This year, an interesting thing happened. A number of months ago, I decided that I really needed to spend more time learning. I arranged for a nightly chavrusah, and also began attending some weekly shiurim given in my shul. I stuck to my sedarim, even when it was tough. And guess what? On Simchas Torah, I finally felt that joy! I held the Sefer Torah and felt a tremendous amount of love and happiness. I didn’t want to give it up! I sang and danced, celebrating the Torah.
Maybe that’s why the Simchas beis HaShoevah was only for the Rabbonim. They felt the joy because they were the ones who were closest to the Torah! The Torah is there for all of us. We just need to take it! The joy of Simchas Torah comes about when you draw close to the Torah. No alcohol is necessary. Just a genuine love for the Torah.