I am always on the lookout for commentaries in Torah literature that connect the Parsha of the Week, or the Yom Tov that we are celebrating with a lesson in education. Why? Because it is remarkable how much direction we can all gain from the Torah perspective as we interact with a younger generation as parents, educators, camp counsellors or the secretary at school. This edition is being delivered to your snail mailbox towards Sukkos and will provide you with the quality reading material you crave for, amidst the excitement of the season.
So, I decided to focus on the last days of Sukkos that have a unique name unto themselves. The holidays of Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah, are not just the ending days of Sukkos, but contain a distinctive message of their own. They are the culmination of seven weeks of intense spiritual experiences, beginning with the month of Elul where we are preparing for the High Holidays, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkos. Even the days in between these holidays bear special significance in the flow of energy of these jam-packed weeks.
Why is Simchas Torah celebrated at the end of Sukkos? Should it not be observed closer to Shavuos when the Torah was given? There were two sets of tablets/luchos given to the Jewish people. Yes, one was on Shavuos, the ones that Moshe Rabeinu broke only 40 days later. Moshe spent the next 40 days praying that G-d would forgive the Jewish people, and that forgiveness only came after a third set of 40 days on the day we celebrate Yom Kippur.
There was an essential difference between the first set of luchos and the second. The luchos were the same, but the people were not. The first set of luchos were given to a people clean from sin, totally righteous tzadikim. As the Torah describes that they saw what was normally heard, and heard what is seen, the label Tzadikim is fitting. The second luchos were given to a people, really the same people at a different stage in their lives, who had sinned with the golden calf, had regret, and repented. There was no thunder and lightning when Moshe received the second luchos. There was only humility, gratefulness, resilience, and perseverance. Hash-m gave the second luchos in a modest way like the quiet and consistent work of the individual who is committed to coming closer to his Creator, step by step.
On Simchas Torah we rejoice over the Torah, as a people who are dedicated to continual growth and improvement. The happiness/simcha on Simchas Torah is on a much higher level than the simcha when we accepted the Torah as righteous tzaddikim. The blessings that Hash-m blesses us with come from a much higher spiritual level when we own our missions, than when we come as complete tzadikim. Why? Because of the power of Teshuvah/repentance. (Disclaimer: although the common translation of teshuva is repentance, this is not entirely accurate. Because this is not the topic of this article, I am using this translation and will continue to use the word teshuva in the original.) When one is involved in doing teshuva, Hash-m flips over one’s misdeeds into mitzvos. The Baal Teshuva, who once lived in the darkness devoid of Torah has overturned his life, so he lives in the light of serving Hash-m and brings the light of Torah and Mitzvos into the world. His misdeeds have truly become a beacon of luminescence.
The message of the power of teshuva started all the way in the beginning of Elul and has remained a recurring theme throughout the entire High Holiday season. One of the anachronyms of the word Elul, in Hebrew spelled אלול is ארון לוחות ושברי לוחות. In the aron in the tabernacle/Mishkan, were both the intact luchos and the broken ones. The sages comment that there is nothing as complete as a broken heart. We may think that only perfect people can come and stand in front of Hash-m come Rosh Hashana, but no, He loves when we come as regular imperfect human beings ready to commit to tweaking ourselves and to doing better this year than last. We do our best to have better self-control, resisting temptations which at one time might have led us down a slippery slope in the wrong direction.
Education, where does that come in? Very much so. In the northern hemisphere, we are at the beginning of the school year. The two beginnings overlap. Some thoughts…
The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe writes that for the good and sweet new year that we have been written for to be permanent, we must fortify ourselves in learning Torah and keeping mitzvos.
I run Machon Temima, a division of CyberSem. We are committed to producing continuing Torah education accredited courses to women who are in university or college. We offer full length university courses in a wide range of Torah subjects. Join us at www.machontemima.org.
Dr. Chavi Goldberg
CyberSem, the first ever online Seminary, is now Machon Temima and Chemdah!
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