Tonight we are celebrating Simchat Torah (Rejoicing with the Torah), having concluded the annual cycle of public Torah readings. But why are we celebrating? Does it please the Torah that we have concluded reading it? Should it please us? If not, then what is the real meaning of rejoicing with the Torah?
The Book of Zohar (Teruma) writes that the “Torah is light, and one who engages in Torah is rewarded with the light.” The “light” that The Zohar speaks of is a borrowed term that denotes a creative force that engenders all that exists. Similar to The Zohar, the ARI writes in Tree of Life: “Know, that before the emanations were emanated and the creatures were created, the upper simple light had filled the whole of reality.” This light, the ARI continues, “emanated, created, formed, and made all the worlds.”
The light works according to a very simple principle: give, give, and give some more. Because of it, the nature it planted in reality is a desire to receive, receive, and receive some more. This quality of giving has created everything around us, the entire universe with us within it. When we study our universe—the galaxies, planets, plants, animals, and even ourselves—we are actually studying manifestations of this light.
But all that our advanced science, particle accelerators, and high tech labs can teach us are details about the manifestations of this light. They tell us nothing of the quality of the light itself. Discovering the attributes of the Light requires that we ourselves acquire its characteristics. As we will see below, Simchat Torah symbolizes the happiness of one who has succeeded in acquiring the quality of the Torah (light): complete and absolute benevolence.
The Beginning of a New Era
“The inclination of man’s heart is evil from his youth,” and “every inclination of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil,” the Torah tells us in Genesis. When we are born, we are completely opposite from giving, from the light. Most of us are at ease with our self-centered nature. But when this nature becomes detrimental to ourselves and to others, it forces us to look for other alternatives. This is the situation in our world today.
Currently, we are at the start of a new era in human evolution. Our lives have become so mutually dependent that we are now a single, global system. In such a system, self-centeredness harms not only the environment, but also the self-centered individual. The only way to maintain an interconnected system successfully is to adopt the light’s quality of giving. A bit like Don Corleone in The Godfather, reality is making us an offer we can’t refuse: “Become givers, or become extinct.”
Learning to Receive the Quality of Giving
Despite the apparent difficulty, there is a paved and proven way to achieve the transformation that we need to make. Here’s how it works: Radios play stations whose wavelength they can create within them. To find a specific station, you need to create that specific wavelength within the radio. If the frequency of the station and the frequency created in the radio match, the radio “receives” the station and you hear what it is broadcasting. Just so, when you switch into the giving mode, you resonate with the quality of the light and “receive” its quality. But since you cannot give when you’re alone, you need like-minded people with whom you can “practice” giving. In this way, you fashion a sustainable and prosperous society of givers that has acquired the light’s quality of benevolence.
The necessity to become givers in order to establish a thriving society is the underlying impetus behind the continuous Jewish emphasis on love of others. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” “as one man with one heart,” and “that which you hate, do not do unto others” were not intended as moral principles, but as practical tools to create a society whose members have acquired the quality of giving, or, put differently, a society that rejoices with the Torah. In the process, our forefathers created a society whose morals were incomparably higher than their contemporaries, but this was more of a positive side-effect than a goal in and of itself.
Some twenty centuries ago we succumbed to our innate nature and the mutual hatred that erupted among us sent our people into exile. Yet, throughout the ages, the remedy to our plight has been the same: practice giving above the ego and thereby heal it. The book, Maor Vashemesh, stated two hundred years ago that “The thing upon which everything depends is love and brotherhood among the sons of Israel, for when there are peace, love, brotherhood, and friendship among them they can receive the Torah.”
One hundred and fifty years later, Baal Hasulam wrote, “It is written, ‘and there Israel camped before the mountain.’ Our sages interpret it to mean, ‘as one man with one heart.’ This is because each and every person from the nation completely detached himself from self-love, and wanted only to benefit his friend, as we have shown regarding the meaning of the commandment, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself.’ It follows that all the individuals in the nation have come together and become one heart and one man, for only then were they qualified to receive the Torah.”
A Cause for Celebration
The High Holy Days represent the transformation process from receivers to givers. At its conclusion, on the day of Simchat Torah, we celebrate the success of the shift.
This Simchat Torah let us all reflect on the kind of individuals that we are and the society that we have become. Even if we find that we are not as pure as we would like to be, there is reason for rejoicing because acknowledging the truth is the first step toward improvement.
At a time when Israel and Jews are singled out for criticism around the world, we have a chance to seize the moment. The global attention we are receiving, negative though it is, is our chance to be “a light unto nations.” It is a window of opportunity to show the world a way toward the light that our forefathers discovered many centuries ago, and which they intended to share with the world. All we need is to practice this simple method of unity among ourselves. Our example is all that the world requires in order to realize that there is an alternative to hatred and conflict, and that the people of Israel are leading the way toward it.
This will be a good reason for rejoicing with the light of unity, which we call the “Torah.”
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