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The flame dances, leaps, flickers, gracefully waving its fiery body. It moves from side to side. It waxes and wanes, without a moment's rest, without an instant of inactivity. The flame is the prima ballerina in a ballet orchestrated specially for her.
The Jewish soul is a flame. And when it wants to express itself, when it aches to rise above limitations, casting aside all restrictions, reconnecting with the ultimate Flame, it too dances.
And this is why we Jews dance on the holiday of Simchat Torah: little children with their multicolored paper flags and miniature Torahs; adults with the handwritten Torah scrolls of parchment; scholars and beginners, young and old.
We dance with the Torah, a contradiction of sorts. It contains a fixed number of words and letters encompassing immeasurable wisdom. It is unfathomable by our finite minds, yet the unlimited soul, the part of the Divine within every single one of us, the G-dly flame, is one with it.
One might suggest that the way to celebrate with and rejoice over completing the Torah at this time of year would be to open it up and study it.
But then, our celebrations would be limited. Our joy would be lacking. Many could not participate due to lack of basic Hebrew reading skills. Others, though proficient in Hebrew, lack a knowledge of the foundations of Judaism. The child would be confined by his undeveloped cognitive skills. The scholar's prominence in this area would be conspicuous. There would be no sense of the intrinsic equality of every single Jew.
And so, we dance. For some it is just a rhythmic sway. For others it is a kick-up-your-heels dance. For all, it is the expression of the part of us that transcends all limitations and definitions.
Dancing, specifically the kind of dancing that we do on Simchat Torah, is unique because it creates an atmosphere, an atmosphere of joy, excitement, carefree abandon from the worries of our day-to-day existence. It is difficult, no, nearly impossible, to see a mass of people swirling round and round without getting intoxicated with the exuberant mood.
The dancing on Simchat Torah is the culmination of days of joyous festivity during special celebrations on each night of Sukkot which are as ancient as the Holy Temple itself. The joy increases daily, from the first day of Sukkot until the end of Simchat Torah.
And since our Sages tell us that "happiness breaks down barriers," the happiness at the celebrations can and should extend beyond all limits. For then, the happiness will serve as a source of happiness for the entire year to come. And seeing and appreciating such celebrations generates the potential to appreciate happiness in all things, throughout the entire year.
And so, on Simchat Torah we dance. As equals we dance. As equals we rejoice with the magnificent gift of the Torah. Some know more, some know less, but when we dance we are equal.
The festival of Sukkot, which follows Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, marks the beginning of the true days of rejoicing of the month of Tishrei, coming as it does after the solemnity of the High Holidays. Although Sukkot has many similarities and characteristics in common with Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, it is actually the culmination and fulfillment of the first two holidays. The difference between the two lies in the fact that the holiness that was in a more concealed and hidden state on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is revealed for all to see on "the day of our rejoicing (Sukkot)."
One of the fundamental themes of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is that of the unity of the Jewish People. But it is on Sukkot that this motif finds its highest expression.
The Jew's worship on the High Holidays lies in his uncovering of the "pintele Yid" within him, that Jewish spark that can never be extinguished, that he shares in common with every other Jew. All of us stand as equals before G-d in prayer on Rosh Hashana, accepting His sovereignty and crowning Him King over us all; on Yom Kippur we are equally aroused to do teshuva (repent) and return to G-d. When a Jew does teshuva, he is merely uncovering and revealing his innate belief in G-d and love of Him.
The unity of the Jewish People during the High Holidays is a unity based on the common denominator inherent in every Jew. It does not take into consideration the many differences of temperament, intelligence, or any other marks which distinguish one person from another.
On Sukkot, however, we reach an even higher level of unity than before, developing the theme of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur further.
One of the most important mitzvot (commandments) of Sukkot is the taking of the Four Kinds. These four species symbolize the four different types of people which exist within the Jewish nation. The etrog (citron) symbolizes one who possesses Torah learning and also does good deeds; the lulav (palm) stands for one who possesses only Torah learning. The hadas (myrtle) symbolizes one who performs commandments and does good deeds, but does not have Torah learning, and the arava (willow) symbolizes the Jew who possesses neither Torah nor learning.
On Sukkot we take these four disparate species and bring them together to perform a mitzva. Our unity does not lie in our ignoring the external differences which divide us; rather, we go out of our way to include all types of Jews, even those in the category of arava, who would seem to have no positive contribution to make. Despite all our differences we are all bound together.
This is the highest degree of unity we can achieve. It is far easier to concentrate only on that which we have in common than to acknowledge that we differ as individuals and still remain together.
On Sukkot we verify and confirm the unity which was achieved during the High Holidays. This realization sustains us throughout the year and gives us the strength to live in harmony and solidarity with one another.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Taking Off for the Holidays
by Dr. David B. Lazerson
Right after I was hired to teach at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community School in Buffalo, New York, I made the mistake of looking at the calendar. It was a mistake because I had to live with the underlying feeling that I would be fired within my first six weeks on the job. The Jewish holidays, you see, occurred very early that particular school year. Not only were they early, but they all happened to fall in the middle of the week. In other words, as an Orthodox Jew, I'd have to take off two days for Rosh Hashana, one day for Yom Kippur, two more days for the first days of Sukkot and, finally, another two days for the last days of Simchat Torah and Shemini Atzeret! A grand total of seven days out. Seven days out from the first 28 actual teachings days. Not too good a record!
The closer we came to Rosh Hashana, the more anxious I felt. I didn't know what to do. I called my rabbi. Maybe he'd find a way out for me.
"Rabbi Gurary," I said after explaining my situation. "Is there some way I could just walk to school on those days of Sukkot. You know, I won't drive, mark papers or even take any money for it. I'll give that pay to charity or I'll tell the Board of Ed to keep the money for those days. It's just that I'm really afraid I'll get fired."
We discussed the situation with all of its ramifications. The rabbi was sympathetic, which surprised me, as I figured that my question would be answered with a resounding "Of course not!"
"Look," he finally said to me. "Call Rabbi Greenberg. See what he can advise you to do."
Rabbi Greenberg was my other rabbinic authority and friend in town. Rabbi Greenberg listened attentively and then told me, "Call my father in New Jersey."
His father, Rabbi Meir Greenberg, of blessed memory, was a well-known rabbinical scholar and world-wide authority in Jewish law.
I got him on the line. I told him about my problem and the conversation between his son and me. He then brought up something which I hadn't considered at all. "There's a real difficulty in that you will be setting a precedent," he said. "Suppose next year, or a few years from now, another Orthodox Jew teaches in the Buffalo school system? Call Rabbi Osdoba. See what he says."
In all honesty, I thought my question was kind of ridiculous to begin with. We aren't supposed to engage in our secular pursuits on a Jewish holiday. It's a time for prayer, festivity and spending time with the family. It also might be a time to look for a new line of work.
But I followed Rabbi Greenberg's advice and called Rabbi Osdoba. I explained the situation once more, adding all the details from the previous rabbis. He listened carefully to everything I said.
"I'll discuss it with Rabbi Dworkin. Call me after Rosh Hashana. Good luck with your teaching!"
Rabbi Dworkin, of blessed memory, was the chief rabbinical authority for Lubavitch. My issue was being raised with the top man. It wasn't until after Yom Kippur, however, that I received the answer from Rabbi Osdoba: No dice. There was no way I could be at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community School on the holiday. It made sense. I was surprised it went as far as it did.
My wife and I decided to implement plan two. This strategy involved one main factor: pleading with the school principal Dr. D for understanding and mercy.
That night, I stayed up until 2:00 a.m. typing a two-page letter to the principal. I went into a historical perspective on the significance of Sukkot the Jewish people. I explained the various laws and customs Jews observe to honor their holidays. I wrote that we cannot conduct business, write, erase, make money, turn electricity on and off, ride in cars and more. That we use these days to reaffirm our attachment to G-d by performing the commandments and learning Torah. Finally, I concluded my "sermon" and plea with a statement saying that I didn't have to take off again until Passover and that I didn't plan on getting sick or abusing my personal days.
The next day, letter in hand, I came to school early, prepared to face the music. I realized that it might be my last day at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community School.
My supervisor, a middle-age black woman, was standing by her mailbox.
"Edie," I said. "Do me a favor and read this."
"Sure," she said looking up at me. "But why so glum today?"
"It's all in here," I said, handing her my letter.
She began reading. I stood by watching her, waiting for any possible advice or suggestions.
Suddenly she began shaking her head, saying quietly, "Oh, David. Oh, David."
It's that hopeless, I thought. She did it a few more times as she read through the entire letter. Each time she shook her head she remarked the same thing. "Oh, David. Oh, David."
She folded the letter, put it in my hand and shook her head again. Then she looked me in the eyes. "I can't believe this," she said. "What are you ashamed about? Tell him it's your holiday and you're taking off. Period. If he doesn't like it, too bad! Take a lesson from my people, and stand up for your beliefs!"
With that, she shook her head again and left the office. I stood there dumfounded, feeling like I'd been slapped in the face by someone trying to wake me from a bad dream. I also felt like a total jerk. I had invested so much time, effort and psychological energy trying to get out of something that didn't need getting out of. Instead of a letter, Edie had put a mirror into my hand.
I went into Dr. D's office, letter in hand, with a completely different attitude. "Doc," I said. "I know you're not going to believe this, but I've got another Jewish holiday that I won't be in for."
When I was done with my explanation, he asked if I had done lesson plans for the sub, and he wished me a happy holiday.
Excerpted with permission from the book Skullcaps and Switchblades. For more about National Teacher Hall of Fame inductee Dr. Lazerson, visit drlaz.com
New Chabad Center
The JCC Chabad Long Island City, New York, under the direction of emissaries Rabbi Zev and Rivka Wineberg, opened in time for the High Holidays.
Rabbi Roi and Neta Merili recently moved to Kudle Beach, Gokarna, India to open up the 18th Chabad House in India. Rabbi Mendy and Esty Gurkov recently moved to Wanaque, New Jersey to open a new Chabad House that will serving the cities of Ringwood, Wanaque and West Milford. Rabbi Levi and Chanie Schectman have opened a Chabad Center at Wesleyan University, in Middletown, Connecticut.
Freely adapted and translated from a letter of the Rebbe
Between Yom Kippur and Succos;
Torah portion of Brochoh, Hakhel year 5741 (1980)
To the Sons and Daughters
of our People Israel, Everywhere,
G-d bless you all!
Greeting and Blessing:
In these days of preparation for the Festival of Succos, the Season of our Rejoicing, and coming from Yom Kippur, when all Jews were granted a good and sweet year - a revealed and obvious kind of good - it is appropriate to reflect on the following thought:
Although we are still in Exile, a time when "darkness covers the earth," because the true light that is found only in Torah has not irradiated, fully and pervasively, the world and its everyday affairs, which is reflected also in its attitude, sometimes even actions, towards Jews; and among some Jews - in their attitude towards Jewishness - Yiddishkeit.
Both aspects are interrelated. For, when Jews, as individuals or as a group, proudly adhere to their Jewishness and show it - that is also the way that earns them the respect of the Gentile world and a friendly and helpful attitude.
In addition to the essential thing, that by adhering to Judaism in actual practice of learning Torah and doing Mitzvos (commandments), the Exile is shortened and eventually brought to an end by the true and complete Redemption through Moshiach -
Nevertheless, the fact of still being in Exile must not, and does not, dampen the joyful preparations for Succos, much less the actual joy of the festival, particularly the Festival of Succos (including the intermediate days, Shemini Atzeres, and Simchas Torah) which has been singled out and designated as "The Season of Our Rejoicing";
For as in the case of the exile in Egypt, when at the height of the surrounding darkness "there was light for all the children of Israel in their dwellings," a Jew's life, wherever he may dwell, is illuminated in all its aspects by the light of the Torah and Mitzvos. And by intensifying this light in his daily life, the Jew is also hastening the Redemption;
And here is the additional factor, which is also one of our fundamental beliefs and basic principles of our Torah - Bitochon (trust) in G-d, the true and absolute Bitochon in the Master of all the universe, whose Divine Providence extends to each and everyone individually, and specifically, and in detail -
The Bitochon, first of all, that He surely granted the "Chasimo uGmar Chasimo Toivo" (sealed and confirmed for good) in everything and in every detail, including also, indeed especially the fulfillment in our own very days of the hope, heartfelt yearning, and most fervent daily expectation, namely, the "coming of Moshiach, for whose coming I wait every day."
The Bitochon, the basis of which is the simple belief of every Jew - since all Jews are "believers the children of believers" inherited this belief from our Father Abraham, the Father of Believers - unites and unifies all Jews. Moreover, this belief is the very same in all Jews, though they differ and to the extreme.
It is this Bitochon that makes a spiritual Hakhel (gathering) of the people a reality, unifying all Jews into one kohol, one entity - since their common simple belief also pervades and moves everything in which they differ (as indicated in the verse): listening to, learning, keeping and doing all the words of the Torah.
This is also reflected in the "essence of The Day (Yom-Kippur)" the unique and only day in the year, which of all the festivals ordained in the Torah, is celebrated for one day only, both in and outside of the Land of Israel.
The day which all Jews conclude on the same culminating "resume" and proclaim it with profound inspiration and in a loud voice: "Shema Yisrael - Hear, O Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One, Blessed be the name of His glorious Kingdom forever and ever; Hashem He is G-d!"
The same unifying principle is reflected also in the Festival of Succos, in combining together the "Four Kinds" (Esrog, Lulav, Myrtle, and Willow), symbolizing all different types of Jews, into one Mitzvah, which is created by virtue of a Jew unifying them,
And also in the Succah itself, concerning which the Torah says: "It is possible for all Jews to sit in one Succah."
May G-d grant that just as on Yom Kippur, after the many prayers and the culminating resume, one Tekiah is sounded - a Tekiah Gedolah, according to custom, followed by the loud proclamation: L'shanah haba'ah biYerushalaim! -
So may every Jew amongst all Jews, after the many prayers throughout the long Exile, including (five times during the day of Yom Kippur) the daily prayer, "May our eyes behold Your return to Zion in mercy," and, while still in Exile, Jews demonstrating that "We Your people and sheep of Your pasture, we will constantly pray thanking you,"
May every Jew very soon indeed hear the sound of G-d's Great Shofar announcing our liberation, followed immediately by - "Bring us... to Jerusalem Your Holy House with everlasting joy."
With esteem and blessing for Chag Same'ach (happy holiday) in the Season of our Rejoicing.
DALYA is Hebrew, and means "branch" or "bough."
DORON is Hebrew, and means "gift."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat is known as "Shabbat Bereishit," the Shabbat on which we read the first portion of the first book of the Torah - Bereishit.
The Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, used to say that "the position which we adopt on Shabbat Bereishit determines the nature of our conduct in the entire year to come."
Shabbat Bereishit represents the transition from the holidays of the month of Tishrei to our regular, day-to-day life of the coming months.
Shabbat, in general, is known to elevate the spiritual service of the previous week. As Shabbat Bereishit follows the holidays of Sukkot and Simchat Torah - holidays that collect and internalize all the influences of the holiday-filled month of Tishrei - Shabbat Bereishit perfects and elevates the holidays of Tishrei.
In addition, Shabbat Bereishit is the Shabbat on which the month of Marcheshvan is blessed. One of the reasons that the prefix "mar" is added to the name of the month Cheshvan is that "mar" means bitter. Cheshvan has no holidays and is therefore a "bitter" month, especially in comparison to holiday-packed Tishrei.
Because Shabbat Bereishit has both of these aspects - the culmination of the previous month and the blessing of the upcoming month - it can potentially influence the entire year.
Thus, the position we adopt on Shabbat Bereishit has the potential to influence the entire year; it can bring the spiritual inspiration of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah into our regular, day-to-day living.
May we all have a very "successful" Shabbat Bereishit.
The gabbai (overseer) of the synagogue came up to the Rebbe, Reb Shalom Ber of Lubavitch on Simchat Torah, and invited him to begin the hakafot by making the first circuit around the bima. But the Rebbe said, "I'm not ready yet." The Rebbe then walked over to a businessman who worked on commission and asked: "Tell me, how do you run your business?" "It's easy," replied the merchant. "I bring in merchandise from the market in the big city and I offer it to the small retailers. To those who pay me for the goods I brought them before, I give more merchandise on credit." Now, the word for credit is "hakafa," the same word that signifies the circuits made around the bima with the Torah scroll on Simchat Torah. The Rebbe explicated to all those in the shul, "After we have paid G-d in cash - the varied kinds of divine service of the month of Elul, Rosh Hashana, the Ten Days of Repentance, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret - then He will give us a new consignment of goods - blessings for the New Year - on credit. In full expectation of a successful 'business deal' we will now begin the hakafot."
Reading the Torah
On Simchat Torah we finish reading the Torah and begin reading it once again. The last letter of the Torah is "lamed" (found in the word "Yisrael" - Israel). The first letter of the Torah is the "beit" in "B'reishit" ("In the beginning"). These two letters together spell the word "lev," heart. The Torah is the heart of the Jewish people and demands that we view each other as one singular heart, pulsating, beating and bringing life to our world and every one of its inhabitants."
It was the first day of Sukkot, and all the congregation in the shul of Rabbi Elimelech of Lisensk were in a festive mood. As Rabbi Elimelech stood at the bima, all eyes turned towards him. There was something unusual in his manner this Sukkot. Why did he stop so suddenly to sniff the air? It was evident that something was on his mind, something rather exciting by the look on his radiant countenance!
The minute the prayers were over, Rabbi Elimelech hurried to his brother Rabbi Zushia who was standing, and said: "Help me find the etrog which is permeating the shul with the fragrance of the Garden of Eden!"
They went from person to person until they reached a corner of the shul where a quiet-looking man was standing, engrossed in his own thoughts.
"This is the one," exclaimed Rabbi Elimelech. "Please, dear friend, tell me who are you and where did you obtain this wonderful etrog?"
The man, startled by this unexpected question, replied rather slowly:
"Rabbi, it is quite a story. Do you wish to sit down and listen to it all?"
"Most certainly, I am sure it will be a story worth hearing!"
"My name is Uri, and I come from Strelisk. The mitzva (commandment) of etrog has always been one of my favorites. I am a poor man, and could not normally afford to buy an etrog as I would wish, but my good wife, who agrees with me, hires herself out as a cook. In this way, I can use half of my earnings for spiritual matters. Every year I travel to Lemberg to make the purchase, and in order to conserve money, I go by foot.
"This year, during the Ten Days of Repentance, I was travelling with fifty gulden with which to buy an etrog, when I stopped at an inn to rest. It was time for the afternoon prayers, so I stood in a corner and prayed.
"In the middle I heard a terrible sound of moaning and groaning. I hurriedly finished so that I could see if I could help in some way. As I turned towards the man who was in obvious distress, I saw a person, dressed in peasant garb, pouring out his troubles to the inn-keeper.
"The man was a Jew who earned his living as a wagon-driver. He had a wife and several children, and barely managed to earn enough to make ends meet. Now, a terrible calamity had befallen him. His horse had suddenly collapsed in the forest and was unable to get up.
"I tried to encourage the poor man, telling him not to forget that there is a great G-d Who could help him out of any dilemma. The innkeeper, offered to sell him another horse at a good price, but the man replied bitterly: 'I haven't got even fifty kopeks, let alone fifty gulden!'
"How could I keep the etrog money in the face of such a tragedy? I asked the innkeeper what was the lowest price he would take for the horse. 'Forty-five gulden, but not a kopek less,' he replied.
"I immediately took out my wallet and handed him forty-five gulden, the astonished wagon-driver looking on. His relief and joy were absolutely indescribable!
"I had to content myself with buying a very ordinary etrog with my remaining money. Usually, my etrog is the best in Yanev, and everyone comes to make the blessing on it. But with such a poor-looking one, my wife agreed that I could come here to Lisensk where nobody knows me."
"But my dear Uri," cried out Rabbi Elimelech, "yours is indeed an exceptional etrog! Now I understand why your etrog has the fragrance of the Garden of Eden! Let me tell you the sequel to your story."
"The wagon-driver, overjoyed by his good fortune, decided that you must have been none other than Elijah the Prophet. He wanted to express his gratitude to the Alm-ghty, but didn't know how to pray. Suddenly his face lit up. He took his whip and lashed it into the air, crying out:
"'Oh, dear Father in Heaven, I love you very much! What can I do to convince You of my love for You? Let me crack my whip for You as a sign that I love You!' Then, the wagon-driver cracked his whip three times.
"On the eve of Yom-Kippur the Alm-ghty was seated on His 'Seat of Judgment,' listening to the prayers of the Day of Atonement.
"A wagon full of Jewish mitzvot was standing at the Gates of Heaven, when Satan appeared and obstructed the path with a wagon-load of Jewish sins. Nothing was able to budge Satan.
"Suddenly the sound of a cracking whip rent the air, causing a blinding ray of light to illuminate the whole universe, right up to the very heavens! All at once, the Angel Michael appeared, leading a horse, followed by the wagon-driver with whip in hand.
"The Angel Michael harnessed this horse to the wagon of mitzvot, and the driver cracked his whip. Suddenly the wagon gave a lurch forward, flattened out the Jewish sins, and drove on smoothly right up to the 'Throne of Honor.' A happy new year was assured.
"And now, dear Uri," concluded Rabbi Elimelech, "you see that all this came about through your selfless action! Go in peace, and know that you have with you the approval of the Heavenly Court. But before you go, permit me to hold this wonderful etrog of yours and praise G-d with it."
From The Complete Story of Tishrei, Kehot Publications.
The Midrash Rabba (30:16) says that in the merit of performing the mitzva of shaking the lulav and etrog on the first day of Sukkot, G-d says that "I will be the first to reveal Myself to you...and build for you the first (the Holy Temple) of which it is written 'A glorious throne on high from the first, the place of our Sanctuary' (Jeremiah 17:12), and bring for you the first - King Moshiach, of whom it is written, 'The first shall say to Zion'