The what appears to be the final day of the Sukkos holiday is, outside of Israel, called Simchas Torah (and in Israel, is Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah). On this day, we read the last portion of the Torah, V’zos HaB’racha. We celebrate this completion of the past year’s cycle of Torah reading and the beginning of this year’s Torah reading cycle. We sing, dance and express our joy over having the Torah and being able to learn the Torah. We dance seven circuits around the Bimah, from where we read the Torah. Traditionally, all are given an opportunity to dance with the Torah during the festivities. There is a firm basis for this custom.
The Mishkan, the Tabernacle, was the center of spiritual life before the Bais HaMikdosh, the Holy Temple was constructed in Yerushalayim. Hashem gave Moshe the instructions on how the Mishkon and the vessels used within were to be constructed. Among these instructions, we find a change in language in one instance. By the construction of the Shulchan ( Shmos 25:23), we find the following: “_You_ shall also make a table.” By the Menorah, we find (Shmos 25:31) “And _you_ shall make a Menorah of pure gold.” However, but by the Aron, the ark, we find a change (Shmos 25:10):And _they_ shall make an ark.” The command for the ark was directed towards the entire nation of Israel, as opposed to the commands for the other vessels, which were directed at Moshe. Why was the instruction for the ark specifically given to the nation?
The Medrash Rabbah (Shmos 34:2) states: “AND THEY SHALL MAKE AN ARK.” Why is it that in reference to all the other vessels we read ‘And you shall make’, but in reference to the Ark it says, AND THEY SHALL MAKE? Said R. Yehudah ben R. Shalom: The Holy One, blessed be He, said: Let all come and occupy themselves with the Ark in order that they may all merit the Torah.'”
What makes the Aron so special, that those who “occupy themselves with the Ark . . . may all merit the Torah?” In general, the large vessels used in the Mishkan were constructed with rings attached. In these rings, poles were placed, so that when the Mishkan had to be moved and therefore the vessels had to be moved as well, they could be carried with the poles. When the vessels were at rest, the poles were removed. This, however, was not the case with the Aron. The Torah writes (Shmos 25:15) “In the rings of the ark shall be the poles, they should not be removed from it.” Even when the Aron was at rest, the poles had to stay within the rings.
The Sefer HaChinuch (96) writes that at the root of this commandment is the fact that the Aron, which contains the original Luchos, the tablets upon which the Ten Commandments were inscribed, is the dwelling place, the sanctuary of the Torah. The Torah, embodied by the Aron, is at our core, it is our glory. We must treat it with every form of respect and honor that is within our ability. We therefore were commanded not to remove the poles, for fear that we might need to move the Aron quickly, and in our haste we will not check to see that the poles will support the weight of the Aron, and it could fall. Because we must show the utmost respect for the Aron, we must make sure that it never falls, and we therefore keep the poles affixed at all times.
The construction of the Aron, the object which symbolizes the holy Torah, was given to the entire nation of Israel. Because the entire nation would be occupied with the construction of the Aron, they would all have a part in the Aron, and in turn, the Torah. Hence, the nation would all have a stake in the Torah, and would merit to delve into it and study it. However, this gift which we all have a part of must be respected and revered. We must be able to take it with us where ever we may go, without any fear that our travel will cause the Torah any disrespect. We must ensure that the Torah is always cherished and protected, no matter where we are or what we do. On Simchas Torah, everyone gets an opportunity to dance with the Torah scroll. Everyone gets an opportunity to be occupied with the Torah, just as the entire nation was occupied with the construction of the Aron. All are given the opportunity to embrace the Torah, to hold it dearly and tightly, to take it with them on a dance, in a fitting display of love and respect for the Torah. It is a dance for eternity.
Have a joyous Simchas Torah!
(based on Hegyonai Halacha)
Check out all of the posts on Elul and Rosh HaShana. Head over to http://www.torah.org/learning/yomtov/ to access the YomTov Page. Then click on the icon for the holiday of your choice.
For questions, comments, and topic requests, please write to Rabbi Yehudah Prero.