Stories that Teach - Shemini Atzeres / Simchas Torah
Throughout Sukkos, special offerings were brought on the Altar in the Temple.
Our Sages have taught us that the 70 special bull sacrifices brought on
Sukkos were for the benefit of the 70 nations of the world. On Shemini
Atzeres, the holiday that appears to be the eighth day of Sukkos, only one
bull sacrifice was brought. Shemini Atzeres is a holiday that G-d gave the Jewish
people as a send-off of sorts. It is one last time for the Jewish nation to
rejoice with G-d before the long stretch until Pesach, the next holiday (see
vol. I:48). The Maggid of Dubno explains by means of a parable why one
special offering was brought on this day which is dedicated to the Jewish
A wealthy man went on a long journey. While on his trip, he purchased many
gifts for his family back home. Upon his return, he gave out the presents. He
showered the children of his wife (his stepchildren) with many gifts, while
to each of his children he gave a few small presents. He did such based upon
the following rationale. My stepchildren will be happy now only with
presents. However, my children should be happy because I have returned.
Although I want them to have gifts, I do not want the joy of receiving the
presents to overshadow the joy they should feel upon my return. Therefore, I
will give them some small gifts.
In order to bring joy to the nations of the world, G-d felt it was necessary
to command the offering of a large amount of sacrifices. As it is the
offerings on their behalf alone that bring them joy, the nations were given
70 sacrifices. However, the Jewish people experience great joy just knowing
that they are in the company of G-d. On Shemini Atzeres, when G-d wants to
rejoice with us one last time, all we need is one sacrifice to compliment the
joy that already exists.
This joy extends to Simchas Torah, the day that follows Shemini Atzeres in
the Diaspora (see vol. I:49). (Simchas Torah begins at nightfall on Thursday,
October 23, 1997) Reb Naftoli from Ropshitz once told of a man he met who
taught him what he considered an amazing lesson about joy. On Simchas Torah
one year, he saw a man who looked like he was thoroughly enjoying the day's
celebration. His mouth did not stop singing and his legs would not stop
dancing. He was totally immersed in the joy of the celebration of completing
the Torah. What Reb Naftoli thought was unusual was that this individual was
a simple porter, who knew little of Torah and its study. Reb Naftoli called
him over and asked him how come he was celebrating with such fervor. Did he
learn so much this year that his celebration should be so enthusiastic? The
porter's answer was what impressed Reb Naftoli. He said "Rebbe - how can my
brother make a simcha - a celebration - and I not be happy?!"
Hopefully we will all celebrate Simchas Torah as a celebration of our own
accomplishments. Even if that is not the case, we should celebrate together
with our brothers and sisters, and hope that next year the joy will be
personal as well. However, although we celebrate, there is still not total
joy, as we are in exile.
The Prince of Mannheim once approached the Netziv, Rabbi Naftoli Berlin, with
the following question: Every year at the Seder on Pesach, Jewish children
ask their father "Mah Nishtana...," "Why is this night different from all
other nights...." Pesach is not the only time Jews perform unusual
commandments. On Sukkos, the Jews move out of their comfortable homes and
dwell outdoors in a hut. Shouldn't this cause a child to ask Mah Nishtana on
Sukkos as well?
The Netziv answered that the observances on Pesach are truly different. A
child sees actions that are not in accordance with Jewish life. The whole
family sits and reclines together at the table with tranquillity and perform
actions of truly free people. All actions are performed deliberately and with
precision and order. This causes a child to wonder what is going on. How is
it possible that Jews can live with order, peace, and tranquillity? However,
on Sukkos, the child sees the family exit their house and take shelter in the
Sukkah. For a Jewish child, this is not a strange sight. He knows that the
Jews are treated as a lowly nation by others. He knows that the Jews have
been forced to constantly wander in exile. He knows that the Jews have never
considered their house their permanent home because they may have to move in
a moments notice to flee persecution. For the child, leaving the home is not
a strange sight. Therefore, the child does not ask Mah Nishtana on Sukkos.
May it be G-d's will that come next Sukkos, asking Mah Nishtana will be
totally appropriate for the occasion.