18 Tishrei 5782 / Friday, September 24, 2021 | Torah Reading: Sukkot
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Simchat Torah: Barometer of Joy    

Simchat Torah: Barometer of Joy

Simchat Torah is the time to harvest happiness – "joy in the heart" – for the whole year; even Rebbe Nachman danced alone with pure joy of the Torah...


On Simchat Torah, we spend hours dancing with the Torah scrolls, both at night and during the following morning. We rejoice at our annual completion of reading the Torah, and during the same festival, we begin to read the Torah from the beginning once more. Surely, this is a joyous holiday; but why do we dance until our clothes are literally soaked and until we can barely stand up?

Reb Natan writes (Sichot HaRan, 299), "It was my custom to see the Rebbe [Rebbe Nachman of Breslev] every year after Simchat Torah. He would always ask me if I truly rejoiced on the festival. Many times he told me how the community celebrated in his house and how much pleasure he derived from their joy. Once, the Rebbe spoke to me about Simchat Torah in the middle of the year. He asked me, 'Do you now feel joy in your heart? Do you feel this happiness at least once a year?' … The Rebbe very much wanted us to be joyous all year round, particularly on Simchat Torah… The Rebbe told me that once on Simchat Torah he was so overjoyed that he danced all by himself in his room."
We learn several amazing lessons from the above discourse. First, that Rebbe Nachman attributed tremendous importance to being joyous on Simchat Torah; second, that Rebbe Nachman was very concerned that his Chassidim were joyous on Simchat Torah and derived enormous gratification when they actually were; third, that Simchas Torah is the time to harvest happiness – "joy in the heart" – for the whole year; and fourth, Rebbe Nachman himself danced as an expression of his joy.
Two special occasions in Judaism are the best-known times for dancing – weddings and Simchat Torah. The two are strikingly similar: A wedding is the celebration of the newly-created bond between bride and groom; Simchat Torah is the celebration of the renewed bond between the Torah, the spiritual bride that's betrothed to the People of Israel, the groom. The more a bride and groom rejoice in one another, the more fervently they dance. Rebbe Nachman had lofty goals for Reb Nosson, his chief disciple. Rebbe Nachman wanted Reb Nosson to attain the level of perfect, unblemished love of Torah. Therefore, he would question Reb Nosson every year about the latter's degree of happiness on Simchat Torah, for clearly, the level of one's rejoicing on Simchat Torah is the barometer for one's true love of Torah, as we shall see in the following parable, with Hashem's loving grace:
Goldzweig and Oppenheim were two wealthy merchants who traded in rare gemstones and fine jewelry. Each year, they'd travel from their respective homes in Warsaw and Munich to the great annual fair in Leipzig. As old friends, they were accustomed to lodge, dine, pray, and do business together, often pooling their resources for their mutual benefit.
The week of trading was drawing to a close. Goldzweig and Oppenheim had conducted more than satisfactory business, and were about to return home with an ample stock that promised healthy profits for each of them. Before catching their afternoon trains, they were left with one more significant task – buying a gift for their wives. Returning empty-handed from Leipzig was a worse domestic sin than eating on Yom Kippur! They had to find something for their better halves. But what does one purchase for the wives of wealthy gem merchants who had every single material amenity that a woman could dream of? The business of present-purchasing proved to be a greater challenge for Goldzweig and Oppenheim than a week of bartering and negotiating.
The two merchants had to be at the train station in two short hours; they were still empty-handed. They couldn't seem to find a suitable gift for their wives. Just another gold watch or diamond broche wouldn't suffice.
An old Polish Jew with long silver sidecurls and a dashik (black narrow-visor cap that was common among Polish and Ukranian Chassidic Jews) on his head approached the two merchants. "Could I interest you gentlemen in rare Judaica?"
Goldzweig and Oppenheim looked at each other and smiled. What a novel idea! Judaica was always a good investment that never decreased in value. The old Polish Jew had two hand-illustrated copies of the classic Tzena U'reena Yiddish Torah commentary for women, printed on rare parchment in the early 18th Century. A hundred fifty years later, the two volumes were in near mint condition. At only eighty gold crowns apiece, the books were a bargain. Goldzweig and Oppenheim jumped at the opportunity, paid for the books, and hurried to the train station.
Goldzweig arrived home to Warsaw. Before unpacking his valise, he produced the carefully-wrapped volume and presented it to his wife. Wide-eyed, she looked at the book as tears filled her eyes; a tender smile illuminated her face as she clutched the antique book to her heart. "Simon," she said, "this is the most exquisite gift I've ever received! I will cherish this always and will read it every Shabbat. This will be our most important heirloom to our eldest daughter, and I hope she will pass it down to her eldest daughter until the end of time! Only a G-d fearing, magnanimous, and loving husband such as you could have found such a priceless gift. This Tzena U'reena is so very beautiful; how can I ever thank you…"
Oppenheim unfortunately received a less enthusiastic welcome on his arrival home in Munich. "Another dust-catcher?!" his irate wife shrieked, throwing the rare antique volume into a corner as if it were last week's newspaper…
Mrs. Goldzweig was overjoyed by her gift because of her regard for Torah. She saw the book's aged pages as much more than antique illustrated parchment, but as a meaningful heirloom that must be passed from generation to generation. Her reaction is the greatest testimony of her love for Hashem and his Torah. Mrs. Oppenheim, on the other hand, harbored much more mundane and material appetites, to say the least.
In like manner, the more we feel the joy on Simchat Torah and the more we feel the need to clap our hands and to dance with our feet, the more we exhibit our sheer love of Torah. Since the soul of a Jew is bound in Torah, our joy in the Torah infuses joy in our souls.
Simchat Torah is the barometer of a Jew's joy in life. The more we love Hashem and His Torah, the happier we are and the more fervent we dance. May we all succeed in attaining true love of Torah, amen.

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