The Times of Israel published my new article “Who Else Wants a New Reason to Celebrate Simchat Torah?”
Simchat Torah marks the conclusion of the Tishrei holiday cycle with a celebration of joy in the Torah.
What is the deeper meaning behind this celebration and joy that this holiday signifies? Why is there such an atmosphere of happiness? Where is this joy rooted?
To understand the deeper meaning behind Simchat Torah, we should first understand what is the deeper meaning behind the Torah itself.
What Is the Torah?
The Torah is the “light that reforms” [Midrash Rabah, Eicha, “Introduction,” Paragraph 2]. The term “light” doesn’t stand for any physical notion of light, like sunlight or candlelight, nor does it mean the emotional light we refer to when we resolve some situation, e.g. when we say that we see “the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Instead, the “light of the Torah” refers to the life-giving creative energy that transpires through nature’s every detail. As the light is a life-giving energy, opposite the light is that which it creates, sustains and develops: The light sustains the form of all objects, and vitalizes the growth, movement and development of all living organisms.
The light is a desire to give, and its creation—including us, everything in the planet we live in, and the whole universe—is a desire to receive.
The joy we feel during Simchat Torah symbolizes our discovery of this light, i.e. the attainment of its characteristic quality of giving upon our innate desire to receive. Such attainment about the feeling of a much more expansive reality than the one we feel when we only receive.
What Does the Torah “Reform”?
While we’ve established that the Torah is the light, what does it mean that this light “reforms”? What does it reform, and what kind of reformation is made?
Although we are a desire to receive, completely opposite to the light’s giving quality, we don’t feel the full intensity of this oppositeness, its “evil” (“the inclination of a man’s heart is evil from his youth” [Genesis, 8:21]).
What we do feel is that we develop slowly over a long period of time, and the more we develop, the more problems and pains emerge. The purpose of the unfolding crises in every field of life we’re experiencing today is to make us seek why they’re happening, and how they can be resolved. Moreover, today’s globally interdependent situation shows us that the more we develop without resolving the many personal, social, ecological and financial issues pressing on us, then we’re bound to tumble into deeper and deeper chasms.
These escalating crises today are in order to bring us to the discovery of our nature—the desire to receive pleasure for self-benefit alone—as the cause of our problems, and that we need to learn how to redirect our desires in order to fix these problems at their core. As it is written, “I have created the evil inclination,” and “I have created for it the Torah as a spice” [Babylonian Talmud, Masechet Kidushin, 30b] because “the light in it reforms them” [Midrash Rabah, Eicha, “Introduction,” Paragraph 2.]. In other words, our egoistic desires were created with a means of redirecting them into a form of giving (“the Torah”), and by doing so, correct (“reform”) them, thereby adding an additional fulfillment and pleasure to our lives (“a spice”).
How to Redirect Our Desires and Feel a Whole New Reality
By accessing the light of the Torah, we gain the ability to relate to each other and to nature in its entirety through its quality of giving. We then feel a more advanced, harmonious reality, balanced with nature’s life-giving energy. The question then is: How? How can we work with this light? How can we invite it into our lives, let it work on us, and allow it to bring about positive changes?
The answer is in society. When we gather with people who also wish to change their lives for the better and exert a positive influence in the world, we can literally “train” ourselves with the Torah to give as the light does. By doing so, we set the foundation for a society that is capable of switching the current chaotic direction the world is treading to a positive, harmonious one.
The creation of such a society of “givers” is emphasized in the tenets of the Torah, where it writes to “love your friend as yourself,” “that which you hate, do not do to others,” and become a society connected “as one man with one heart.” These sayings are not morals, but practical tools for their adherents to achieve the quality of giving and set the foundation for a harmonious society, balanced with nature.
While We’re Far from the Real Simchat Torah, Here’s a Good Reason to Celebrate the Joy and Happiness of Simchat Torah Right Now
At its core, the Tishrei holiday cycle expresses our shift as a divided, egoistic society to one of connection, altruism and balance with nature’s quality of giving. Its final day, Simchat Torah, celebrates the favorable outcome of this shift.
Although the basis of Simchat Torah is far from where we see our society heading today, it’s an opportunity for us all to think about where we are as individuals and as a society in relation to this harmonious state. We can rejoice in our recognition of the real cause of all our problems—our egoistic nature—and that we have the means at our disposal to redirect this nature to a positive direction. That’s already a major step towards the reformation the Torah speaks about.
Therefore, we have a very good reason to be happy this Simchat Torah. Let’s use the opportunity to consider how we can train the light’s quality of giving, love and connection among each other, and show that there is indeed a positive alternative to the escalating divisions, struggles and conflicts around the world.
May it be a happy holiday to all!