When I was around eleven years old I was horsing around and one of the things I did was to make fun of how an old man danced.
My mistake was that while I was acting so, my father happened to have been watching.
A bit later, he called me over and told me, “You should know Dovid’l (which is how he always affectionately called me), that old age is a Brocha – a blessing – and you shouldn’t make fun of one who has attained it.”
He then added something which requires a bit of a background about the Shul where my father was the Rav.
The Agudah Israel Shul on 14th Avenue in Boro Park, NY consisted of three Shuls in one building, all under the same banner. There was a youth Pirchei Minyan where boys attended until they finished high school. Then there was a Zeirie Minyan where young adults and young married men davened. It was at this Minyan where my father was the Rabbi for well over forty years.
Then there was a larger Agudah Minyan where older men Davened and it had a women’s section.
Getting back to what my father told me. He added, “On Simchas Torah I want you to go upstairs to the Agudah and observe how the ‘older men’ dance. You’ll see that despite their advanced age, everyone is happily dancing and no one is sitting on the side.”
That Simchas Torah I actually did go upstairs and watched how these elderly men were dancing spiritedly. This was a most effective lesson that my father taught me.
It was only years later that I realized that practically all these older men were survivors of the war. Yet, no matter what they experienced and suffered, the Nazi’s could not douse their spirit. They were thrilled and excited to have the opportunity to rebuild their lives and bask in the spirit of Simchas Torah. In the face of Hitler’s wish to exterminate the entire Jewish nation, these men felt that G-d’s guarantee that we, His children will always be around, and that the Torah will never be forgotten, will prevail!
Shabbos Chol Hamoed
On the Shabbos that comes in the middle of the holiday of Succos, we insert the Yaaleh V’yavo prayer in the Amidah and we recite the full Hallel. Because it is Shabbos we do not take the Lulav and Esrog. The Book of Koheles is read. The Torah reading includes a portion which speaks of the three festivals of the year, Pesach Shavuos and Succos.
The Mussaf Amidah is for the Holidays with the Shabbos insertions. Special Shabbos Hosahana prayers are recited without circling the Bimah. All meals are eaten in the Succah.
Hoshana Rabah – 7th day Sunday October 16th
The Land of Israel is very much dependent on rainfall. The Torah tells us that the Hand of G-d is always visible in Israel through the amount of rain that falls. The Talmud relates that G-d’s judgment for the amount of rainfall is conducted on Succos, just as Rosh Hashana is the day of judgment for people.
In fact, during the times of the Holy Temple, a complex water drawing and libation service on the Altar in the Temple was performed during the Holiday of Succos as a supplication for G-d’s mercy to give water to the land.
On the Seventh day of Succos, the Judgment for water is sealed. This day is called Hoshana Rabah – the great plea for water. A longer prayer service is recited and we circle the Bimah in Shul with our four species, seven times. (On each of the other days of the holiday we circle the Bimah only once.)
We then recite special prayers while holding five willow branches and then they are hit on the ground several times.
Our Sages explain that while our Judgment was sealed on Yom Kippur, it is not ‘sent out and delivered’ until Hoshana Rabah. This means the extra Mitzvos that we perform over the course of Succos can impact positively on our final Judgment!
Shemini Atzeres – 8th day – Monday October 17th
The eighth day of Succos is actually not part of Succos. The Torah calls it the eighth day of assembly. There is no Mitzvah of sitting in the Succah or taking and waving the four species.
The explanation for this is that during the seven days of the Holiday of Succos, the Torah relates that aside from other sacrifices offered, seventy oxen are sacrificed in the Temple during the course of Succos. The seventy oxen correspond to the original seventy nations of the world who descended from the sons of Noah. These offerings were brought as atonement for the nations to make them meritorious of G-d’s blessing for water.
As the Holiday season draws to a conclusion, G-d reserved a day, the eighth day – Shemini Atzeres, set aside as a special day between Him and His nation of Israel to the exclusion of all other nations. G-d said, “Please remain with Me for one more day, without a special Mitzvah, just to reflect on what we have gained spiritually during the Days of Awe and throughout the Holiday of Succos.”
On Shemini Atzeres we begin mentioning G-d’s power of providing rain in our Amidah prayers, and Yizkor – the memorial prayer, is recited.
Simchas Torah, 9th day Tuesday October 18th
We celebrate the completion of the public synagogue readings of the Torah with great rejoicing in prayer, song and festive dancing in honor of the Torah.
We read the final Parsha of the Torah called, V’zos Habracha.
Although we normally do not repeat the Torah portion to call additional people to the Torah, Simchas Torah is the exception. Just as we show our endearment to the Torah with song and dance in honor of completing the public reading of the 54 Torah portions, each person is given an Aliyah as well.
In addition, one of the Aliyahs is called Kol Hane’arim – all the children. A man is called to the Torah with all the children gathered while a Talis is spread above them like a Chupah. The children say the blessings along with the person who has the Aliyah. This is done to educate our children to yearn to come close to the Torah through its study and practice.
The person who gets the final Aliyah to complete the Torah, is called Chasan Torah, the groom of the Torah. The person who gets the next Aliyah, is called Chasan Beraishis, a title associated with the privilege of being the one who is called to begin the Torah anew. At this point the Baal Korah reads from a Sefer Torah beginning from Beraishis through the six days of creation, and concludes with the verses describing how G-d ‘rested’ on the seventh day – the Holy day of Shabbos.
Starting the Torah immediately after its conclusion, indicates that the wisdom, knowledge and study of the Torah is never ending and is also a display that we are not satisfied with what we have accomplished; we eagerly wish to continue to study and continually grow in our knowledge and appreciation of G-d’s holy Torah.