Shemini Atzeres 5776 – Finish and Start

Finish and Start!

This coming Tuesday we will complete the yearly cycle of the reading the Torah, which calls for great joyous celebration along with dancing and singing with the Torah scrolls – Simchas Torah. We continue the excitement by beginning the Torah cycle anew with a partial reading from the first portion Beraishis which describes the first week of creation.

We conclude the Torah with the portion of V’zos Habrocha, which is the blessing Moshe gave the Jewish nation before he passed on.Moshe reminisced that before G-d offered the Torah to the Jewish nation He contacted the prophets of all the nations of the world to offer them the Torah and after inquiring what the Torah demanded from them, they all turned it down. The Torah mentions specifically the nations of Yishmael and Edom.

Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin o.b.m. elaborates on the Talmud’s conversation with these nations. Although chronologically, Yishmael, who was the son of Avraham, should have been notified first, it was actually Asav’s descendants Edom who were contacted first. This is because Aisav had spent more time with his righteous father Yitzchok then Yishmael did with the righteous Avraham and perhaps the influence that Aisav received from his father Yitzchok’s holy environment would have made his descendants consider the acceptance of the Torah more seriously.

However, when Edom asked what was written in the Torah, G-d responded “Do not murder.” Edom said, “We cannot accept this law book, since our ancestor’s father Yitzchok told his son Aisav, ‘You will live by the sword.’ The sword is part of our identity and we cannot change.”

Yishmael’s descendants were then contacted and they too asked about the laws in the Torah. G-d responded, “Do not steal.” Their response was, “Our ancestor’s father Avraham dismissed Yishmael from his home (with G-d’s consent) and he dwelled in the desert where his survival was dependant on stealing. Thievery is part of our identity and we cannot change.”

The Medrash relates that G-d contacted the descendants of Avraham’s nephew Lot who spent time with Avraham and might have been positively influenced by him. They too, asked what the Torah demanded from them and were told, “Do not commit adultery.” They said they couldn’t possibly keep that law since their whole existence came about through an adulterous relationship – Lot bore Amon and Moav through a relationship with his two daughters. The Medrash does not relate what the other nations were told since they had no immediate or intimate connection with our holy forefathers and their rejection was predictable.

Then G-d came to the Jewish people – the direct descendants of Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaacov – whose holy influence on their descendants was immeasurable. The Jews didn’t bother asking what the Torah contained. They inherently knew that if G-d was offering them a law book and a spiritual guide for life, it was doable and the best thing possible. Thus, their response was, “We will do and we will listen.” They accepted it without even asking what it contained. This faithful commitment was akin to how angels loyally accept their instructions and carry out their tasks.

This special response that the nation gave is deeply rooted in every single descendant of those who stood by Sinai. Furthermore, the Torah tells us that each Jewish soul that was ever to be created was present at Mount Sinai and touched by that awesome event!

Thus, we have the distinct and unique ability to tap into that angelic strength at any point in our lives and embrace, connect, reconnect or ascend higher levels of spirituality and connectivity to G-d and His Torah!

Let’s Rejoice!

Hashana Rabah – 7th day Sunday October 4th 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 was performed in the Temple 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 is recited while we circle the Bimah in Shul with our four species, seven times. (On each of the other days we circle the Bimah only once.) We then recite special prayers while holding five willow branches after which they are hit on the ground several times.

Shemini Atzeres – Monday October 5th
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 the four species, (although outside of Israel we sit in the Succah without making a bracha.)
The explanation for this is that during the seven days of the Holiday of Succos, among the sacrifices brought, seventy oxen are sacrificed in the Temple. The seventy oxen corresponded to the original seventy nations of the world who descended from the sons of Noah. These offerings were brought as an atonement for the nations and made them merit G-d’s blessings of water.
As the Holiday season draws to a close, G-d reserved a day just between Him and us, the eighth day – Shemini Atzeres, a special day set aside between Him and His nation of Israel to the exclusion of all other nations. G-d says, “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 to provide rain in our prayers and Yizkor – the memorial prayer, is recited.

Simchas Torah, 9th day Tuesday October 6th We celebrate the completion of the public synagogue readings of the Torah with great rejoicing in prayer, song and dancing in honor of the Torah. After the Torah is completed, we start anew from the beginning of the Torah. This indicates that the wisdom, knowledge and study of the Torah is never ending and also displays that we are not satisfied with what we accomplished; rather we eagerly wish to begin again.

Wishing you a most enjoyable, joyous and inspiring Shabbos and Yom Tov! Rabbi Dovid Saks