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Shemini Atzeres / Simchas Torah 5778
20 Tishrei 5778 – October 10, 2017

Hoshana Rabah, the final stage of Succos, is on Wednesday. On this day we have extended prayers, encircle the Bimah with our four species seven times, and then take five willow branches and hit them on the ground. On this day our final decree of Yom Kippur is finalized and we ask G-d for rains of blessings. Based on our fixed calendar, Hoshana Rabah can never coincide with Shabbat.

Shemini Atzeres, the next day, is a holiday of its own. It is a special day of prayer and observance when we bask and reflect on the warm feeling of the holidays. We recite a special prayer introducing the recitation of mentioning G-d’s might through rain, which we recite in our Amidah prayers throughout the winter. Yizkor – memorial prayers – are also recited on this day.

The next day is Simchas Torah, when we conclude the yearly Torah cycle and celebrate with dancing and singing. At this time we also begin the Torah anew starting from Beraishis.

Our Sages point out that the first letter of the Torah is a Bais (from the word Beraishis) and the last letter of the Torah is a Lamed (from the word Yisroel). These two letters form the word Lev which means heart.

Interestingly, the letters form the word Lev only if the last letter of the Torah is placed before the first letter of the Torah.

A reason can be offered: Only after one has gone through the Torah by studying it and then starts it anew to seek and absorb more, does it show that his heart is into it, and that it is not like a regular book that once it is read it is placed on a bookshelf. The Torah is of Divine origin and its knowledge and wisdom are endless; our continuous study of it shows where our heart is.

I had a conversation spanning many years with a very smart man about Torah ideas and its origin. He held that Torah was written by human beings. I asked him if he ever read and studied the Torah, and he told me that he had not. So I presented to him a beautiful Chumash – Torah with commentary and told him it would give him much clarity and insight. When we would subsequently get into discussions, I would ask him if he had a chance to read the Torah. He would respond that he didn’t. I thought to myself, “How can one have a position about something that he hadn’t read and looked into on his own?”

He moved away from the area, and toward the end of his life he returned. When I later visited him he had a much softer and accepting approach to Torah. I suspect he had taken a look!

The Torah relates that Adam and Chava (Eve) were created on the sixth day of creation and dwelled in the Garden of Eden. G-d gave them one prohibition; not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of good and bad. The consequence of eating from this tree would transform mankind into mortal beings.

The Torah describes how the cunning serpent – who stood upright and had the ability to speak – convinced Chava to eat from the tree and she then gave some to her husband Adam to eat.

As a result of their sin, G-d expelled them from the Garden of Eden and punished Chava – and womankind – to have difficulties in pregnancy, labor and raising children. Adam – mankind – was punished by having the challenge of working hard to earn a living. The snake’s legs were removed, thus it has to slither on its stomach and whatever it eats tastes like sand.

The devastating impact of sin has been felt from the time Adam and Chava sinned, for death became a part of the human experience.

The Talmud tells us that all this took place in a single day – on the sixth day of creation.

It would have been fair for Adam to have felt let down by his wife Chava for listening to the serpent’s entreaties and getting them into such a mess.

However, Adam did not carry a grudge. Right after the episode of the sin, the Torah relates that Adam called his wife Chava, meaning, she is the source and mother of all living things.

The Torah is teaching us how Adam dealt with his wife after she sinned. He didn’t get stuck on dwelling on her faults by dismissing her, punishing her or demeaning her. Rather, he called her a respectful name; a name that described her true essence – the source and mother of all living.

True, Chava sinned, but that did not negate all her positive qualities. Adam saw her goodness. We learn from Adam that despite all the reasons one can have to be critical of others, he should always focus on something positive and hold on to it. Whether towards a spouse, child, relative, colleague, friend or even a competitor, accentuating the positive is a great and commendable virtue.

When we exercise Adam’s lesson, we promote Sholom, and avoid many conflicts. Adam invested mankind – each and every one of us – with these amazing abilities. So when we look at the positive in people, we become the ultimate Adam – the true Mensch!

The Talmud relates that a when a husband and wife live in harmony they merit that G-d’s presence dwells among them.

Adam, after being expelled from the physical and spiritual intimacy with G-d in the Garden of Eden, chose to maintain Sholom Bayis – peace and respect in his home – in order to ensure that G-d’s presence would still be in close proximity to their existence!

Wishing you a most joyous,
and uplifting Succos!

Rabbi Dovid & Malki Saks & Family