The recent failed intent of U.S. progressive lawmakers to reduce defense aid to Israel and the upcoming UN commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the antisemitic Durban Conference underscore yet again Israel and Jews being singled out for criticism around the world.
The global attention we are receiving, negative though it is, is our opportunity to be “a light unto nations.” Therefore, the celebration of Simchat Torah (Rejoicing of the Torah) this year has a special significance. It is a window of opportunity to show the world a way toward the light that our forefathers discovered many centuries ago; the path they intended to share with the world.
We only need to practice this simple method of unity between ourselves. Our example is all the world needs for it to realize that there is an alternative to hatred and conflict and that the people of Israel are leading the way toward it.
The High Holy Days represent the process of transformation from our being receivers to givers. At its conclusion, on the day of Simchat Torah, we celebrate the success of this predestined shift. This celebration lets us all reflect on the kind of individuals that we are and the society that we have become. Even if we find that we are not as pure as we would like to be, there is reason for rejoicing because acknowledging the truth is the first step toward change.
“Torah” is from the Hebrew word for “instruction” (“Hora’a”). It is written, “I created the evil inclination, I created the Torah, a spice.” The Torah is the light that corrects the desire, i.e., the positive force of nature that connects us above our egoism. Simchat Torah represents the final correction of this desire where we connect boundlessly to each other and to nature. This complete correction is the cause of the joy (Simcha).
The Book of Zohar (Teruma) writes that the “Torah is light, and one who engages in Torah is rewarded with the light.” The light that The Zohar speaks of is a creative force that engenders all that exists. Similar to The Zohar, the ARI writes in Tree of Life: “Know, that before the emanations were emanated and the creatures were created, the upper simple light had filled the whole of reality.” This light, the ARI continues, “emanated, created, formed, and made all the worlds.”
The light works according to a very simple principle: bestowal. This quality of giving created everything around us, the entire universe with us within it. When we study our universe—the galaxies, planets, plants, animals, and even ourselves—we are actually studying manifestations of this light.
Simchat Torah celebrates the happiness of one who succeeds in acquiring the quality of the Torah (light): complete and absolute benevolence. “The inclination of man’s heart is evil from his youth,” and “every inclination of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil,” the Torah tells us in Genesis.
When we are born, we are completely opposite from giving, from the light. Most of us are content with and even oblivious to our self-centered nature. But when this nature becomes detrimental to ourselves and to others, it forces us to look for other alternatives. This is the situation in our world today.
Despite the apparent difficulty, there is a paved and proven way to achieve the transformation that we need to undertake. You cannot give in the way needed when you’re alone, you need like-minded people with whom you can “practice” giving. Through such practice together, you fashion a sustainable and prosperous society of givers that has acquired the light’s quality of benevolence.
The necessity to become givers in order to establish a thriving society is the underlying impetus behind the age-old Jewish emphasis on love of others. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” “as one man with one heart,” and “that which you hate, do not do unto others” were not intended as moral principles, but as practical tools to create a society whose members have acquired the quality of giving, or, put differently, a society that rejoices with the Torah.
We constantly succumb to our innate nature and mutual hatred erupts. Yet, although we may not be aware of it, we have the remedy to our plight: just practice giving above our egoism and thereby heal it. The book Maor Vashemesh stated two hundred years ago that “The thing upon which everything depends is love and brotherhood among the sons of Israel, for when there are peace, love, brotherhood, and friendship among them, they can receive the Torah.”
Then joy comes indeed, as it is written: “Joy is a reflection of good deeds.” Good deeds are the deeds of bestowal.
This is because the Torah is the force that is ready to correct hatred and separation between us and transform them into connection and love, which is the discovery called “Simchah” (happiness). With it a person senses within himself the entire vast expanse around him, and gains an eternal, whole, and happy life.