Friday is the day of Simchat Torah [lit. The Joy of Torah]. On this day, we celebrate the completion of the cycle of reading Torah portions and the beginning of a new one. But why is completing a cycle of reading only to start over a reason for celebration? It isn’t. If we look only at the superficial level of things, there is nothing to celebrate.
If we want to make sense of this festive day, we have to go beyond the exterior, to the inner, true meaning of the Torah. It is written, “I have created the evil inclination; I have created the Torah as a spice” (Masechet Kidushin). This means that the Torah is not some piece of text that we must recite without applying its content to ourselves, but a means for correcting our evil inclination. If we use it for any other purpose, we are missing the whole point.
If we achieve correction of our evil inclination, then we have a reason for celebration. If we do not, then we should keep working until we reach the state of Simchat Torah, namely the correction of our evil inclination through the “spice” of Torah.
In Hebrew, the word Torah means both “light” and “instruction.” The “light” in it is regarded as “the light that reforms,” a force that “corrects” our evil inclination into a good inclination. The “instruction” part of the Torah refers to what we have to do in order to “reform” ourselves, and that is to love our neighbors as ourselves. Old Hillel said about this, “That which you hate, do not do unto your neighbor; this is the whole of the Torah” (Masechet Shabbat, 31a), and Rabbi Akiva added, “Love your neighbor as yourself; this is the great rule of the Torah” (Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim, 30b).
At the moment, the festival of Simchat Torah is simply a reminder of what we should be doing, and in that sense I’m happy about it. But in truth, we have no cause for celebration since there is anything but love of others among us. Even if we weren’t corrected but at least wanted to use the “light” in order to reform ourselves, it would be reason enough for celebration. But currently, I do not see that we are acknowledging our desperate need to change or that we are willing to and feel accountable for the state of our nation.
The situation is even more serious when it comes to our relations with the nations of the world. As Jews, we are constantly under the world’s watchful eye. They judge us by a different yardstick than they judge any other nation, and with good reason: They feel that it’s our duty to bring them light, to be “a light unto nations.” That is, we are not only required to use the reforming light on ourselves, but we are also required to pass it on so the rest of the world can be rid of the evil inclination. Even if the nations don’t articulate this request explicitly, their accusation that we are causing all that is evil in the world is in fact the flip side of saying “You are not bringing the light you are supposed to, the light that will reform us and stop the evil among us.”
Even our own sages tell us that our task is to bring the light of unity to the world, and when we do not, we inflict trouble on the nations. The Talmud writes, “No calamity comes to the world but because of Israel” (Masechet Yevamot, 63a). The Midrash is even more specific: “This nation, world peace dwells within it” (Beresheet Rabbah, 66).
We see that when antisemites accuse us of causing wars, they are in fact saying the same thing that our sages have been saying for generations but we refuse to listen. Because we wouldn’t listen, we have been given antisemites to intimidate us and force us to listen. Perhaps if we tried to do what our sages, who certainly want our best, have been advising us for millennia, we wouldn’t be suffering from antisemitism to this day, eighty years after the horrors of the Holocaust.
The Book of Consciousness writes, “We are commanded at each generation to strengthen the unity among us so our enemies do not rule over us.” With these words, I would like to wish us all that this coming year, we will unite “as one man with one heart,” learn the true meaning of the Torah, rejoice in it, and merit the words of King David in Psalms 29, “The Lord will give strength to His people; the Lord will bless His people with peace.”