Sunday, October 23, 2016

A Joyous Time for the Jewish People*

As we are about to enter Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah I thought I would address why it is that the Torah specifices Simcha – joy  - only to the Yom Tov of Sukkos. I saw an answer to this question given by Rav Moshe Sternbuch which appealed to me.  He points out that there is no greater joy than being forgiven our sins. And on Yom Kippur - just a few days before Sukkos - that is exactly what happened.  

One may note a similar idea expressed about joy and being sin free at the time of one’s wedding. There is a custom for a bride and groom to fast on the day of their wedding. That day is compared to Yom Kippur where one is forgiven their sins. This is done on the day just prior to the actual wedding ceremony so that the bride and groom can enter their new lives in complete joy knowing that their new lives will begin free of sin. The joy expressed on that day is therefore unburdened – free of sin because of the Yom Kippur like aspect of the day just prior to the Chupah.

The few days between Yom Kippur and Sukkos are spent almost entirely on preparing for the Mitzvos that pertain to this Yom Tov – like building and decorating the Sukkah; and purchasing the Daled Minim (Lulav, Esrog, Hadasim, and Aravos).  So as we enter this Yom Tov we are relatively free of sin spending little time on anything other than Mitzvah or Mitzvah preparation. As such Sukkos is referred to as Zman Simchasenu. As the Torah tells us in reference to this Yom Tov U’Semachtem Lifnei HaShem Elokechem Shivas Yomim – And rejoice before the Lord, your God  for 7 days’ (Vayikra 23:40).

This is also why there is  celebratory atmosphere on Simchas Torah when we complete the yearly cycle of weekly Torah readings instead of on Shavuous when the Torah was actually given. Because the day before (today- Hashana Rabba) we participate in the  final expression of Teshuva where we can finally feel confident that our sins are truly forgiven. There is no greater feeling of joy than that... which carries over to the very next day, Shemini Atzeres. Which in Israel is also Simchas Torah and outside of Israel is the day after. That day – instead of Shavuous is when we can best express our joy.

Good Yom Tov

*Adapted from Torah L’Daas by Rabbi Matis Blum