Everyone Has a Right to Rejoice

On Simchat Torah we conclude the annual cycle of reading the Torah in public and start anew from Bereishit. This milestone is celebrated with much joy and festivity, and all Jews, men and women, young and old, learned and illiterate, participate. One may wonder, with what justification does the one who did not learn Torah throughout the year rejoice on Simchat Torah?

A popular explanation offered to this query is the following: A scholar who once witnessed an ignorant and non-observant Jew dancing and singing with all his strength on Simchat Torah, asked him, “Why are you rejoicing so much? Did you involve yourself with the Torah study throughout the entire year?” The man in all sincerity replied, “While you are right that I was remiss in my involvement with Torah throughout the year; nevertheless, if I am invited to my brother’s wedding, isn’t it appropriate for me to dance and sing? Thus, though my brother is really the ba’al simchah today, I am actively rejoicing with him.”

As intriguing as this explanation may be, it is somewhat lacking, since after all, Simchat Torah is everyone’ssimchah and everyone is a ba’al simchah and not just a stranger attending a relative’s affair.

The processions with the Torah are called hakafot.” Superficially the name hakafot originated from the fact that we circle around the bimah and it is from the same root as the word makif which means “circling around.” However, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, offers a more profound explanation of the word “hakafot.” He says that it means, “the extension of credit” as we say in Pirkei Avot (3:16), “Vehachenvani makif” — “the shopkeeper extends credit.” When one applies for credit and is notified that his application has been accepted he is indeed very happy. Likewise, on Simchat Torah, the “shopkeeper” — Hashem — says to every Jew, “I give you permission to rejoice with My Torah though your record for Torah study and observance for the past year may not be exactly up to par, but dance today on credit, because I trust that you will make good during the coming year.” When Hashem personally extends the Jew credit, his joy is overwhelming.

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In some editions of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (138:7) it is stated that “on the night of Simchat Torah in some communities there is a custom to read Parshat Nedarim.” In the English versions this is translated as, “The portion dealing with vows (Bamidbar 32).” What connection does this have with Simchat Torah?

Actually, the custom of reading a special Torah portion on the night of Simchat Torah is mentioned in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 669). The Rama writes that in the evening we read from the Sefer Torah, “hanedarim shebaTorah.” This does not mean vows, however, but the portions for which people make nedarim — pledges to charity — to receive the honor to be called to the Torah, such as the berachot of Yitzchak, the berachah of Yaakov to Yosef, (Bereishit 48:16), the priestly blessing, etc., (see Mishnah Berurah, ibid.). Obviously, some prints of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch read “Parshat Nedarim — instead of “Parshiyot Nedarim — and this led the translators to translate it as “the portionof vows” instead of “the portions for which pledges [of charity] are made.”

In light of the above explanation that“hakafot” means the extension of a loan, it may be appropriate to read the portion of vows to remind the Jew that when Hashem gives one credit, he must honor his pledge to study Torah during the coming year and keep his credit rating in good standing with Hashem.

(עי' ילקוט הגרשוני או"ח סי' תרס"ט, ושו"ת תירוש ויצהר סי' ק"ז)