1. Today1 is Simchas Torah. The Sages teach in Tractate Avos (6:2): “Each and every day a Heavenly Voice goes forth from Mount Horev2 and proclaims, ‘Woe to the people because of the humiliation of the Torah.’ ” Rashi explains that the Torah is humiliated by the fact that “it does not have people who are occupied with it.” Now should this not have read, “It does not have people who study it”? The explanation lies in the fact that the Torah can be learned at a variety of levels, which are known metaphorically as dew, wine, honey, oil and milk.

In addition, there are people who have an aptitude for Torah study, and there are others who say that they do not have an aptitude for Torah study – and they even use that claim as an excuse for not studying. In fact they should be ashamed to make that claim, just as if a businessman were to be told that he has no aptitude for commerce and doesn’t know how to run his business, he would be sore at heart. Yet those who argue that they have no aptitude for Torah study are not only unashamed to make that claim, but even use it to excuse themselves from studying.

Now, that claim could be proposed only with regard to studying the Torah, whereas with regard to being occupied with the Torah, all Jews are equal. One individual is occupied in raising a couple of dollars;3 another is occupied in setting up chadarim and enrolling children; a third is occupied in scouting for a good melamed – not like the situation today, in which there are teachers who don’t know the meanings of the [Hebrew] words that they are teaching, so obviously their pupils will not know them. And more generally, people also ought to occupy themselves with seeing to it that a cheder today should resemble a cheder in the past generation. The great majority of our Jewish brethren in America still remember what education was like in the old generation, in the Old Country.

When ten Jews find themselves in one place, they should open a cheder. This is what is meant by being occupied with the Torah, and in this all are equal. This requires mesirus nefesh,4 which means dedicating oneself utterly to the project at hand, being utterly submerged in it. A person can conceivably study for several hours a day and still not be worthy of being called someone who is occupied with the Torah, whereas if he is wholeheartedly active, he can be described as being occupied with the Torah.

2. When as a young child I was taken to cheder for the first time, my father and my uncle, the Raza, showered me with sweets, according to the time-honored custom, and told me that they had been thrown down by the Angel Michael.

My father once told me that when he first went to cheder, [his grandfather] the Tzemach Tzedek likewise showered him with sweets, and told him that they had come from the Angel Michael. This was so clear to him that he didn’t want to eat such precious gifts. Now, the custom on erev Pesach was to check the pockets of the little children [for chametz], so when the Tzemach Tzedek called him over and asked him where the sweets were kept, he had no option but to eat them up.

That’s the kind of education that we need.

3. May G‑d grant us a luminous year, a year of Torah, a year of repose, a year of blessing and redemption – and may we hear good news from our brethren in exile.5 In fact we, too, are in exile, but one needs a sharp eye to realize that, and a fine sense of hearing as well. Whoever has perceptive eyes and ears can see it and hear it.

4. In the year 5652 (1891), Shlomo the Gingy spent Simchas Torah in Lubavitch. When that tall fellow, pouring with perspiration, took hold of the etz chayim and danced with the sefer Torah, you couldn’t miss him. My father was so fond of him that he used to refer to him as “a good grandson.”

His grandfather was known as R. Elye Ber der Toiber, which means “the deaf guy,” even though his hearing was perfect. Once when he was listening as a child to a maamar being delivered by the Tzemach Tzedek, a certain statement in particular caught his attention – that one should not hear gossip or slander. This had such an impact on him that thereafter he was unable to hear even the slightest trace of slander or gossip. That is how he got his nickname.

5. R. Elye Ber related that the Tzemach Tzedek was once asked, “What is the difference between the avodah of Elul and Tishrei, and the avodah of Simchas Torah?”

The Tzemach Tzedekanswered briefly: “The Jewish people and the Torah are a son and a daughter. A father expects and demands more of his son than of his daughter, but feels a closer fondness to his daughter than to his son.”

What does all this mean?

In Elul, when a person makes his spiritual stocktaking, a person can feel very downhearted and lose his self-assurance, and try to shake himself free of involvement in worldly things. When Rosh HaShanah arrives he becomes a Cantonist,6 and during the Ten Days of Penitence7 his task in avodah is to closely scrutinize his every move. On Yom Kippur, one stands before G‑d. As to the time of Neilah, the Mitteler Rebbe says that even in the most light-minded of light-minded Jews,8 the innermost nucleus of his soul is aroused to the point that he is prepared to literally give his life for the Sanctification of the Divine Name.9

Then comes Sukkos. And when Hoshana Rabbah arrives, and this individual receives his note,10 he addresses his Maker with a self-critical reckoning: “Master of the Universe! Why do I deserve all of this?” He feels utterly worthless, as if unable to justify his very existence – until he takes hold of an etz chayim and springs into a dance with the Torah, for in that, all are equal, including even those who were far away during the Ten Days of Penitence and Yom Kippur. Now, however, on Simchas Torah, people like him grasp an etz chayim. They didn’t experience any overt spiritual sensitivity, but at that moment the lively Simchas Torah dance refreshed their souls with spiritual delight, and the fact that they grasped the etz chayim recharges their performance of the mitzvos with life.

6. An ordinary Jew’s dance on Simchas Torah has a far greater impact Above than certain novel and ingenious interpretations11 in the Gemara and in Rambam. After all, those novellae are only doubtfully true, and certainly not absolutely true, whereas the dance that is spurred by that person’s love of the Torah and his love of his fellow Jew is certainly true, because it springs from his soul.

7. It is difficult to say this, but even more difficult to remain silent.

Moshe Rabbeinu knew how to bless, and also (G‑d forbid) how to do the opposite.

He asked G‑d that “I and Your people should be distinct”12 in both ways13 – “that You should cause Your Shechinah to abide upon us,” and also “that the Divine Presence should not abide upon the nations of the world.” When Moshe heard that Korach and his community contested [the participation of the appointed kohanim in] the Divine service, he was deeply affected by this. [And since Moshe Rabbeinu embodied the Sefirah of Chochmah of Atzilus,] the Sefirah of Chochmah of Atzilus also took offense, so to speak. At that point, Moshe [lit.,] “fell on his face (panim).”14 [This phrase is interpreted here in Kabbalistic terms to mean that with the inner intensity of pnimiyus, Moshe brought about the downfall of Korach.] Now, relative to the [lower] Worlds of Beriah-Yetzirah-Asiyah, the Sefirah of Chochmah of Atzilus is at the level of makkif,15 and spiritual energy at the intense level of makkif can elevate something infinitely, or (G‑d forbid) the opposite: it can bring something down. [Thus it was that] at that time, Moshe Rabbeinu [lit.,] “fell on his face,” [which means, as above, that he brought about the downfall of Korach], and then “he said” [his dire words of warning, including that] “they will go down, alive, into the grave.”16

In the Sefirah of Chochmah, both ascent and descent are expressions of intense energy.17