I had met Yael in an anatomy class years ago. We lived in the same neighborhood, and used to occasionally walk home together. On our walks home, I found out that Yael had a younger sister with a heart condition. Well after our anatomy course ended, I ran into Yael and her sister on Simchat Torah.

Simchat Torah is the culmination to an extremely joyous period. In Israel it is the day after Sukkot (and outside Israel it is a two-day holiday), which the Torah refers to as the “joyous holiday.” “You shall rejoice on your festival (Sukkot)—you, your son, your daughter, your slave, your maidservant, the Levite, the proselyte, the orphan and the widow who are in your cities” (Deuteronomy 16:14).

I stopped in my tracks as I saw Yael’s sister jumping up and downOn Simchat Torah there is a custom to dance and do circles with the sefer Torah. As I watched my husband and children dance with the Torah, I looked over at Yael and her mother holding her sister, who was a pale and weak-looking child, and I started to pray for them. My heart felt for them, as I knew that the future looked bleak for Yael’s sister. Every day after that, I prayed for Yael’s sister.

Last year I walked into the synagogue on Simchat Torah, and received a wonderful surprise. I stopped in my tracks as I saw Yael’s sister jumping up and down, her color robust, her cheeks a beautiful pink, and her eyes glowing. Could it be? Was this the same girl who had appeared so sick and weak a year before?

I started to cry from joy. I went up to her and hugged both Yael’s mother and her sister. “I’m so happy!” Yael’s mother hugged me back tightly, which is amazing considering that, aside from taking anatomy with Yael and seeing her once a year in this synagogue, I really don’t know her, her mother or her sister. I had never even had a conversation with Yael’s mother, and yet my joy was so real and so sincere that she felt it. (I found out later that Yael’s sister had had a very complicated, but successful, surgery that year. It would take time and much recuperation, but—thank G‑d—she fully recovered.)

Later, when I told my husband the wonderful news, I tried to figure out just what about it made me so happy. Like I said, I really don’t know this family, especially not Yael’s mother or sister. So how could I feel such happiness, and feel as though their joy was my joy? I know that in part it’s because I prayed for it. When you pray for another person, it brings you closer to them, and one Jew’s joy is all of Israel’s joy, one Jew’s pain is all of Israel’s pain.

Every day during Sukkot we do the mitzvah of lulav and etrog. In order to do this commandment, you take four species: the palm branch, the willow, the myrtle and the etrog (a citrus fruit). These four species are held together and shaken together in a specific way. If you are missing one, the mitzvah is not complete. The sages say that the four species, with their different characteristics of either having or not having taste and smell, represent four different types of Jews. Each person is represented by one of these categories. Only when they are held together can you perform the mitzvah symbolizing the importance of every single Jew. Without the unity of the Jewish people, we can’t do anything.

Without the unity of the Jewish people, we can’t do anythingIn the times of the Holy Temple, not only did everyone come to the Temple to celebrate and wave the lulav and etrog, but they also came to bring offerings to G‑d. Each day a number of animals were brought, including bulls. On the first day 13 bulls were brought, and each day one less bull was brought, totaling 70 bulls. These 70 bulls represent the 70 nations of the world. On Shemini Atzeret, however, only one bull was brought, representing Israel. As I mentioned before, in Israel the single day of Shemini Atzeret is also Simchat Torah.

The Midrash writes that on this culminating day of all the holidays G‑d told us, “Every day all the nations of the world come to celebrate with Me, but today I want just you (Israel). Come alone, and bring me just one bull offering.” Why only one? Because there is one G‑d, one Torah, and the Jewish people are one.

Whoever has the opportunity to see the dancing with the Torah on Simchat Torah can see this. Joy is peace and unity, which is the gift that G‑d gave when He gave us the Torah. The Torah tells us to rejoice, you and your entire family, alongside the poor person, orphan, widow, etc., pointing out to us that only if people less fortunate than you are rejoicing can you rejoice too. There are situations where you feel helpless. You don’t see anything that you can do to help another person, but that’s not true. You can pray for them; you can feel for them. By praying for them you connect to them, and this is truly a help to them.