The second day of Shemini Atzeres is known as Simchas Torah, “Rejoicing with the Torah.” The Rama explains1 that this day is so named “because it is a time when we rejoice and feast in honor of the conclusion of the Torah” — on Simchas Torah we complete the entire Torah by reading the final portion of Berachah.

Thus the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that the blessing of Shehecheyanu recited on Simchas Torah applies not only to the holiday itself, but also to the joy of concluding the Torah.2

This, however, must be understood: The joy of Simchas Torah is related to the “conclusion of the Torah,” but the blessing of Shehecheyanu is invariably recited over something new. How does the Shehecheyanu blessing over something new apply to the “conclusion of the Torah”?

The text of the “Shehecheyanu” blessing reads: “Shehecheyanu — You have granted us life; v’kiyemanu — and granted us existence; v’higiyanu — and enabled us to reach; lizman hazeh — this occasion.”

In general, when one thanks another, he first thanks him for those things that are of lesser significance and then for matters of greater import. Accordingly, the order of the “Shehecheyanu” blessing should have been reversed, first thanking G‑d for our existence, and then for imbuing that existence with life.

When a person recites the “Shehecheyanu” blessing, thanking G‑d for granting him existence and life and enabling him to “reach this occasion,” he may well ask himself: Was the quality of his life up until now truly such that it is appropriate to thank G‑d with “Shehecheyanu”? Possibly, the majority of his life was filled with pain, providing him with little incentive to thank G‑d for granting him existence and life and enabling him to “reach this occasion.”

The “Shehecheyanu” blessing therefore begins by thanking G‑d for granting life: Just as being alive means that all parts of the person are equally vitally alive, so, too, “Shehecheyanu” relates to that vital aspect of life that encompasses all parts of man equally. For this transcendent quality of life — no matter what the particulars of his life may be — the person is obligated to thank G‑d.

Without Torah, however, it is impossible for an individual to say that his life is full of things that lead him to offer G‑d thanks; even if he enjoys mostly good times, he still cannot consider himself to be vitally alive, as most of a person’s time is occupied with food, drink and sleep, earning a living, and other material matters necessary for physical survival.

A Jew, however, is inextricably bound to the “Torah of life,” and is therefore able to imbue all that he does with life; even while engaged in mundane affairs he cleaves to G‑d by remembering that “All your actions should be for the sake of Heaven,”3 and “In all your ways shall you know Him.”4

The result? “And you who cleave to the L‑rd your G‑d are entirely alive,”5 every moment of every day. Thus a person can and must thank G‑d for granting him life and enabling him to reach this occasion.

However, according to this explanation of “life,” the original question remains: What causes a person to thank G‑d for “existence”; having been granted life, mere existence seems to require a far fainter degree of thanks.

Life need not necessarily be that of a soul within a body. Quite the contrary, the soul as it exists above, unencumbered by a body and constantly cleaving to G‑d, is considered to be much more “alive.”

We therefore give G‑d additional thanks for the descent of the soul within the body; that the body, which in and of itself can only be said to exist (for it lacks all spiritual sensitivity), is thus imbued with the true life of soulful and spiritual vitality. As a result of having been so imbued, we are then grateful not only for the soul (life), but for the body (existence) as well.

When a Jew lives a Torah life throughout the year, both he and Torah are imbued with a much greater degree of Divine illumination during Simchas Torah; it is a new and loftier Jew and Torah, as it were. Jews therefore rejoice with the Torah and recite the blessing of “Shehecheyanu” for their new degree of “life” and “existence.”

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XIX, pp. 371-378.