1. The mitzvah of Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah, the previous Rebbe said, is joy. The joy and dancing during these forty eight hours has the same effect as the service of awe during the forty eight hours of Rosh Hashanah. This is in addition to the general function of Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah, which is to ensure that all the revelations of the festivals of Tishrei (including that of Rosh Hashanah) be absorbed by Jews in an inner manner. And that effected by joy is much loftier than that effected through awe — just as Purim (service of joy) is loftier than Yom Kippurim (service of awe), “Kippurim “ meaning “like Purim”: like it — but not actually it.

Inner absorption entails a settled frame of mind; joy bursts bounds. Although opposites, a Jew has the power to perform both simultaneously, for he is bonded with G‑d Who is omniscient. In other words, when Torah, which is truth and life, gives a Jew instruction for living in this corporeal world, nothing can prevent him from carrying it out.

The above holds true even though a Jew’s soul is enclothed in a physical body in this corporeal world. For not only does the soul retain all the powers it possessed before it came down to earth, but it gains something new: the soul in the body is the object of G‑d’s choice. True free choice is possible only when the objects from which one chooses are equal. A Jewish soul is unique. Thus G‑d’s choice of Jews is only of their physical bodies, which, the Alter Rebbe writes (Tanya, ch. 49), “is similar in its corporeality to the bodies of the peoples of the world.” And, as the object of G‑d’s choice, nothing can stand in the way of Jew fulfilling the Torah’s directives.

There are differing levels of joy. In general, they are divided into two: joy stemming from a particular reason, and joy that is a result of a person simply choosing to be joyous about something. In the former, the joy is limited, restricted to the reason that produces it. In the latter, because it is a result of choice, it transcends all limits.

Although there are many reasons to be joyous on Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah, it is, in the end analysis, a joy stemming from pure choice — and as such, transcends all bounds. This is expressed in the way we dance at Hakofos. The Sifrei Torah we dance with are covered by their mantles, not permitting their contents to be seen or learned. Moreover, one dances with one’s feet, with one’s heels, the lowest part of the body, which emphasizes that the joy has nothing to do with understanding (the brain), but is because one chooses it. Thus the joy is not a result of learning and understanding the Torah, but rather, stems from the essence of the Torah, transcending comprehension — joy as a result of choice.

The Torah, it is true, is also read on Simchas Torah. But 1) this happens after Hakofos; and 2) we see that the unique joy of Simchas Torah is at the time of Hakofos, not at the time of the Torah reading. The beginning of this joy may be a result of one’s understanding, but this is only the beginning; it is followed by joy stemming from choice, transcending comprehension and limitations.

Of course, the reason one dances with the Sifrei Torah in such a way that one can’t learn in it, may be not because it stems from a choice transcending reason, but because one simply chooses to dance. However, such choice (“below” reason) is connected to choice transcending reason, for they both are the same concept: choice. All the different levels of awe, for example — higher awe, lower awe, awe stemming from shame — are connected, for they are all the idea of awe. It is the idea of “the end is rooted in the beginning, and the beginning in the end.”

That choice “below” reason is connected with choice transcending reason in regard to the joy of Simchas Torah is illustrated by the dancing. When the feet (the lowest part of the body) dances, the head also is raised. One sometimes begins with the head — meaning that one understands that it is necessary to dance, and therefore the feet dance — but afterwards it is the feet which raise the head, to the extent that they merit to be the Torah’s feet: they raise up the Sefer Torah.

On Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah, then, it is not enough that one is merely joyous; the joy must transcend all limits. Thus, although in exile — and especially on Simchas Torah, which, being the second day of Yom Tov, reminds a Jew that he is in exile (for the second day of Yom Tov applies only in exile and outside Eretz Yisroel) — a Jew must nevertheless be in a state of great joy of Simchas Torah. Depression resulting from considerations of exile is possible only when joy stems from reason. When it stems from choice, however, which transcends all reasons and calculations, no such considerations can exist.

2. Additional joy accrues from the special nature of this year. Joy in Hebrew is “simchah,” which has the numerical value of 353, corresponding to the minimum number of days in a year. There are six possible variations in a year’s length. A regular year can have 353, 354 or 355 days; a leap year can have 383, 384 or 385 days. This year has the greatest possible number of days — 385 — which indicates the greatest possible increase in joy over a regular year.

Although it does not seem possible to have different levels in joy which stems from choice (the joy of Simchas Torah), we find, however, different levels in the idea of choice itself. G‑d chose the Jewish people at Mattan Torah (the Giving of the Torah), as the Alter Rebbe rules, that when we recite “You have chosen us from all nations” we should have Mattan Torah in mind. Yet, the idea of “You have chosen us” is repeated and effected once again on the next festival, as we recite in the festival liturgy. And, according to the rule of “we ascend in sanctity,” G‑d’s choice of Jews on each successive festival, and on each successive year, must be on a loftier level than on the previous occasion.

Although “You have chosen us” is past tense, everything in Torah must be new to a Jew. When a Jew therefore recites the words “You have chosen us from all the nations” in his prayers, G‑d’s choice of the Jews is effected anew. This is particularly so according to the Arizal’s teaching on the verse “These days shall be remembered and kept” — that through the proper remembrance, all the events are repeated and “kept” as on the original occurrence. Moreover, they are “kept” in a loftier fashion — “ascending in sanctity.” Further, the Alter Rebbe writes (Iggeret Hakodesh, 14) that “every year, there descends ... a new light that as yet never illumined.” Thus a new element is introduced every year into the idea of “You have chosen us from all the nations.”

Just as there are differences in the idea of choice, so there are differing levels in the joy that results from choice. Because this year has 385 days, the most possible, the joy is correspondingly great.

Every Jew certainly has the strength necessary to reach such a level of joy, for Torah has promised that if one searches, one will find — in a manner infinitely greater than could be expected from the search.


3. We noted on Sukkos that every day possesses its own unique service, in addition to being a continuation of the preceding days and a preparation to the following days. This applies particularly to Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah, for, in contrast to Sukkos in which every day is somewhat similar to the others (all are days of Sukkos), Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah are a totally different concept.

An example of this is the idea of numbers. While the first ten numbers are separate entities, they all belong to one category. The number “eleven,” however, besides being a separate entity, is in a totally different category. So too Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah: Not only do they possess a unique concept, but this concept is in a totally different category than that preceding it.

Where is this seen? On Shemini Atzeres, unlike Sukkos the unique position of Jews vis a vis the other nations is emphasized, as stated: “On the eighth day it shall be an assembly for you” — “it shall be for you alone, and not for strangers with you.” Why, Chassidus asks, is the idea of “for you” stressed specifically on Shemini Atzeres? Everything in Torah and mitzvos was given to Jews specifically, as stated “He tells His words to Ya’akov, His statutes and ordinances to Israel; He has not done so for other nations.” What, then, is special about Shemini Atzeres?

Chassidus answers that Shemini Atzeres emphasizes the unique nature of Jews to the extent that they are completely different from non-Jews. She-mini Atzeres and Simchas Torah marks the completion of Mattan Torah, for these festivals follow Yom Kippur, when Moshe Rabbeinu received the latter set of tablets. Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah is the celebration of this event, and therefore they are the completion of Mattan Torah begun on Shavuos. At Mattan Torah G‑d chose the Jewish people, thereby emphasizing that Jews are of a totally different nature and existence than other peoples, for only in them is G‑d’s choice invested (as elaborated on above).

Let us investigate this concept further. Mattan Torah begun with G‑d’s words “I am the L‑rd your G‑d.” “I” refers to G‑d’s absolute Essence — ”I am who I am.” “L‑rd” refers to the creative power of G‑d. “Your G‑d” corresponds to the G‑dly strength and vitality possessed by every Jew. “I am the L‑rd your G‑d” therefore means that G‑d’s Essence is invested in His creative power to serve as a Jew’s life and vitality. Everything pertaining to a Jew, including physical matters such as eating and drinking, is not only of the level of “L‑rd,” but even higher, of the level of “I,” G‑d’s absolute Essence!

This idea, astonishing though it may seem, is explicitly recorded in Torah, in the first verse recited before Hakofos — “You have shown to know that the L‑rd is G‑d; there is none else aside from Him.” The description of G‑d that “there is none else aside from Him” differs from “there is none else” in that the latter means simply that nothing else exists except for G‑d. The former means that “aside from Him” nothing else exists, but there are existences with Him — but these existences are nothing but G‑dliness. This is the same idea as “I am the L‑rd your G‑d.”

Although this seems to apply to all of creation, for everything is created by G‑d’s Essence — and therefore their existence is G‑d’s existence (“there is none else aside from Him”) — it is in a concealed form, with the G‑dliness in the earth hidden by myriad eils. In regard to Jews, however, it is openly evident, for “I am the L‑rd your G‑d” — every Jew’s strength and vitality is “I am the L‑rd.”

The above difference between Jews and the rest of the world is emphasized at Mattan Torah. Mattan Torah had the effect of nullifying the world’s existence, as our Sages have said: “A bird did not twitter, ... an ox did not low ...” In regard to Jews, however, Mattan Torah gave them life — “I am the L‑rd your G‑d.”

Because Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah emphasize G‑d’s choice of the Jews — the completion of Mattan Torah — they are a totally independent concept. This is why on Shemini Atzeres only “one bullock, one ram” was brought on Shemini Atzeres, for “the single bullock corresponds to the single (i.e. unique) people” (Sukkah 55b). It is independent and removed from the seventy bullocks offered on Sukkos, which correspond to the seventy nations of the world. And that is why the joy of these days is so lofty, for it stems from the concept of choice.

4. In this itself, there is a difference between Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah — similar to the difference between the two levels in the sefirah of “kesser:” “arich” and “atik.” “Arich” has a connection to the lower ten sefiros; “atik” is completely independent of them.

Shemini Atzeres is a continuation of the previous seven days of Sukkos, “shemini” meaning the “eighth.” Simchas Torah has nothing to do with the seven days of Sukkos, and therefore possesses its own independent name.

To clarify further: The Talmud (Sukkah 55b) compares the offering of “one bullock, one ram” on Shemini Atzeres to a “small banquet” for the king and his beloved. A “small banquet” implies there is a “large banquet,” which corresponds to the banquet for the seventy nations of the world during Sukkos. Thus, although Shemini Atzeres is “for you alone, and not for strangers with you,” the very fact that it is necessary to exclude strangers indicates there is some connection between them (if only a negative one).

On Simchas Torah, however, “Israel and the King are alone together,” without finding it necessary to exclude “strangers.” Thus the revelation and completion of the idea of Mattan Torah — G‑d’s choice of Jews — is expressed specifically in Simchas Torah.

The above difference between Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah is in effect mainly outside Eretz Yisroel, where they are two separate days. In Eretz Yisroel, the concepts of Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah are on one day — and thus the pure concept of Simchas Torah is missing.

Simchas Torah, it is true, is the second day of Yomtov in exile — a Rabbinic ordinance — and therefore certain aspects are more lenient than on Shemini Atzeres, the first day of Yomtov. But the very fact that we can be more lenient shows that it possesses a higher level. On the last day of Pesach, for example, we specifically eat matzah dipped in liquid, although on the rest of Pesach we are extremely careful not to let any liquid touch the matzos. This is because the last day of Pesach is so lofty compared to the other days that it is not necessary to avoid matzah coming in contact with liquid. Indeed, we specifically eat matzah in liquid.

Because the ultimate in joy is on Simchas Torah and not on Shemini Atzeres, the Rebbeim were in a serious mood on Shemini Atzeres (expressed also in strict time limits of reciting “Ata Horaysa” and the hakofos), whereas on Simchas Torah their joy transcended all limits.

Why, then, one may ask, were the hakofos of last night, Shemini Atzeres, celebrated with joy transcending limits? However, we live now in a time when “Your people Israel need joy” — for we have exhausted all other means of abolishing the exile, and the only way left is through joy that transcends all limits!

But all is not clear: Why was it necessary to change the regular custom and to be in such a joyous mood also on Shemini Atzeres? Could it not have waited until Simchas Torah?

A story concerning the Alter Rebbe provides the answer. The war between Napoleon (of France) and Alexander (of Russia) was of direct interest to Jewry, for the majority of Jews of that time lived in Russia. The Torah greats of that time, the disciples of the Maggid, were divided as to whom to support (through prayer for victory) for the good of Jewry.

Some of the Rebbeim were of that opinion that they should help Napoleon achieve victory, for under Napoleon, they claimed, material conditions for the Jews would be much better. Others, headed by the Alter Rebbe, said Alexander should be helped, for under his rulership the spiritual condition of Jews would be far better.

The year 5573, in the thick of the war, approached. All the Rebbeim knew that Rosh Hashanah of that year would be the deciding factor as to whom would go the victory, for it is the time when all countries are judged. On Rosh Hashanah itself, the critical factor would be shofar blowing, particularly by those who knew the correct thoughts (“kavonnos”) to put into the shofar blowing. All the Rebbeim, from both sides, therefore tried, through the shofar blowing, to ensure that the decision rendered Above should be according to their opinion.

One of the great Rebbeim hastened to begin the Rosh Hashanah prayers very early, so as to begin blowing the Shofar (after the Shacharis prayer) as soon as possible. But when he came to blow the shofar, he cried out, “Oh, the Litvak has already beaten us to it.” The “Litvak” meant the Alter Rebbe, who came from Lithuania. How did the Alter Rebbe do it? Instead of blowing Shofar after Shacharis as normal, he blew the shofar before Shacharis.

This story teaches us that it is sometimes necessary, because of the importance of a particular matter, to change the regular routine. For just as then there was war between Napoleon and Alexander, so today, nations are warring against each other — “a generation passes, and a generation comes.” It affects Jews — literally — and also according to our Sages’ saying that “if you see nations quarreling with each other, look for Moshiach.” Likewise, we must make efforts to secure the freedom of Soviet Jews, to secure peace in Eretz Yisroel, and to secure the peace of the places we dwell in. All this can be achieved through joy — and therefore we changed the regular routine, and, before Simchas Torah, were already extremely joyous on Shemini Atzeres (similar to the Alter Rebbe who blew the shofar before Shacharis).

5. One may ask the following question about the above story concerning the Alter Rebbe. Since the story concerns true Torah greats, what relevance can it have to him? He cannot compare to them, and what can he learn from it regarding his personal service to G‑d? Moreover, he has no association with the quarrels between nations — and therefore what can he do about it?

The answer to this question is provided by the first Rashi on the Torah, which states: “Rabbi Yitzchok said: The Torah [whose main object is to teach commandments] should have commenced from the verse (Shemos 12:2) ‘This month shall be unto you the first of the months,’ which is the first commandment given to Israel. Why then does it commence with [the account of] Bereishis? Because [of the concept expressed in the text] ‘He declared to His people the power of His works [i.e. He gave an account of the work of Creation] in order to give them the heritage of the nations.’ For should the nations of the world say to Israel, ‘You are robbers, because you took by force the lands of the seven nations [of Canaan],’ Israel will reply to them ‘The whole earth belongs to the Holy One blessed be He; He created it and gave it to whom he pleased. Of His own will He gave it to them, and of His own will He took it from them and gave it to us.”

Rashi is addressing his comment to a “five year old” who is beginning to learn Chumash. The child complains that non-Jews disturb him from Torah study and performance of mitzvos, either by telling him to abandon his studies and play with them, or by calling him a “robber.” What, asks the child, should I do to get rid of them?

One cannot flee the exile, for, as the previous Rebbe said, “It was not of our will we were exiled from Eretz Yisroel, and it is not with our strength that we will return to Eretz Yisroel.” One can live as a hermit in one’s house — until the non-Jew breaks down the door and yells “robber” at him!

Furthermore, he says, the very fact that he lives in a physical world, and must eat and drink, disturbs his concentration on Torah study and fulfillment of mitzvos. One must work in the world to obtain food, for example, and yet simultaneously, one must bless and recognize G‑d for that food. Is it not a paradox?

Rashi’s answer is “He declared to His people the power of His works in order to give them the heritage of the nations.” It is a fact, Rashi tells the child and every Jew, that you live in a world that is peopled by non-Jews, and you can’t escape it. On the other hand, you need not fear, for you have the power to influence the entire world — “He declared to His people the power of his works.” Moreover, says Rashi, G‑d’s account of His work is so important — so that a Jew should know he need not fear anything in the world — that the entire Torah begins with the account of creation.

When, therefore, a Jew is confronted by the accusation that he is a robber, he answers “The whole earth belongs to the Holy One blessed be He; He created it and gave it to whom He pleased. Of His own will He gave it to them, and of His own will He took it from them and gave it to us.” Such a retort leaves the accuser in the position of owing an answer to the Jew!

In addition, not only need a Jew not be influenced by the world, but, merely by engaging in Torah, a Jew automatically influences the world.

We can go a little deeper: Because the Torah teaches a Jew — at the very start of the Torah before teaching about mitzvos — that he can influence the entire world, it follows that this knowledge affects the way Torah and mitzvos is fulfilled. They must be joyously fulfilled with the knowledge that a Jew thereby affects the whole world (although such an effect, as noted above, is produced automatically).

Although Torah and mitzvos should be performed because they are G‑d’s commands, nevertheless, one should also have in mind that he thereby influences the world. This is the meaning of the Rambam’s ruling that when a Jew “does a mitzvah, he tilts himself and the whole world to the meritorious side, and causes redemption and salvation for himself and for them.”

Now we can understand how a Jew can relate to the Alter Rebbe’s conduct in regard to “quarrelling nations.” Every Jew can effect the entire world, transforming its evil elements into good.