1. The Previous Rebbe instituted the custom of holding a farbrengen on Simchas Torah night as a preparation for Hakkafos.1 Even though Hakkafos are also conducted on Shemini Atzeres2 without the preface of a farbrengen, the Hakkafos of Simchas Torah possess an excellency in relevance to the Hakkafos of Shemini Atzeres.

The nature of that higher quality3 can be comprehended in view of the different name given to Simchas Torah.4 The celebration of a second day of Yom Tov was instituted in the time of Galus. In no other holiday does a difference in name exist between the first day of celebration and the second.5 By calling the second day of the holiday with a different name, viz. Simchas Torah, Halachah differentiates between the two days.

That difference is expressed in the selections from the Torah read on each of the days. On Shemini Atzeres, the portion read describes the celebration of the entire festival’s cycle. On Simchas Torah, the portion read is devoted mainly to the Sidra of ‘Zos HaBerachah’, the conclusion of the Torah. The conclusion of the Torah is the source for the greater joy of Simchas Torah.

This concept is more explicitly expressed in the selection of the Haftorah. Generally, the Haftorah is related to conclusion of the Torah reading. If the Torah reading includes sections from two Torah scrolls, a Haftorah is chosen appropriate to the contents read within the second scroll. On Simchas Torah, the contents of the Haftorah (are not related to the reading in the final scroll read, or even to the reading in the second scroll, but) refer to the readings of the first scroll, ‘Zos HaBerachah’, emphasizing that the most essential point of Simchas Torah is the conclusion of the Torah.

On Shemini Atzeres, Hakkafos are also conducted, using the same Sefer Torah, same verses, etc. as on Simchas Torah and the basic approach to the Torah is likewise shared, i.e., the Torah is not studied, but rather danced with, While it is held closed with its mantle. (instead of viewing Torah only from an intellectual perspective, a Jew must attempt to connect to and rejoice in, the essence of Torah, the G‑dliness of Torah which transcends his intellectual abilities.) Nevertheless we differentiate between the Hakkafos of Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah by saying that the Hakkafos of Simchas Torah are on a higher level than those of Shemini Atzeres. A parallel concept is found in reference to the reading of the Torah. Both the Torah scholar and the untutored Jew make the same Berachah and read the same selections from the Torah; nevertheless, the scholar enhances the context of the selection read. Though from a superficial perspective the readings appear to be the same, on a deeper level, the energy and awareness of the reader affects the reading.6

2. As a preparation for the Hakkafos, the verses of “Ata Horayso” are read. By reciting these verses, we express reasons for the Simchah of Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah and the Previous Rebbe explained that these verses parallel the verses recited before the blowing of the Shofar. Therefore, seventeen verses are recited in the “Ata Horaysa”. The number seventeen is the numerical value of the word ‘Tov’, the Hebrew word for good. ‘The Talmud explains “there is no good other than Torah”. This means that not only the context of the verses, but even their very number alludes to Torah. Each of the seventeen verses (and all 17 as a collective entity) contribute to the appreciation of the preciousness of the Torah.

The very first verse — ‘Ata Horaysa’ — alludes, as Rashi mentions, to the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. The other verses as well focus on similar issues. Commenting on the verse, “The L‑rd will give strength to His people, the L‑rd will bless His people with peace”, the Midrash relates that the nations of the world were shocked by the disruption of the natural order caused by the giving of the Torah and asked Bilaam, the gentile prophet, for an explanation. He answered, “G‑d is giving strength (true strength being Torah) to His people.” And then it was that, “G‑d will bless His people with peace”, the earth became peaceful.

3. The verse ‘Ata Horaysa’, translated as “You have been shown to know that the L‑rd is G‑d; there is none else besides Him” is the first of the verses read as preparation for Hakkafos. On that verse, Rashi comments as follows: “When the Holy One Blessed be He gave the Torah, He opened the seven heavens; and just as He split the upper realms, He split the lower realms and revealed that He is Yachid”.7

The knowledge that G‑d is ‘Yechidi’, i.e., the only true existent entity, has a marked effect on a Jew’s behavior. That awareness motivates him to carry out G‑d’s will, his natural desires notwithstanding. He realizes that since the only real entity is G‑d, it is impossible for him to transgress His will.8

The revelation of G‑d as ‘Yechidi’ was coupled with the giving of the Torah, which would seem to denote that only through Matan Torah can we comprehend the concept of Yechidi.

That statement is more easily comprehended in terms of the statement of the Baal Shem Tov, “Everything9 that a Jew sees or hears must serve as a lesson in the service of G‑d”. Therefore, the revelation of G‑d as Yechidi cannot remain merely as an intellectual or emotional experience, but must also result in a practical instruction. The revelation seen and heard by the Jewish people was general and all-inclusive, and the lesson which results from that revelation. had to be equally all-inclusive, encompassing every aspect of a Jew’s life. Therefore, it is coupled with Torah, since Torah serves as a guide to all facets of one’s experience in life. In whatever a Jew does, even in the most physical of activities, he should be guided by the directives of the Torah.10

When reading the verse ‘Ata Horaysa’ on Simchas Torah, a Jew should make the resolution to adhere to Torah in every aspect of his behavior in the coming year. Then he transforms the world from a place where G‑d’s energies are concealed11 into “a dwelling place for G‑d”. The Jew then will experience the utmost Simchah, motivated by the realization that he is G‑d’s host, having brought the Shechinah to rest in every aspect of his life.

When this process is accomplished, the statement, “In the light of the countenance of the King one finds life”, will be fulfilled. One’s connection with G‑d’s essence will bring about blessings in every phase of one’s life.

4. As mentioned, Rashi interprets the verse ‘Ata Horaysa’ as an allusion to the Jew’s experience at Matan Torah. According to that rendition, the word ‘Ata’ (You) alludes to every Jew, since all Jews were present at Mt. Sinai (either physically or spiritually).

The word ‘Horaysa’ means’ it was shown to you’. A parallel usage of the word can be seen in the reference to the construction of the sanctuary “Kaasher Horaysa Behar”12 as it was shown to you at Mt. Sinai”. Every Jew experienced the revelation that “the L‑rd is G‑d”, there is none besides Him. Through G‑d’s “opening the heavens... and splitting the lower realms, each Jew realized how G‑d is Yechidi”.

The coupling of this revelation with the giving of the Torah provides a Jew with the potential, through his activities in Torah study, to be able to reveal what his soul has witnessed at the time of the giving of the Torah, and from Torah he is aware what he has to do — to demonstrate how the physical world and all of its creations are expressions of G‑d’s essence.

On the same verse ‘Ata Horaysa’, the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbeim have offered a different and seemingly paradoxical explanation.

They interpreted the verse as follows: “You” — referring to G‑d’s essence (G‑d’s essence being the only true existence,13 the only entity which can really be termed, ‘You’)”revealed Yourself so that we can know that the L‑rd is G‑d, there is none beside Him.”

Even though a created, limited being cannot have an appreciation of G‑d’s essence,14 nevertheless, G‑d in His omnipotence was able to reveal Himself in such a manner which would allow human beings to know His essence. “Ata Horaysa” explains that G‑d Himself bridged the gap.

Jewish philosophy records the statement “If I knew Him I would be Him”, i.e., the only way to know G‑d is to be G‑d. On the surface, this would rule out the possibility of a human being gaining an awareness of G‑d’s essential nature; however, Chassidic thought explains how G‑d has revealed to man a framework which allows man to know G‑d’s essence. The revelation of that conceptual framework, apparent in the body of study called “Pnimiyus HaTorah”, was described in the verse “Ata Horaysa”.

These two explanations of the verse “Ata Horaysa”, viz., Rashi’s commentary and the interpretation of the Rebbeim, are seemingly contradictory. According to the first interpretation, “Ata” refers to every Jew, a limited and specific creation, but according to the second interpretation “Ata” refers to G‑d’s essence. The two explanations are diametrically opposed.

5. The resolution of this paradox can be explained by the statement of the Previous Rebbe that the two days of Shemini Atzeres and of Simchas Torah parallel the two days of Rosh Hashanah.15 Therefore, if any aspects of the service of Rosh Hashanah were left unfulfilled, they can be compensated for in the service of Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah.16

The service of Rosh Hashanah involves the coronation of G‑d as king of the world. In turn, that coronation affects G‑d’s essence and evokes an efflux of G‑dly energy to enliven the totality of creation.

How can G‑d’s essence be affected? With what power can a Jew arouse such high levels of G‑dliness? Chassidic thought answers that questions by explaining that each Jew is at one with G‑d’s essence. G‑d’s essence is not an entity apart from him but rather is contained within his own soul. On Rosh Hashanah, the Jew brings these deep energies to expression and therefore, evokes a correspondent reaction of G‑d’s essence.

Since the service of Simchas Torah parallels that of Rosh Hashanah, the true G‑dly essence of a Jew’s soul is then revealed. Therefore, the verse ‘Ata Horaysa’ can be recited. The word ‘Ata’ alludes simultaneously, to G‑d and to the Jew, because, at that time and at that level, no difference exists between G‑d and the Jews.

This concept is not just abstract, but is practically related to the Jew’s service of Torah and Mitzvos. After the month of Tishrei has parted, the Jew shifts his attention from the spiritual heights of that month and focuses his energies on the task of relating G‑dliness to the physical world surrounding him.17 The immensity of the world and the difficulty of refining it can confuse the Jew and move him to lose sight of his priorities. Not only might he forget the task which with he was charged in regards to refining the world at large, but he may even lose sight of how to deal with the personal world of his soul.

However, once he has learned that he and G‑d’s essence are one, and just as G‑d is One and unique in the spiritual realms, unaffected by the cosmos, so, too, the Jew is unique and does not have to be affected by the world. This also is the symbolization of the creation of Adam, as the Talmud asks: “Why was Adam, man, created alone?” and answers, “so that each Jew can realize that he is like Adam and say “the world was created for me”. This realization lifts him above the world and gives him the ability to control it.

That concept is communicated by Rashi in his statement that G‑d “opened the seven heavens and just as He split the upper realms, etc.” There is an obvious difference between the meaning of ‘split’ and ‘open’. The verb ‘open’ implies that a door or portal exists and must merely be opened. The verb ‘split’ indicates that no door exists and to penetrate to the inside the object must be forced open.

The two verse refer to different elements of service to G‑d. Certain aspects of creation merely have to be opened to allow their G‑dly nature to be expressed. Other elements of creation have to be split , i.e., their revealed form is a contradiction to G‑dliness and must be obliterated before their G‑dly nature can be revealed. In such service, the Jew expresses his deepest soul powers. The material exterior of the challenging situation stands in opposition to its G‑dly raison d’être. To split it open, to reveal the deeper energies beneath the surface, the Jew must reach beyond his own surface qualities and summon up his innermost energies.18 After the Jew has revealed that level of service, all the obstacles and stumbling blocks of the surrounding environment disappear, and the Jew proceeds to make the world a dwelling place for G‑d.19

6. After the verse ‘Ata Horaysa’, a second verse “L’osay niflaos” (Give thanks)to Him Who alone performs great miracles, for His grace is eternal, is recited. This verse also contains two paradoxical explanations. The Gemara explains that G‑d is constantly working miracles, “great wonders”, yet they are “alone,” i.e., the person for whom the miracles are performed is unaware.

Why does G‑d work such miracles? Creations cannot appreciate them; even after the existence of these miracles are related in the Talmud and humanity made aware of them, the Shulchan Aruch forbids man to recite Hallel (the prayers of praise to G‑d) to express his appreciation. Since the miracles do not disturb the natural creation, no special and unique praise may be uttered. If so, why are they performed? The answer is, as the verse itself goes: on to explain , “His grace is eternal”.

On the same verse, the Baal Shem Tov offers an opposite interpretation, asserting that “All of the works of G‑d are great wonders”. Even seemingly simple and natural occurrences are in fact wonders wrought by G‑d.

The verse continue “Ki L’olam Chasdo” (“His grace endures forever”). The Baal Shem explained that the word “Ki” is numerically equivalent to thirty and refers to the thirty “Keilim” (vessels) of Atzilus which become the soul for the spiritual worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah. Through these thirty Keilim, “Chasdo”, G‑d’s infinite grace, Chessed d’Atik, is transmitted “1’olam”, (to the world).20

This aspect of unlimited grace was manifest in the 26 generations which existed prior to the giving of the Torah. Then there was no concept of service and no scale of reward and punishment. Nevertheless, G‑d’s blessings, viz., material possession, wealth, long years, etc. were abundant. This measure of plenty was an expression of G‑d’s infinite grace.

The intention of the Baal Shem Tov’s statement was to explain that even now, after Matan Torah, G‑d’s infinite grace is bestowed upon the world. From the time of Matan Torah, the energy received by the Jewish people was correspondent to their service to G‑d in Torah and Mitzvos (every Jew, even a “sinner of Israel21 possesses merits, as the Talmud comments, “the sinners of Israel are filled with Mitzvos like a pomegranate”). However, even while this standard of judgment is operative, G‑d’s infinite grace is active and apparent in the world.

The two explanations, viz., the Talmud’s and the Baal Shem’s, are paradoxical. The Talmud views the verse as applying to a person who is not cognizant of the G‑dly miracles around him The Baal Shem’s interpretation implies that the verse applies to a person who is conscious of G‑dliness and is aware of even higher levels of G‑dliness.

The resolution of the difference between the two interpretations can be seen by viewing both concepts in the context of Matan Torah. There is an advantage which results from the concept of “the one to which the miracle occurs is not aware of the miracle”. Were he aware of the miracle, i.e., were G‑dliness evident in this world, its revelation would eclipse the material nature of the world. For G‑d to express His infinite grace in the world and still preserve the physical existence of the world, He needs a medium. The Torah serves as that medium. Torah is the channel through which G‑d’s infinite grace can be brought in contact with the world. That explanation relates to the above-mentioned interpretation of the Baal Shem Tov “all of G‑d’s deeds are great wonders”. G‑d’s involvement with the world is itself a great wonder.

The aforementioned idea is reflected in a Jew’s service to G‑d regardless of his vocation.

If he is a businessman, he knows that to be prosperous he must apply himself. G‑d promises, “I will bless you in everything that you do”.22 The Talmud asks if he can receive those same blessings without work, and it replies that he cannot. Since the Torah itself acknowledges the necessity for his work, the possibility exists for one to consider his work as a ‘sine qua non’ and to think, therefore, that he is entitled to consider its products as his own, to do with them as he pleases. However, once he realizes that “all of G‑d’s activities are great wonders” and “the person to whom a miracle happens may not realize it”, he will conclude that his success is not his own but will agree with the Shulchan Aruch’s claim to the fruits of his work.

Similarly, the Torah scholar erroneously can consider his Torah knowledge as the product of his own activities. The following Halachah serves to illustrate that possibility. Torah law allows a Rav to refuse the honor due to him — his honor originates from Torah. However, the Torah has become his to the point that he may refuse honor due him. The verse, “L’osay niflaos” teaches that despite Torah’s recognition of the value of a scholar’s activity, it requires the scholar to recognize that Torah is possible only through G‑d’s grace.

And it shall be the will of G‑d that it shall be a year of Torah, and therefore a year of light, a year of blessing, and a year of redemption, including the coming of Mashiach, speedily in our days.

7. After the verse ‘Ata Horaysa’ and ‘L’osay niflaos’ follows the verse, “There is none like you among the Elokim (supernal beings), O my G‑d, nor any deeds like Yours”.

On the surface, that verse stands in direct contradiction to the previously mentioned concepts. The phrase “there is none like You” implies that other entities exist; however, they cannot be compared to G‑d. “There is none besides Him”, clearly states that nothing but G‑d exists.

The name “Elokim” refers to G‑d as the source of Power and potential for the world. It is therefore understood that “Elokim” refers to the “Mazolos”, the intermediary sources which transmit G‑dly energy into the world. Our Sages assert that there is not a blade of grass below which does not have a ‘mazal’ beating on it and forcing it to grow.

Though the “mazolos” affect the world, nevertheless, they are “no more than an axe in the hands of a newer”, i.e., they are not entities in their own right; they have no free choice. Just as an axe is totally subordinate to the will and energy of the newer, similarly, the “Mazolos” have no will of their own and are totally controlled by G‑d.23

In addition to the Transmission of G‑dly energy through the ‘mazolos’, other divine energies are emitted to the world directly, without the use of intermediaries.

In general, this distinction exists between the manner with which the Hashgachah Peratis relates to the Jews and to the non-Jews, and more particularly how it becomes manifest in the land of Israel and outside of it. The Jews are the ‘chosen people’ and Israel is a land where the “eyes of G‑d are upon it”, i.e., they receive direct attention from G‑d Himself. The lands and nations outside of Israel receive their energy through the ‘mazolos’.

With this preface, the intent of the verse ‘ayn kamocha’ becomes clear. It is possible to think that since the ‘mazolos’ are not entities in their own right, possessing no free choice or power of their own, there is no difference between one’s receiving energy from them or directly from G‑d.

The verse replies — “There is none like You”. Even regarding those aspects of G‑dliness which are subject to comparison with other supernal beings, Torah explains “There is none like You”, no comparison is possible.24 It is better to receive energy directly from G‑d.

This concept is illustrated in the behavior of Moshe Rabbeinu. After the sin of the Golden Calf, G‑d did not want to continue His direct Hashgachah over the Jewish people. He promised Moshe Rabbeinu “I will send My angel (an angel fully empowered to help the Jews in whatever way necessary) before you”. Moshe Rabbeinu replied, “If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here”.

The same principle is expressed by the Baal Shem Tov in his commentary on the verse “Tefillah L’ani,” “The prayer of the poor man”. He explains that there are many intermediary spiritual levels on which one could meditate and derive pleasure from during prayer. However, the poor man disregards these levels and seeks to unite himself with G‑d alone.

This concept is relevant to Torah because, as explained above, the Torah also functions as an intermediary. However, rather than separate G‑d from the world, the Torah serves to reveal G‑dliness in the world. All G‑d’s blessings are channeled to the world through Torah.