Shemini Atzeres/Simchas Torah 5775
Rabbi Dovid Saks
On Friday we will be celebrating Simchas Torah – the completion of the yearly cycle of the reading of the five Books of the Torah.
Eight verses before the conclusion of the Torah, the verse states, “Moshe, the servant of G-d died in the Land of Moav.” The verses then describe Moshe’s burial and his awe-inspiring contributions.
Someone recently asked me, “I understand that Moshe wrote the Torah on G-d’s instruction. But who wrote these concluding eight verses of the Torah? After all, it speaks of Moshe’s death and burial.
In fact, our sages in the Talmud raise this very question and two opinions are offered: Moshe wrote the Torah until this point and his successor Yehoshua wrote the remaining verses; or, the Holy One, Blessed is He, dictated these words about the future to Moshe and he wrote them with tears in his eyes.
There are commentaries who explain that the two opinions do not conflict, rather, each opinion speaks of a different stage of this writing.
When G-d gave Moshe the instruction to write the last eight verses, Moshe wrote these words and imprinted the letters onto the parchment with a quill containing his tears. Since a requirement of a Kosher Torah scroll is that it must be written with ink, Moshe’s successor Yehoshua took a quill with ink and rewrote the area Moshe had written with his tears.
At the end of Moshe’s life which was totally devoted to G-d and to leading and teaching the Jewish people, he shed tears reflecting on this accomplishment and used the tears produced from his holy body to write the final words of the Torah which speak of his death and his dedicated contribution and miracles he performed. He thus connected his living existence with the holy and eternal words of the Torah – the five books of Moshe!
As a general rule, the conclusion of portion or chapter in the Torah ends on a positive note. However the final verse in the Torah ends off with a reference to Moshe shattering the tablets of the Ten Commandments upon witnessing the sin of the golden calf – “Before the eyes of the Jewish people.”
Why does the Torah end with a reference recalling the most severe sin committed by the Jewish people?
Me’am Loez explains that it was not in character for the Jews to have made the golden calf. G-d gave the Satan power to cause them to sin in order to teach us about repentance.
G-d wanted the Jews to repent and through the repentance process reach higher levels of spirituality, as the Talmud points out that the place of those who repent are higher than the totally righteous who have not stumbled in sin.
Thus, the Torah’s concluding reference is not to the sin aspect of the golden calf, rather to the power of Teshuvah – repentance.
The conclusion of the Torah tells each Jew that even if he stayed from the performance of the commandments and from G-d’s will, he can still return and re-establish his bond with G-d.
Immediately following the conclusion of the Torah we open another Torah scroll and begin reading the Torah from its beginning.
Commentaries connect the last letter of the Torah ‘Lamed’ with the first letter of the Torah ‘Bais’ which spell the word ‘Lev – heart’. The Torah is the heart and pulse of the Jewish people; it is the source of our life, energy and love. This is only so if we open up our hearts and absorb its holy essence and significance and allow it to continually impact and enrich our lives!
Wishing you a most enjoyable and exciting Yom Tov!
Rabbi Dovid and Malki Saks and family