Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

12 Tishrei 5761 - October 11, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
"Being Number One"

by Rabbi Pinchas Kantrovitz

"We're number one! We're number one!" In 1969, a tall lanky 10 year old boy sitting in Shea Stadium in Flushing, New York, joined tens of thousands of other ecstatic fans in this chant as the New York Mets won the playoffs.

Had this young man been invited to join in the celebration, he undoubtedly would have began to chant with the team as though intoxicated, "We're number one! We're number one!" One of the players might have asked him, "Hey kid, did you say that `we're number one?' Who's "we?" What position do you play?"

Indeed, the player would have a good point, would he not? How could this young man call himself part of this collective "we"? Is it not the players who wear the uniform, play the games, and work out at the practices who bear the exclusive right to be identified as the "we" of the team?

On the festival of Shemini Atzeres/Simchas Torah, which in Eretz Yisroel is celebrated as a single day, the Jewish nation rejoices. There are several reasons that we rejoice, one is that we are now participating in a siyum, a celebration in honor of completing the annual cycle of studying the Torah. This is the significance of Simchas Torah.

On the other side of the same coin lies Shemini Atzeres which Rashi in Chumash says comes from the root "la'atzor -- to hold back." Chazal bring a moshol about a king who has a special friend and wishes to make a banquet to honor him. He invites many guests to participate in this banquet to give his special guest the honor that he deserves and, as the guests depart, the honored one stops to say thank you and good-bye when the king pulls him aside and tells him that all of the guests of the banquet were invited in his honor, but now let them depart and let the king's special friend "hold back" and stay one more day alone with the king.

What is the connection of what is described by the Sages as the "solemn convocation" of Shemini Atzeres and the ebullient rejoicing of Simchas Torah? How can two seemingly emotionally polar extreme days be celebrated in one festival? Furthermore, why is this festival located in the calendar where it is? Would it not make more sense to arrange the siyum of the Torah to fall around Shavuos when we celebrate the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai?

The opening line of the hakofos of Simchas Torah by which we initiate the ceremony of dancing with the sifrei Torah reads, "Ato hor'eiso loda'as, ki Hashem hu Ho'Elokim, ein od milvado -- you have been instructed to understand that Hashem is the Lord there is none other." This line is as applicable to Rosh Hashana, or Yom Kippur, or to Succos as it is Simchas Torah. Why does it first appear in the liturgy on the day of Simchas Torah?

The entire period of time beginning with the first of Elul is a period of drawing closer to Hashem. "Arye sho'ag mi lo yirah?" (Amos ). The word "Arye" is a hint to the four times of judgment: "alef" signifying the month of Elul, "resh" Rosh Hashana, "yud" Yom Kippur, and "hei" Hashana Rabba. These are the periods of the year when we hear the "lion's roar" the royal pronouncement that the King of kings sits in Divine judgment, at such times "who shall not fear?"

Fear under such circumstances is "natural," indeed it is the "normal" reaction; when a person walks in pitch dark along a high bluff and shows no fear because "nothing could possibly happen to him," he appears to need "some help" -- mental help -- quick!! It is only after the last of these days of judgment when we have achieved the ultimate level of fear that we are ready for this new stage of love of "ein od milvado," "there is none other," in other words, there is no power or significance in the universe except Hashem.

This recognition can only come after "seeing" Hashem as it were, becoming aware that the King of kings is responsible for everything that happens in the universe. This awe at the same time as causing us to retract into ourselves and introspect, ultimately causes us to seek to identify with the Source of this awesomeness by love of Hashem. It is only after the Yomim Noraim and "living with Hashem in Hashem's House," the Succah, that one has the spiritual acuity to approach the "ein od milvado" of Shemini Atzeres/Simchas Torah.

The "atzeres" of Shemini Atzeres is only possible because of the simcha of Simchas Torah. The Midrash tells us a parable of a king who has only one child, a daughter. When she reaches marriageable age, the king seeks and finds for her a proper match. After the joyous ceremony, he takes aside his new son-in-law and emotionally addresses him: "You have taken the hand of my daughter in marriage. To ask you to stay close to me I cannot, she is your wife and you may take her where you wish. On the other hand, to part with her I also cannot, for she is my only child. Therefore, I beseech you, please accede to my one request, wherever you go to build your home, build one extra room for me, so that I may come and visit when I wish and it may be as I if I have not lost her."

The Midrash illustrates the juxtaposition of the giving of the Torah in parshios Yisro and Mishpotim with the commandment to build the Mishkan which follows immediately afterwards. The Mishkan, as well as the Beis Hamikdash afterwards, was the "room" for the King to visit his only child, the Torah, and not feel that He has lost her.

So too here, the king says to his special guest, "I have made this entire celebration for you, but I have not had the opportunity to enjoy you as we have been surrounded by other guests the entire time. Please stay behind one more day so that we can have the opportunity to enjoy each other's presence properly."

What sets this "special guest" apart from the rest of the guests? This special guest is married to the daughter of the king!

After Rosh Hashana, when the entire world passes before Hashem in judgment, one by one as sheep being counted by their shepherd, and Yom Kippur, when only the Jewish people know the secret of true repentance and achieve atonement and a "new lease on life," and finally the festival of Succos when the Jewish people carry the lulav as proof that they have emerged victorious in judgment in their legal battle with the nations and enter into Hashem's House the Beis Hamikdash and the Succah, and offer sacrifices on behalf of these nations -- comes Shemini Atzeres/Simchas Torah when the King of kings asks us for a favor, that we remain behind when the nations of the world depart so that we can celebrate with the King alone for one more day! Why? Because we have the daughter of the King, the Torah; the "solemn convocation" of Shemini Atzeres fits perfectly with the seemingly contradictory day of Simchas Torah, as indeed they are celebrated in the "palace of the King," Eretz Yisroel!

When we have traveled this arduous spiritual journey from Rosh Hashanah to Shemini Atzeres/Simchas Torah sincerely, constantly working on ourselves, and our relationship to Hashem and His Torah, we become "part of the team." Our personal relationship with Hashem grows increasingly more unique and intimate, as we work on "fearing" or "seeing" Hashem more clearly, we are welcomed into the inner sanctums of the King's chambers where only the King's "elect" are welcome. This period of introspection and anxiety over the sentence that will be passed on us, is in essence a period of tremendous closeness to Hashem as the Sages instruct on the 10 days of Repentance, "dirshu Hashem behimotz'o, kero'uhu behiyaso korov."

This process of identifying with the "team," accentuated every step of the way by first blowing the shofar to set us apart, then repenting through vidui and regret, then marching around the bimah with the lulav, the scepter of victory, only culminates with our siyum of the Torah when we rejoice for being part of Hashem's team, as it were, having married His only daughter!

Long ago, I felt "part of it," having sweated and cried for my team along their arduous climb to the top, and I now felt justified in joining in the jubilant cry "We're number one!"

As Jews sweating and crying for the success of our team, the nation of Israel, we will certainly be invited to the celebration of our own final victory: Shemini Atzeres/Simchas Torah! Attaching ourselves individually and collectively to "Hashem Echad" "the One G-d," we are truly "number one!"

All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.