By Devorah Serkin
The whirlwind of holidays is upon us again. Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkos, Shemini Atzeres, and Simchas Torah falling one right after the other is extremely hectic, and sometimes the meaning of all the yom tovim gets a little lost between all the cooking, cleaning, eating, building, decorating, buying new clothes, shaking the lulav, dancing with the Torah. With all the festivity, we can lose our focus as to why we are coming together.
Sukkos is when the Jews who lived in the times of the Beit Hamekdash would travel to Yerushalayim to sacrifice the fruits of their harvest to Hashem. Immediately following Sukkos we celebrate Shemini Atzeres, when the Jews took an extra day of rest in Yerushalayim. They recited Tefillas Geshem, the prayer for rain.
The holiday of Simchas Torah, however, is not mentioned in the Torah, and it appears out of place. Why did the Rabbanim find it fitting to juxtapose Tefillas Geshem with the celebration of the completion of the yearly Torah cycle?
After giving this question some thought, I found that it did indeed make sense that these holidays are celebrated together. Both holidays are the celebration of the end - and the beginning - of significant cycles in Judaism. Sukkos completes the harvest, and reciting Tefillas Geshem begins the new harvest cycle that we celebrated the conclusion of on Sukkos. So to with Simchas Torah: we read the last lines of V'zos Ha'bracha and immediately start the Torah over from Bereishis.
On a superficial level this answer works, but on a deeper level, why do these cycles come "full circle" at the same time? There must be a more significant connection between the tefillah for rain on Shemini Atzeres and the conclusion of the Torah on Simchas Torah.
Rain is a tremendous gift from Hashem. In Beresheit 5:2 it says, "Hashem had not set rain upon the earth and there was no man to work the soil", and Rashi explains:
And what was the reason that G-d did not cause it to rain? Because "There was [yet] no man
to work the soil," and there was no one to appreciate the rain. When a person appeared and
recognized the need for rain in the world, he prayed for it and it descended and the trees and
Human beings needed to recognize the importance of the rain and to ask Hashem, thereby bringing this life-giving resource to the world.
What is the connection between the cycle of Torah and the prayer for rain? The clouds, which bring rain, symbolize the synthesis of earthly endeavor and G-dly gifts. Hashem seeds the clouds with moisture from the earth, and sends His winds to bring rain. Rain is, of course, essential in the harvest cycle for growing new plants and human food. It is also essential for all life. Water is the symbol of life, and also the symbol of Torah. Torah, like the clouds, combines earthly effort with Heavenly gifts to give spiritual life and nourishment to all of creation. (Perek Shira, commentary by Rabbi Nosson Scherman, p. 28)
Just as rain is a gift from Hashem, so the Torah is a gift from Hashem. The midrash says the Torah was given on three mediums: fire, water, and wilderness. Each of these mediums contains a deep connection to the Torah. The Ksav Sofer explains that the Torah is compared to water because just as water flows from high to low, so too Torah flows from a haughty person to a humble one. The Torah was given on Har Sinai, the lowest of the mountains, to demonstrate this aspect of the Torah.
According to Rabbi Yisroel Ciner,
In order to develop and grow in Torah, one must properly recognize his position vis-a-vis
Hashem. He must realize the incredible gift that has been offered to him to connect to the
will of his Creator. Only such a humble approach will allow him to properly access the Torah
and thereby properly access Hashem.
This outlook is related to Rashi's outlook on the gift of rain. We must submit ourselves to Hashem's higher power and recognize that we could not exist without water, Torah, and other gifts that Hashem provides us every day.
Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah, two holidays that at first glance do not appear to fit side by side, provide us the opportunity to reflect on Hashem's incredible gifts of water and Torah and the connection between the two. It is beautiful that they are celebrated together, to help us recognize the deep connection between rain and the Torah.
Devorah Serkin was the Canfei Nesharim CLIP Intern this summer. This dvar Torah is just one of her many contributions to our effort. She is a junior at SUNY Binghamton.
Originally posted in "On Eagles' Wings" October 21st 2005