On Simchat Torah we rejoice with the Torah. Congregants dance to lively tunes while holding Torah scrolls. Of this, Chasidut says, "Man becomes the feet of Torah". An obvious question comes to mind. Why is joy in the Torah expressed by dancing? Is Torah not an intellectual endeavor? Do we not view Torah as the ultimate intelligence?On Simchat Torah…"Man becomes the feet of Torah"…

A person who doesn't understand Hebrew is required to recite the Blessing on the Torah when called for an aliyah, even if he doesn't understand Hebrew. Nonetheless, the perfection of Torah study only exists when its teachings are comprehended. This principle is especially applicable regarding the Oral Torah, which reveals the intent of the Written Torah. The mitzvot are inscribed in a highly succinct manner in the Written Torah. Only by means of Oral Torah's elucidation do their details, manner of observance, and secrets become understood and comprehended by human intelligence.

Of Torah, Scripture states, "It is not in heaven". (Deut.30:12) And regarding legal decisions, the Talmud rules, "A voice from heaven isn't taken into account".

What is paramount is human understanding, edified by Oral Torah, which sifts through legal dialectic to codify practical Jewish Law. But if the Torah's entire raison d'etre is understanding and comprehension, why do we demonstrate our joy in the Torah on Simchat Torah by dancing with our feet and not exercising our minds? What's more, why are the Torah scrolls' silver crowns on them and the scrolls covered when we dance?

In order to understand Simchat Torah, we must first understand the nature of our Divine service during the preceding days of Tishrei. The day before Simchat Torah (outside of Israel and simultaneous with it in Israel) is Shemini Atzeret. It too exhibits contrasting opposites. "Shemini" translates as "eighth". What is the Kabbalistic significance of the number eight? The ten sefirot can be viewed as a linear continuum, one above the other. When counted from below, bina is the eighth sefira. Bina, often translated as "understanding", manifests the epitome of broadness and expansion.

On the other hand, "Shemini" connotes an object's essence or gist. It is derived from the same three-letter Hebrew root as the word for "residue fat" or "essence". Such a kernel symbolizes an aspect of divinity, which is above intellect and will.

An integral relationship exists between Shemini Atzeret and the seven days of Sukkot. It serves as a protector over them. In a similar manner, bina watches over the seven days of Creation as Scripture hints, "The mother sits upon her fledglings." (Deut. 22:6) Called "mother" (Imma) in Kabbala terminology, bina encompasses and guards the lower seven emotive and action attributes. The seven-day Sukkot period is compared to a seven-day feast which a king serves his subjects…

A Midrash imparts a similar teaching: "The seven-day Sukkot period is compared to a seven-day feast which a king serves his subjects. But on the eighth day he tells his dearest friends, 'Come and take a meal, you and I together.'" Scripture commands this exclusivity, "On the eighth day you shall have a solemn assembly." (Num. 29:35) On this King Solomon comments, "Let them be only yours, and not the strangers with you." (Proverbs 5:17) The Zohar adds, "Israel and the King are alone together." From all of this we discern that Shemini Atzeret is an extension and conclusion of the days of Sukkot.

A paradox is also illustrated by the seven days of Sukkot, which immediately precede Shemini Atzeret. Sukkot alludes to the exalted encompassing effect of bina. Scripture writes, "You shall dwell in booths for a seven-day period; all the natives of Israel shall dwell in booths." (Lev.23:42) Explaining the Talmudic passage, "All Jews are worthy to sit in one sukkah," Chasidut teaches that in relation to the all-encompassing sublime revelation of divinity that shines in a sukkah, all Jews are considered equal.

Yet, all through Sukkot, we are commanded to observe the mitzvah of the four species of flora. And their purpose is to draw divinity down into the physical world.

This dichotomy is likewise exhibited by the four days prior to Sukkot. Chasidut reveals that they correspond to the four letters of G‑d's ineffable Name: Havayah. This name connotes a realm of divinity which is elevated above all the spiritual worlds. At the same time, however, a Midrash teaches, "During these days Jews are preoccupied with their acquisition of the four species," a physical endeavor intended to draw Infinite Light down into the worlds.

At each succeeding step, the month of Tishrei embodies both the particular faculty of bina as well as G‑d's Essence. How do we resolve Tishrei's paradox? How can antithetical conditions exist simultaneously?

Kabbalistic teachings solve our dilemma. It is true that bina manifests expansion and breadth. Nonetheless, the sublime realm of the Atik - Delight (in Hebrew, "Ta'anug"), is revealed specifically in bina. The attribute of chochmah also illuminates Delight. The Jerusalem Talmud recalls, "Rav Abahu's face shone when he discovered new knowledge". The revealed light of Rav Abahu's faculty of chochmah (i.e. knowledge) expressed his hidden attribute of Delight. Still, chochmah's insights are exposed as kernel-like flashes. Consequently, Delight's revelation is likewise expressed as a mere point. Delight's true revelation hasn't as yet occurred, for the essential nature of Delight is expansion, rather than a contracted point. Bina's trait of expansion provides a vessel to receive and absorb the full revelation of Delight…

Bina, though, receives succinct insights from chochmah. Through the agency of its letters of thought, the idea is developed into comprehension, explanation, and breadth. Bina's trait of expansion provides a vessel to receive and absorb the full revelation of Delight.

Kabbala states, "The inner aspect of chochmah is the inner aspect of Atik-Delight. And the inner aspect of bina is the inner aspect Atik-Delight." Atik is revealed, though, exclusively in bina.

Now is solved the riddle posed by our opposite modes of divine service throughout Tishrei. On the one hand we draw down a revelation of bina, which expands into various details. Yet, simultaneously, we elicit a descent into the physical world of G‑d's Absolute Essence, which manifests singularity. This dual illumination doesn't pose a contradiction at all. Exactly the opposite is true. For, G‑d's Essence (Atik) is revealed precisely inside the faculty of bina.

This explanation though doesn't suffice. While bina expands more than chochmah, its spreading out is still measured and limited. Two factors contributed to this check. Firstly, an element of chochmah watches over bina to insure it doesn't stray from the straight path. Secondly, bina's elucidation inflates in six dimensions: up, down, front, back, right and left. These six extremities correspond to the six emotive attributes.

On the other hand, Delight's expansion and broadening is infinite. A question then arises. How can the Essence be revealed specifically in bina?

Prior to sounding the shofar on Rosh Hashanah we recite, "He will choose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob that He loves". (Psalms 47:5). At that moment G‑d chooses the Jewish People. And G‑d's free choice originates from a realm, which is above and abstracted from everything.

G‑d told Moses, "For the entire world is Mine". (Ex. 19:5) This suggests, though, that prior to G‑d's choice, Jews were equivalent to the other nations. Rashi interprets the verse, "Although all the peoples are Mine, nevertheless, I chose the Jews". When one chooses something, it is picked from objects which are of comparative value. Otherwise, a choice wouldn't be necessary. Why, then, is G‑d's selection of Jews so extraordinary?

Chasidut answers that the origin of G‑d's free choice is in a realm which is absolutely exalted, preceding even Torah and mitzvot. It is elevated above every imaginable dimension, characteristic and measure. Throughout the month of Tishrei we effect the simultaneous revelation of opposites…

On Rosh Hashanah this most sublime of aspects descends into the Jewish People. That's why repentance is our divine service during the ensuing Ten Days of Awe. For repentance is also higher than Torah and mitzvot: it has the power to rectify spiritual blemishes wrought by transgressions.

G‑d reveals to the Jewish People their intrinsic connection with His Absolute Being - an Essence which is beyond any form of description. That's what empowers us to accomplish the impossible. An Essence, which is abstracted above definitions, is drawn down into matters of expansion and breadth - the faculty of bina. Hence, throughout the month of Tishrei we effect the simultaneous revelation of opposites.

Now we can appreciate the secret of Simchat Torah. We honor the Torah by means of rejoicing. And this joy is expressed by dance and melodies, both of which are beyond the scope of letters. "Torah" usually connotes study: comprehension and understanding. Nonetheless, our divine service throughout Tishrei brings that which is higher than comprehension down into bina. Torah, itself, incorporates theses dual aspects. The Talmud comments regarding the sages' differing opinions, "These are the words of the Living L-rd (Elokim). The Zohar identifies "Living L-rd" as the attribute of bina. From this we see that Torah corresponds to bina.

Yet at the same time Torah embodies G‑d's higher name - Havayah. Scripture says of King David, "G‑d is with him". (Samuel I 16:18) The Talmud interprets the verse, "The Torah ruling follows his opinion." Comprehension and understanding alone are insufficient to pronounce legal rulings. Rather, self-nullification and exertion are required.

The Zohar finds support for this principle from Isaiah, "No eye has ever seen G‑d - except for You - that acted for those who wait for Him". (Isaiah 64:3) The Zohar reveals, "It refers to sages who press themselves to ascertain the words of wisdom." Consequently, they attain the sublime domain of Paradise hinted to earlier in the verse.

What does Paradise allude to? These scholars reach the highest aspect of Torah - as it exists in the realm of G‑d's Supernal Delight. King Solomon said of this, "I was then His nursling; I was then His delight every day". (Proverbs 8:30)

By expressing our boundless joy through dance, an attribute which exceeds understanding and comprehension, G‑d responds in kind. His Paradise - Supernal Delight - descends below. Since G‑d chose Jews, only they have the power to affect this.

What's more, G‑d's Joy enters the Torah. We cause the Torah to obtain happiness! And by dancing, we become the Torah's feet. For the rest of the year our Torah footwork is displayed by establishing fixed times for study and by performing mitzvot. Our joy and divine service on Simchat Torah extends to every day of the year. Through this, each individual Jew is redeemed as David said, "He redeemed my soul in peace". (Psalms 55:19) Consequently, we bring about the comprehensive Redemption.

Translated and adapted by David Rothschild from a discourse on Simchat Torah 5733 (1973)

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