Shemini Atzeres / Simchas Torah / V'zos HaBeracha
The Gemora in Taanis (4b) rules that although Sukkos corresponds to the time when we begin to need rain for the success of the crops, we don’t begin to pray for rain on Sukkos itself, as rain on the holiday is considered a curse, and we must additionally wait until two weeks after the conclusion of Sukkos in order to allow sufficient time for those who ascended to the Beis HaMikdash for Sukkos to return home without getting wet. According to this logic, we should similarly stop praying for rain two weeks before Pesach to allow people to ascend in dry travel conditions. Why do we continue praying for rain up until Pesach, praying for something which if answered would significantly impede the ability of people to ascend to the Beis HaMikdash with their Pesach sacrifices?
Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv suggests that this is due to the power of inertia. The issue of those traveling to
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach explains the difference with a very practical observation. When people go to the Beis HaMikdash for Sukkos, they haven’t yet taken our their winter wardrobes and travel in clothes which are ill-suited to protect them from the rains on their return journey, so we must give them sufficient time to return home before we begin to ask for rain. On the other hand, when people ascend to Jerusalem for Pesach, they are properly outfitted in their winter gear which will be able to stand up to any inclement weather they encounter, and we are therefore permitted to continue our prayers for rain.
Rav Chaim Kanievsky posits that the answer lies in a psychological difference. The verse in Tehillim (55:15) states בבית אלקים נהלך ברגש – in the House of Hashem (the
ולא קם נביא עוד בישראל כמשה (דברים 34:10)
The Torah testifies that there will never be another person who will reach the tremendous heights attained by Moshe Rabbeinu. The Rambam writes (Hilchos Teshuva 9:2) that while Moshiach will approach the level of prophecy reached by Moshe, even he won’t able to reach it. How is it possible to reconcile this fundamental belief with another comment of the Rambam (Hilchos Teshuva 5:2), who writes that every single Jew has the ability to be as pious as Moshe Rabbeinu? Further, while the Rambam discusses only theoretical potential, Rashi writes (Shemos 6:26) that Aharon was actually considered equal to Moshe. How is it possible that Aharon, great as he was, was on the level of Moshe, whom the Torah calls the greatest prophet who ever was or ever will be?
Rav Elchanon Wasserman and Rav Moshe Feinstein explain that it is certainly true that in raw, objective terms of accomplishment, nobody will ever reach the sublime heights attained by Moshe. If his celestial “score” was 1000, nobody – not even Aharon – has ever or will ever score 1000. If so, in what way can Aharon or anybody else be considered equal to Moshe? While it’s true that Moshe scored 1000, that was because he received a special neshama (soul) with the capability of scoring 1000. It may be that Aharon only scored 900 or 950, yet he is still considered to be Moshe’s equal because his soul didn’t have the same abilities as Moshe’s.
When Moshe was born, he filled up the house with spiritual light, something that can’t be said of Aharon and certainly not of any of us. Aharon did, however, utilize every last talent with which he was blessed, such that whatever score he received was the maximum possible for his soul. In this sense, although his raw score was lower, his “grade” was the same 100% as Moshe’s, and in that sense they were equal.
While in this world people are given honor and respect based on their score, only Hashem knows what score somebody was actually capable of attaining and grading them accordingly. Rav Moshe explains that this is the intent of a well-known Gemora (Bava Basra 10b) in which one of the Sages in his illness briefly passed over into the World to Come, and returned to declare that he saw an upside-down world, one in which “the higher ones were on bottom and the bottom ones on top.” In this world, because we don’t know somebody’s potential, we have no choice but to respect somebody who scores 300 more than one who scores 200, thus placing him “on top.”
In the World of Truth, however, Hashem measures every individual against his own personal yardstick, and many times the person who scored 300 had the ability to score 400, giving him a “grade” of 75%, while he who scored 200 didn’t have nearly as many talents and the best he could have hoped for was 250, yielding a grade of 80%. In the “upside-down” World of Truth, the latter will come out on top, as Hashem doesn’t judge with the superficial tools available to us.
The boy or girl at the top of the class, our neighbor or relative or co-worker who always seems to do more than us and accomplish it quicker, will be held to a higher standard by Hashem. We should take comfort in the fact that Hashem won’t compare us to anybody else, judging every individual on the basis of his or her talents and trials, and at the same time use that knowledge to utilize our personal strengths to become the best Jew that we are capable of being – one who will merit to sit next to Moshe Rabbeinu in Gan Eden!
סוף דבר הכל נשמע את האלהים ירא ואת מצותיו שמור כי זה כל האדם (קהלת 12:13)
The wisest man to ever live, Shlomo HaMelech, concluded his words of wisdom by with this thought – the sum of the matter when everything has been considered: fear Hashem and observe His commandments, for this is the entire person. Rav Elchanon Wasserman explains Shlomo’s intent by noting that a person who isn’t wise, kind, strong, wealthy, or attractive may be missing a very important quality, but he is still considered to be a person. On the other hand, Shlomo comes to teach us that one’s entire “personhood” is defined by his level of fear of Hashem. Somebody who is completely lacking in fear of Heaven isn’t considered to be a deficient person, but rather isn’t even considered a person!
Similarly, the greatness of a person corresponds to this trait; to the degree to which somebody fears Hashem, he is a greater or lesser person. One may possess all of the characteristics which are valued by the society around us. He may be handsome, successful, outgoing, and even kind, but if he is lacking in fear of Heaven, he hasn’t even entered the realm of humanity, while in the Torah’s eyes, a humble, simple, and unassuming man who lives honestly and fears Hashem is infinitely superior and in an entirely different category. It is for this reason that Moshe Rabbeinu emphasized (Devorim 10:12) that the most important trait which Hashem asks from a person is his fear of Heaven, as it is this characteristic more than any other which determines the prominence and magnitude of a person .
Sukkos Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) The Medrash (Sifri V’zos Ha’bracha 2, see Rashi 33:2) relates that before giving the Torah to the Jews, Hashem first offered it to the other nations of the world, all of whom refused. How could He offer the Torah to them when He promised the Avos that He would give the Torah and Eretz Yisroel, which goes together with the Torah, to their descendants? And what would have happened had one of them chosen to accept the offer? (Mas’as HaMelech, Ohr HaChayim HaKadosh Shemos 19:5, Shelah HaKadosh)
2) The Torah was given as an inheritance to the Jewish people (33:4). The Gemora in Sanhedrin (59a) derives from here that a non-Jew who studies Torah is liable to the death penalty at the hands of Heaven. Does this prohibition apply even to a non-Jew who is studying in order to convert to Judaism? (Maharsha Shabbos 31a, Rav Akiva Eiger)
3) Rashi writes (33:18) that the tribes of Yissochor and Zevulun made a partnership in which Zevulun engaged in commerce and shared the profits with Yissochor, who was then free to engage in the study of Torah. How was Zevulun permitted to give half of his income for the support of Yissochor’s Torah study when the Gemora in Kesuvos (50a) rules that one shouldn’t give away more than 20% of his income for charitable causes? (Mishmeres Ariel)
4) Rashi writes (34:1) that Moshe ascended from the Jewish camp in the plains of Moav to the top of
5) Rashi writes (34:1) that Moshe ascended from the Jewish camp in the plains of Moav to the top of
6) The Rambam writes (Hilchos Teshuvah 9:2) that Moshiach will be even wiser than Shlomo HaMelech and will be almost as great in prophesy as was Moshe Rabbeinu. It is impossible for him to surpass the level of Moshe, as the Torah testifies (34:10) that there will never be a prophet as great as Moshe. How is it possible for him to be sager than Shlomo, regarding whom the verse also prophesies (Melochim 1 3:12) that there never was nor will there ever be a person as wise as Shlomo? (Rav Chaim Soloveitchik quoted in Peninim MiShulchan Gevoha)
7) In the Haftorah for Simchas Torah, Hashem commands Yehoshua (Yehoshua 1:8) והגית בו יומם ולילה – you should contemplate it (the Torah) day and night. As the Jewish day begins at sundown, wouldn’t it have been more chronologically accurate to mention the night before the day? (Mishmeres Ariel)
8) In the prayer for rain recited by the chazzan during his repetition of the Mussaf prayers on Shemini Atzeres, each stanza invokes the water-related merits of one of our righteous forefathers. In the stanza referring to Moshe Rabbeinu, we include a reference to the fact that at the time that the Jewish nation was thirsty for water, he struck the rock and caused water to come forth (20:11). Since Moshe was punished for his actions and wasn’t allowed to enter the
9) Why are we accustomed to finish the annual cycle of reading the Torah on Simchas Torah instead of on Rosh Hashana, which would seem to be more appropriate as it represents the beginning of the new year? (Levush, Bikurei Yaakov 669:1)
10) The Torah portion which is read on each Yom Tov is somehow connected to the festival on which it is read. Is Parshas V’Zos HaBeracha, which is read on Shemini Atzeres, read on that day because of its intrinsic connection to Shemini Atzeres, or is it merely the coincidental result of a custom to finish reading the entire Torah each year at this time? If it is the former, what is the association between the two, and if it is the latter, what portion did they read on Shemini Atzeres in Israel, where they finished reading the entire Torah only once every 3 years, and did they celebrate Simchas Torah only once in 3 years? (Meorei HaMoadim, Birkei Yosef, Meshech Chochma, Bod Kodesh Parshas Pinchas)
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