This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Simchat Torah (5765)
In the Medrash it says that the reason G-d made Shmini Atzeret was because it was 'difficult' for Him to separate from the Jews after the Seven days of Succot.
This seems strange. G-d is infinite, creates and fills all being.
How can something be 'difficult' for Him? And how can He be separate?
The answer is that the Jewish people have the power to please G-d. For instance, the sacrifices in the Temple were called a 'pleasing aroma to G-d'. And nothing pleases the Creator more then when the Jews are unified… and the Holiday of Succot does it best of all.
First of all, the commandment of "Lulav" symbolizes the unity of all types of Jews (from the totally non-observant (arava) to the totally proficient (etrog)).
Next, the Succa itself is likened to G-d's embrace ("His Right arm Hugs me" Song of Songs 2:6)encompassing all the Jews at once, as it says in the Talmud (Succa 27b) "The entire Jewish nation is worthy to sit in ONE SUCCA".
And in our prayers we call the entire Jewish nation "The SUCCA of King David"
Therefore when this seven-day holiday ends G-d 'misses' this unity and adds one more day; Shimi Atzeret; (Shimi means 'eighth' and Atzeret means 'delay'
But this is not understood. If G-d wanted to continue the unity He should have added another day of Lulov and Succa … but on Shmini Atzeret we don't do these commandments! They stop with the seventh day of Succot. So what is there to unify us?
To understand this here is a story.
Unkelos was the nephew of the mighty Caesar Adriyonos (according to some opinions the nephew of Titus who destroyed the Temple), the cruel Roman emperor who killed millions of Jews in the uprising of Betar after the second Temple was destroyed.
But Unkelos' soul thirsted for truth. He had no interest in wealth, power, pleasure or fame like all the other Roman nobility. Nor did art, music, philosophy or even religion satisfy him. He had no interest in either this world or the hereafter. He wanted truth.
Then he studied Judaism.
Here he found what he was longing for: meaning, serving the Creator of the Universe…. his creator!
He heard of the seven Noahide commandments but he wanted more… he wanted to convert. But to do such a thing was against Roman law, tantamount to treason.
Rome ruled most of the world at that time and there was no where he could run, so he decided on a plan.
He went to his uncle and asked for advice; he said he wanted to become a merchant,,, to go into the world and make a fortune… but he wanted to know how should he do it?
His uncle was pleased with his nephew's ambitious spirit and being a knowledgeable man in the ways of the world advised him: "Buy something that no one wants for a low price. Then find some valuable feature in it, advertise, and sell high!"
Unkelos thanked his uncle and parted. He went to Jerusalem, was thoroughly tested by the Rabbis and fulfilled his dream: He became a Jew and devoted himself to learning Torah day and night at the feet of Rabi Yhosua ben Chananya and Rabi Eliezer ben Hurcanos.
But finally, after several years of absence, his uncle began to long for him. He sent messengers to locate his nephew and, when he discovered what had happened, demanded that he be brought back to Rome.
But it wasn't so easy.
When the first group of soldiers arrived Unkelos spoke to them so warmly and wisely that they became enchanted. "Why serve the King of Rome" he said, "When you can serve the King of the entire Universe… the King that creates even the Caesar!" They lingered on to hear more until, months later, they too converted.
The king sent a second group ordering them not to enter into any conversations but Unkelos managed to have the same effect on them as well.
"When the army travels at night, the lower ranked soldiers hold torches to light the way for the higher ranks until the Caesar's way is lit by his generals, correct? But does the Caesar himself light a torch for anyone?"
The soldiers shrugged their shoulders and shook their heads 'no' not understanding what he was getting at.
"Well with the King of the Universe it is not so," he continued. "For the forty years the Jews wandered in the desert the G-d of Israel personally lit their way with a pillar of fire every night."
They too remained and eventually converted.
Finally the Caesar ordered the last group bring him back bound and gagged.
They entered Unkelos' house, bound him in chains, gagged him and carried him out the door. But on the way out he managed to free one hand, reach out, touch the Mezuza and smile.
The soldiers stopped, looked at one another and when they realized that they all had the same question, ungagged him and listened as he explained. "In Rome your king sits in his castle, far from the people, and armed guards stand outside the castle and protect him. But our G-d, our king is different we Jews sit in our homes and He, besides being very close to us, also stands outside and protects us. That is what this Mezuza stands for."
They too remained and eventually converted.
Finally the king admitted defeat and sent his nephew a letter begging him to only return if only for a day so he could see him again face to face and promising that no harm would befall him.
Unkelos accepted the invitation and after he arrived and was seated, his uncle asked him the main question… "why"?.
"I took your advice." He replied.
I looked around until I found the thing that no one values; the Jewish people, and bought it. I know that one day, upon the arrival of Moshiach, they will be the most precious thing in the world." There cam be no better business venture.
This story answers our question. Unkelos looked at the Jewish people the way they are supposed to be looked at…. How they will appear in the days of Moshiach.
In the days of Moshiach we will see the truth. The greatness of the Jews will not be for any reason other than they are Jews: G-d's chosen people.
And that is the message of Shmini Atzeret: There are no commandments; we neither sit in the Succa nor take the lulav,[and Simchat Torah: we don't learn the Torah only dance with it] … there is only the Jews and G-d
[That is also hinted at by the number 'Shmini': eight, indicating the covenant, 'Brit', between the Jews and the Creator]
This gives the Jews power to be united in Joy the entire year… to elevate even the Torah as we do on Simchat Torah. We just have to 'open our eyes' and start seeing things as Unkelos did and do all we can to bring...... .
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