We call it “Simchas Torah.”
It is the culmination of our entire holiday cycle. Pesach and Shavuos, then Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkos all lead up to one enormous day of simcha.
Why do we associate simcha with Torah? And why is it the culmination of everything?
Other nations try to achieve simcha. Some people live for football games, or vacations, or wealth, or community activism, trying to make the world a better place. This is how I grew up. I lived in the non-observant world and spent my first thirty years trying to figure out how to be happy.
I tried many paths.
I was interested in conservation. My father wanted me to be the United States Secretary of the Interior, and I wouldn’t have minded. My wife and I spent two summers working for the National Park Service, one atop a mountain 8,934 feet above sea level. I was also involved in political activism, as well as newspaper publishing, advanced studies in literature, and many other fields.
On Shabbos Chol HaMoed Sukkos, we read Koheles, which tells us (chapter 1), “I ventured to stimulate myself with wine – while my heart is involved with wisdom – and to grasp folly.… I built myself houses; I planted vineyards; I made … gardens and orchards…. I amassed … silver and gold…. I provided myself with various musical instruments…. Then I turned my attention to appraising wisdom ….”
Koheles (7:23) also tells us, “I thought I could become wise, but it is beyond me….” and (1:14), “I have seen all the deeds done beneath the sun and behold, it is all futile.”
And the following (chapter 12), which shakes me up every year:
So remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and those years arrive of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them.’ Before the sun, the light, the moon and the stars grow dark, and the clouds return after the rain; in the day when the guards of the house [the hands and feet in old age – Ibn Ezra] will tremble…the powerful men [the legs – Rashi] will stoop and the grinders [the teeth – Rashi] are idle because they are few, and the gazers through windows [the eyes – Tractate Shabbos 151b] are dimmed; when the doors in the street are shut … and desire fails…. Before the silver cord snaps and the golden bowl is shattered and the pitcher is broken at the fountain and the wheel is smashed at the pit. Thus the dust returns to the ground, as it was, and the spirit returns to G-d Who gave it…. Futility of futilities, said Koheles, all is futile!
Do you want to sober up? This will do it.
I’m not so old, but I feel my body slowing down. I don’t have the strength I did when I was twenty or thirty and my reactions are not as fast. I don’t jump up from my seat as quickly as I used to, or run down the stairs as fast. A friend who is over thirty told me he can’t lose weight the way he used to. Over thirty!
We gather during this season to celebrate a world of blessings God has given us. Our gratitude is limitless, because we are still alive to experience this incredible life. With all the tzouris, we are still alive. We work; we eat; we try to create a family and bring value to the world. And we live with eternal hope.
What is simcha?
There is only one simcha, and that is Torah.
There is nothing like Torah. The Children of Israel exist against all logic. How did we survive two thousand years of torture and pogrom and exile and slavery and Holocaust? How did we, the weakest and smallest and most hated nation, survive the centuries since our beloved Temple was destroyed by those who hate us?
Because we cling with strength of iron to the Eternal God. And our umbilical cord is Torah. This is the source of our life, the one and only wellspring of simcha, because through it we know that we are connected forever to the ultimate and eternal Source of life.