On Simchas Torah, we enthusiastically dance with Sifrei Torah. But if the purpose of the Yom Tov is to rejoice with the Torah, why don’t we express that joy by studying Torah? Isn’t the main point of Torah to understand it? Why do we celebrate it by dancing with our feet, our body’s lowest limb?
To answer this question, we need to understand the purpose of studying Torah. The Talmud says the destruction of the first Beis HaMikdash resulted from scholars not being careful to recite the appropriate blessings before studying Torah. This habit indicated insufficient regard for the Torah’s importance. The Bach (1561-1641) explains that although they studied extensively, they lacked the intention “to become deeply attached to the Torah’s holiness and spirituality and reveal the Shechinah.”
Accordingly, “the land [of Israel] was lost” – “it became desolate and remained in its materiality without the Shechinah’s holiness passing through it.” He writes, “If they had studied the Torah with this inner intention, they would have been a vehicle and palace for His Shechinah…[which] would have established its abode literally within them.”
When we say the Birchos HaTorah, says the Bach, we “thank Him for giving the Torah to His Jewish people in order that they be attached to its holiness and the Shechina…that He chose us and gave us His holy Torah…so that our souls become attached to the essence of the Torah’s holiness and spirituality, and to reveal the Shechinah within us.”
Our relationship with the Torah thus consists of two aspects: 1) studying and understanding it, and 2) becoming attached and united with Hashem and the holiness of the Torah, which transcends intellect. The Talmud says we need to say blessings on the Torah first because the Torah’s essence is its holiness, and the purpose of studying is to become attached to that holiness, which derives from Hashem who gave us the Torah.
This blessing – and this realization of why we study Torah – must come before the actual studying because we might lose focus otherwise. Since Torah study requires us to use our intellect to understand as much and as deeply as possible, we may come to regard our intellect the most important element to the extent that Torah will (G-d forbid) start resembling any other wisdom. By first recalling the nature of the Torah’s essence and the purpose of studying it, we will become attached to the Torah’s divine holiness, which transcends the intellect we use to study it.
In fact, to cross the infinite gulf separating us – as finite created beings – from the infinite Creator, we need to nullify our sense of self-importance. That’s why we say in Elokai N’tzor (the paragraph ending the Amida), “May my soul be as dust to everyone; open my heart to Your Torah.” In order for Hashem to open our hearts to understanding His Torah, we need to humble ourselves by eradicating our sense of self-importance.
That’s also why we celebrate the Torah on Simchas Torah by dancing with our feet – which elevate the entire body – rather than by studying it, and why the Sifrei Torah remain closed within their mantles. Before we start the new cycle of Torah reading, we must emphasize the Torah’s Divine essence, which transcends intellect. But we do so by dancing specifically around the bima – where the Torah is read – thereby demonstrating that our rejoicing is inextricably connected with studying it.
May we all bring the joy of the Torah into our lives on this wonderful Yom Tov, and may it remain with us throughout the coming year.
(Based on teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe)