Monday, October 4, 2010

Shmini Atzeres/Simchas Torah 5771 Retrospective II

In Part I, I described my singular, solitary hakafot experience in the closed shul on the first night of the chag. As amazing as it was, I'm happy to admit that it didn't compare to the hakafot we had together on the second day in shul.

But first, some thoughts about the rest of Shmini Atzeret.

As I mentioned earlier, our minhag (custom) is to not sit in the succah on Shmini Atzeret; since Shmini Atzeret is considered its own chag, there are certain issues raised about making certain berachot (blessings), and a possible issue of ba'al tosif (an injunction against adding anything extra to the Torah's commandments). I'm well aware of the back-and-forth concerning this issue and the various reasons why each side has their opinion, but that is beyond the scope of this post. In any event, we only enter the succah on Shmini Atzeret day to make kiddush, and then return to the house for the meal; later - before sunset - we return one last time to the succah to say goodbye to the succah, accompanied by a prayer that we should all merit to reconvene next year in Jerusalem, in the succah made from the hide of the Leviathan.

After making kiddush we went back inside the house to eat. A few moments later, the entire succah collapsed in on itself. While this made disassembling it much easier after the chag, I was a little disheartened that my hard work "fell through". Still, for a first effort, it wasn't that bad...

Getting back to the hakafot, I must say I enjoyed myself immensely. I wasn't expecting such a lively experience in the shul where I pray; generally speaking, the crowd isn't too participative when it comes to group efforts such as singing along during the tefillot. Thankfully, they exceeded my expectations, and I found myself being carried away with all the dancing and singing. There were many children there, and their presence adds a youthful exuberance to the mix that can't be mimicked.

Throughout the chag, I was looking for insights into the "avodah" of the day; I understood that there was a connection between the seven hakafot and the Ushpizin/Sefirot, but I wanted to know what kind of intentions to have during the dancing. Reb Tzvi Meir Zilberberg's students just released a new edition of Sichos HisChazkus (Talks of Encouragement) for this time of year featuring talks given two years ago. In one of the transcripts, Reb Tzvi Meir expounds on different things to have in mind while dancing with the Torah. For example, he points out that in many places, some of the Torah scrolls are dressed up in the special white mantle of the High Holy Days while other scrolls are left in their regular mantles. When we dance with them, he says, we are reminded to thank God for the Torah we have merited to learn already (represented by the white mantles, which symbolize the cleansing effect that real Torah learning has on a person) and to beg God for the merit to learn more Torah, to have more of His infinite wisdom unlocked for us through the Torah we will learn in the coming year (represented by the blue Torahs).

Another observation he shares is that the most important thing we should do is try to attain simcha - that is, even if we don't feel that we have reached that point of boundless joy, the main thing is that we should try, we should dance and sing with all our might.

With those thoughts (and many others) in mind, I sang as loud as I could in a way that would blend nicely with the others' voices. I danced and clapped and tried to hold hands with my brethren as we reveled in the joy of being part of God's chosen nation, with the wonderful gift He gave us, the Torah.

One of the reasons I believe that we dance in a circle is because it's easier to dance with your eyes closed, feeling the vibes...

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