Excerpted from Dr. Mandell Ganchow Coming of Age: An Anthology of Divrei Torah for Bar and Bat Mitzvah Click here to buy the book
by: Rabbi Yosef Grossman
The legendary great ga’on, Rav Yitzchok Hutner, in his classic sefer, Pachad Yitzchak (Rosh Hashanah, ma’amar yud, p. 80), points out that Chag Ha-Sukkot is the culmination of two festival cycles. It is the last of the Shalosh Regalim, and it also closes the Yerach Ha-Eitanim that began with Rosh Hashanah and continued through Yom Kippur.
The joyous festival of Simchat Torah brings Sukkot to its conclusion. It is thus the special day each year that leads both festival cycles to their glorious climax.
I believe there is an important lesson to be learned from these special yamim tovim concerning our passion to perform mitzvot, a lesson I would like to share with you as you accept upon yourself the joyous duty of performing mitzvot. It is a lesson which I hope will stay with you for your entire long and productive life.
One of the piyyutim on Simchat Torah contains an enigmatic statement: “Let us rejoice and delight in this Torah, for she is strength and light for us.” What is the meaning of “be-zot ha-Torah —this Torah”? Should we not merely say “Let us rejoice and delight in the Torah”?
Perhaps the answer can be found in the pasuk we recite when the Torah is raised aloft at the conclusion of its reading. In clarion voice we call out, “ve-zot ha-Torah —And this is the Torah that Moshe set before the children of Israel” (Devarim 4:44). This pasuk immediately follows the parashah concerning the arei miklat, the cities to which one who killed by accident could flee. What is the connection?
The Ma’asei La-Melech, a commentary on the Chafetz Chayyim Al ha- Torah, explains as follows: The pasuk at the beginning of the parashah states that Moshe would assign three cities on the eastern side of the Jordan to be arei miklat. Moshe did this even though he knew that the status of these three cities would not go into effect until Yehoshua crossed over the Jordan and set aside another three cities in Eretz Yisrael proper. Moshe could have rationalized to himself, “Why bother? Let Yehoshua designate all six at one time.” Rather, Moshe Rabbenu said, “A mitzvah that I can accomplish, I will accomplish” (Rashi, Devarim 4:41). If the only part of the mitzvah that Moshe could fulfill was the mere designation of the three cities, he would accomplish even that portion of the mitzvah.
Therefore, the Ma’asei La-Melech tells us, after Moshe designates the three arei miklat, the pasuk declares “ve-zot ha-Torah.” This is the Torah that Moshe placed in front of them—a dedication to the performance of mitzvoth which encompasses the diligent pursuit of even a fragment of a mitzvah.
Perhaps we can add to the Ma’asei La-Melech’s beautiful thought. In Kohelet 5:9, Shlomo ha-Melech declares, “He that loves money will never be satisfied with money.” This pasuk, Chazal tell us, refers to Moshe Rabbenu. Money refers to mitzvot—he who loves mitzvot will never have enough mitzvot. Ve-zot ha-Torah teaches us that not only a pauper in mitzvot should pursue every mitzvah, no matter how “small,” but the billionaire in mitzvoth should do so as well.
Rebbe Simla’i (Sotah 14a) wonders: Why did Moshe have this burning desire to enter Eretz Yisrael? Did he need to eat the luscious fruit of Eretz Yisrael? Moshe understood that there are many mitzvot that can only be performed in Eretz Yisrael, and he wanted to perform these mitzvot, too. Although Moshe Rabbenu at the end of his life was a mitzvah billionaire, he still had an unsatiated desire to perform more mitzvot. This passion for mitzvah performance propelled Moshe to undertake a fragment of a mitzvah for which someone else would get the credit. This is the Torah which Moshe placed in front of the Bnei Yisrael—in front of us!
This lesson comes to mind during Sukkot and Simchat Torah. Sukkot is saturated with mitzvot. We have the mitzvah of dwelling in the sukkah; the Four Species—etrog, lulav, hadasim and aravot; the mitzvah of the aravah on Hoshanah Rabbah, which originated from the Prophets; and the mitzvah, “vesamachta be-chagecha,” to rejoice during the festival. During Temple times we had the additional mitzvah of nissuch ha-mayim—the drawing and libation of water on the altar—as well as the offering of the special holiday korbanot of chagigah and shalmei simchah.
We are so rich in mitzvot during Sukkot, and yet when Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah come we haven’t had enough. We don’t run home happy that our yoke of mitzvot has been completed. Rather we stay in Yerushalayim to celebrate with Hashem. He and us. He and me. The nations of the world are absent. This is the meaning of the aforementioned piyyut: “Let us rejoice and delight in this Torah”—the Torah of Moshe Rabbenu, the Torah of never being satisfied with mitzvah performance. With great passion and desire we look forward to doing more and more mitzvot. We look forward to performing even a fragment of a mitzvah for which we will not receive full credit.
My fervent blessing to you is that this passionate desire to perform Hashem’s mitzvot, the same passion you felt the first time you put on tefillin, remains with you for 120 years. Thereby, you will continue to be a great source of nachat to your dear parents, grandparents, to all of Klal Yisrael, and to Hashem.
Rabbi Grossman is Senior Rabbinic Coordinator at the OU and Director of its Kosher Education Department. He is the editor of the OU’s Daf HaKashrus and the author of Sefer Ohr HaOros and Mourning Over Churban.