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D’var Torah: Shmini Atzeret & Simchat Torah

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The Chief Rabbi’s D’var Torah for Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.

The day on which rain falls is as great as the day on which the Torah was given. This astonishing statement was made by Rabbi Yehuda in the Gemara in Masechet Taanit (Daf Zayin Amud Alef). He declared, “Gadol Yom Hagshamim K’Yom Shenitnah B’Torah – The day of rainfall is as great as the day on which Torah was given.”

He relies on a source in Parashat Haazinu which we recently read. “Yaarof K’Matar Likchi – (Hashem says) Let my doctrine, (which is the Torah) come down like the rain.” The Maharsha gives a beautiful ‘peirush’. He says that water is the most important element of matter which fills our universe and in the same way, Torah is the key ingredient of all spirituality. Rain in Hebrew – ‘Geshem’ – is the root for ‘Gashmiut’ which is materialism. And therefore, you have the material world and the spiritual world matching each other.

In the Gemara, Rava goes one step further. He says “Gadol Yom Hagshamim M’Yom Shenitnah B’Torah – The day of rain fall is greater than the day on which Torah was given. He learns this from the very same verse” Yaarof K’matar Likchi – (Hashem says) Let my doctrine, the Torah, fall like rain.” This means that the Torah is compared to rain, indicating that rain is even greater.

It is a bit like if I were to give a compliment to a musician by saying, “You’re just as great as Beethoven was.” Well that means that I really consider Beethoven to have been greater. But if I would say that ‘Beethoven was as great as you are’, that suggests you are greater.

Here the Torah is being compared to rain, suggesting that the day on which rain falls is greater than the day on which Torah was given. Once again the Maharsha helps us, and explains that when rain falls, it affects everybody. However, when Torah is given it doesn’t affect everybody, it only positively affects the lives of those who embrace it, who take hold of the opportunities that it presents to have their lives enhanced through the study of Torah and through the practise of its Mitzvot. Therefore, unfortunately, realistically, in terms of impact, a day of rainfall is greater than the day on which the Torah is given.

Over the two concluding days of this festive period we actually have rainfall and Torah celebration merging together through the festivals of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. On Shemini Atzeret we pray for rain and on Simchat Torah we rejoice in the Torah.

I believe that our tradition here throws out a challenge to us. We need to strive to ensure that the giving of Torah has the same impact as the fall of rain. In order that we can engage in Torah, embrace its values and perform its Mitzvot to enable us to have truly fulfilling and life enhancing experiences.

Let us therefore ensure this year that we have a true Simchat Torah that we celebrate not only the Torah that Hashem gave us but the extent to which we all wish to receive it.

I wish you all Chag Sameach.