August 14, 2015
Rabbi H. Greenberg in #985, Parsha Thought, parshas re'eh, simcha


Joy is central to Judaism. We are commanded to serve G-d with joy at all times.  This is particularly true during the Jewish Holidays, when we are commanded to show our joy more demonstrably, as it states in this week’s parsha with respect to the Festival of Sukkos: “You shall rejoice on your festival…”

There are, however, restrictions on how and when we can celebrate. The Talmud derives from this commandment that while we are engaged in one mandated form of joy we may not engage in another form of joy.

The primary illustration provided in the Talmud relates to marriage. The Mishna states that one may not get married even during the semi-week day period of Jewish Holidays.

Another source for this rule of not “mingling joy” that the Talmud cites is the dedication of the First Temple. King Solomon celebrated its dedication for seven days before the Festival of Sukkos. Why didn’t he celebrate the dedication during the Festival of Sukkos?  That would have been a welcome accommodation for the Jews who had to come for the pilgrimage holiday of Sukkos and not compelled them to be away from their work for an additional seven days. This holy sequence, the Talmud asserts, proves that one may not mix a mandated joyous celebration with another.  Since the dedication of the Temple represented one form of celebration and the Festival of Sukkos represents another form of joy they could not be observed concurrently.

Another source for this restriction is cited by the Jerusalem Talmud:

When Yaakov was conned into marrying Leah instead of Rochel, his father-in-law Lavan offered to give him Rochel after seven days of waiting. The reason for the seven day wait was that one should not mingle one joyous celebration with another.

The rationale for this is provided by the Tosphos commentary: Two simultaneous celebrations will detract from each other. Celebrating each one individually enables one to devote all of his or her attention and energies to the celebration at hand.

A question has been raised: Based on the premise that two simultaneous celebrations will detract from the joy one would feel with them individually, why then do we celebrate Simchas Torah on the Festival of Shmini Atzeres [which is celebrated for one day in Israel and two days in the Diaspora].  Shmini Atzeres is the culmination of the Festival of Sukkos and surely its particular form of joy should not be compromised by the particular joy of Simchas Torah, which marks the completion of the reading of the entire Five Books of Moshe.


One way of answering this question is to appreciate the deeper significance of both Shmini Atzeres and Simchas Torah. Each of these Holidays contains many layers of meaning.

Shmini Atzeres, the Rebbe explains (Likkutei Sichos vol.  29), is the culmination of the Festival of Sukkos, which is also referred to as the Chag HaAsif - Festival of Ingathering. Sukkos is the season of gathering all the crops that were harvested from Pesach onward and were now ready to be consumed.

This agricultural event, the Rebbe explains, parallels the spiritual event of ingathering all of the spiritual energy which was first generated during the first Holiday of Pesach and Shavuos.

During Pesach the first glimmer of light was generated when the Jews were liberated from Egypt and expressed their faith in G-d. It was followed by Shavuos when they received the Torah and declared “We will do and we will hear.” But it still remained largely theoretical. This period of growth was stalled temporarily by the golden calf debacle, but the spiritual cycle was restored and made complete on Yom Kippur.  That was the time when the people reached the level of baalei t’shuva, having repented for their involvement in the creation of the golden calf, a repentance which actually deepened their connection to G-d and His Torah.

Thus, the Festival of Sukkos, which comes shortly after Yom Kippur, provides us with unparalleled power to gather in, integrate and internalize the Divine light that was generated throughout the past six months.

Shmini Atzeres takes the power of Sukkos to the next level. The very word Atzeres connotes withholding and absorbing. It is on Shmini Atzeres that we reach the climax of retaining all of the Divine light; it is therefore also when our joy reaches its climax.


This is also the deeper significance of Simchas Torah. It is not just a celebration of completing an entire cycle of Torah reading. It also represents our reaching the apex of Torah, which involves the complete integration of Torah and the Jew. When we dance with the Torah on Simchas Torah, we are the Torah’s legs. This melding did not happen at the Exodus or when the Torah was first given at Sinai. Only a Baal T’shuva who has been tested and returned has the capacity to make the Torah an inseparable part of his or her being. And this transformation is what we celebrate on Simchas Torah.

Our joy on Simchas Torah is about an internal connection to the Torah, which builds on the essence of Shmini Atzeres: internalizing Judaism.

We can now answer the question as to why the contemporaneous celebration of Shmini Atzeres and Simchas Torah does not contradict the principle that “one may not mix one joy with another.” Both celebrations are, indeed, one and the same.  Rather than conflicting, they complement and enhance each other.


One may suggest another explanation for why the joys of Shmini Atzeres and Simchas Torah do not conflict with one another. This requires a deeper understanding of the dynamic of joy.

The Talmud has an expression: “A king may break through boundaries.” This means that a king has a right to break through fences of private property on route to his destination. The king is not restricted to the normal boundaries that must be respected by all others.

The Rebbe Rashab (Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneersohn, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe) paraphrased that Talmudic law and applied it to joy: “Simcha-Joy breaks through boundaries.” The same power a king can exercise to remove the barriers which stymie others can be experienced through joy. It has the capacity to remove all the internal blockages that interfere with our own spiritual and physical lives. Simcha removes the blockages between our mind and our heart, our hearts and our actions as well as our stifled feelings for others. 

However, there are many levels of joy; as many as there are levels of the soul. The Midrash and Kabbala teach us that there are five levels of the soul, the highest of which is Yechida. The Yechida level is the spark of Moshiach we each possess but with which we are in touch only on special occasions.

One of the factors that distinguish Yechida from the other four levels of the soul is that they each have their own distinct forms. One level is fixed in the intellectual mold. Another level associated with emotion is likewise cast in a frame. These different aspects of our soul function best, of course, when they work in concert and cross over into the other’s “territory.”

When a person has a profound understanding of the greatness of G-d or the beauty of a Mitzvah but is not emotionally moved, joy can aid in allowing some of the understanding to seep through the blockage and influence the emotions.


However, as long as the lower four levels of the soul are not affected by the Yechida, they each retain some measure of independence from one another. Joy can only go so far in removing the boundaries and barriers between the various parts of our personalities.  Sometimes the joy of one level can actually conflict with the joy that emanates from another level.

However, the Yechida has no fixed borders. And while it transcends the other four levels it also permeates them. The metaphor most often used for the Yechida is oil, which has the paradoxical property of rising above other liquids while, simultaneously, permeating other substances. 

When the Yechida is exposed and unleashed it removes all the barriers associated with the other parts of the soul.

Simchas Torah, Chassidus teaches us, is the Holiday in which the Yechida of the Jew is revealed. We can therefore experience the ultimate level of joy: a joy that is connected to the soul’s very essence, in relation to which all boundaries fall to the wayside.

This is the joy that unites all Jews.

This is the joy that inspired Jews in the former Soviet Union to fearlessly dance in the streets, not even knowing why they were there, except for the fact that they were Jews and it was Simchas Torah. Their Yechida was opened bare.

This is the joy that unifies all the other levels of the soul.

This is the Joy that is a taste of Moshiach.


We can now understand why the principle that we may not mix one joyous celebration with another does not apply to Simchas Torah. That principle is based on the constraints of human nature. We cannot experience two distinct forms of joy without one diminishing or adulterating the other. That may be generally true, but not when we reach the essence of joy. On Simchas Torah the barriers disappear. A seamless connection unites the various sources of joy and one form of joy actually enhances the other.

We are about to enter into the age when the Yechida will be revealed perpetually in its full glory. This will make a huge difference in our lives.

Living in Galus, we have had to learn how to cope with adversity. In addition, we have had to learn how to cope with celebration. The Prophet Malachi predicted abundant blessings. The Talmud (Taanis 23a) reinterprets some of the words used there to describe how the recipients of these blessings will not be able to tolerate them and “their lips will wither saying ‘enough!’” 

In the days of Moshiach all that will change. We will no longer have to cope with misfortune.  We will also be able to tolerate and enjoy the greatest abundance of material and spiritual good.  The letters of the word Moshiach when rearranged spell yismach “he shall rejoice” or yisamach “he shall cause others to rejoice.” We will then experience the joy of barrier breaking-Yechida, which will let us fully experience all the diverse sources and causes of joy and bring about a perpetual Simchas Torah.

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (
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