We read in our holy Torah, And the Lord spoke to
Moses, saying, Speak to the people of Israel, and say to them, The
feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy gatherings,
these are my feasts. Six days shall work be done; but the seventh
day is the sabbath of rest, a holy gathering; you shall do no work
in it; it is the sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings. These
are the feasts of the Lord, holy gatherings, which you shall proclaim
in their seasons. [Lev. 23:1-4] This passage is followed
by a list of holidays, beginning with the Night of the Passover and
going on to The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall
be the Feast of Booths for seven days to the Lord. On the first day
shall be a holy gathering; you shall do no labor in it. Seven days
you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord; on the eighth
day shall be a holy gathering to you; and you shall offer an offering
made by fire to the Lord; it is a solemn assembly; and you shall do
no labor in it. [Lev. 23:34-36] It sounds quite clear and
simple: the Jews must celebrate a seven day holiday, followed by an
eighth day which shall be a special day and a unique holiday called
the Eighth Day Gathering - Shmini Atzeret. This
special day is also mentioned in the list of holidays that is given
in the fourth book of the Torah: On the eighth day you shall
have a solemn assembly; you shall do no labor in it; [Num.
So far, I believe, the facts are quite simple
to grasp. But the next text gives us pause, and leaves us searching
for some answers. We read So the people went out, and brought
them, and made themselves booths, every one upon the roof of his house,
and in their courts, and in the courts of the house of God, and in
the open space of the Water Gate, and in the open space of the Gate
of Ephraim. And all the congregation of those who had returned from
captivity made booths, and dwelt in the booths; for since the days
of Joshua, son of Nun, to that day the people of Israel had not done
so. And there was a very great rejoicing. And he read in the book
of the Torah of God, day by day, from the first day to the last day,
and they celebrated the feast seven days; and on the eighth day was
a solemn assembly, according to the ordinance. [Nehe. 8:16-18]
We tend to believe that our forefathers followed Gods teachings
and obeyed the Torah while the Temple stood. So why does Nehemiah
tell us that since the days of Joshua, son of Nun, to that
day the people of Israel had not done so? Maybe he is speaking
of the eighth day, and the manner of observing a solemn
assembly on the eighth day was not according
to the ordinance?
Well, for one thing, in the days of Nehemiah,
and his co-leader of the Jews in Jerusalem in his day, Ezra, the practice
of reading the Torah in public was established we believe for
the first time. The cycle of reading the Torah that was established
in those days, therefore, was a new and unique manner of celebrating
the holiday, creating Simkhat Torah and prompting Nehemiahs
comment. In the land of Israel, in antiquity, the eighth day was Shmini
Atzeret, and it was Simkhat Torah, too. The Jews living outside of
Israel now divide the holiday, making Shmini Atzeret the day of memorializing
our martyrs and all our dear relatives who have died, and leaving
the rejoicing to the next day, Simkhat Torah, the Joy of Torah.
There is much to be said in favor of this arrangement.
First, we have a chance to separate the two
(contradicting) themes of remembering the dead and celebrating out
torah. On Shmini Atzeret we read in the book of Devarim from chapter
fourteen, verse 22, to chapter sixteen, verse 17. Our additional reading
from the prophets, the Haftarah, deals with the celebration of dedicating
Gods Temple, built by Solomon. On Simkhat Torah, when we rejoice
in learning our heritage, we read the end of the fifth book and the
beginning of the first book. We add the a haftarah from Joshua, the
book that follows the Khumash, reading the continuation of the
story after the end of Dvarim. Moshe is dead, it is time to
continue, to enter the land of Canaan and inherit it.
The Torah is called by a number of names. Torah
is a partial name, actually, the whole name being Torat Elohim
the Teaching of God, or Torat Moshe the
Teaching of Moses, or even Torat Emet the Teaching
of Truth. It is also called Khumash The Five Books,
where the is really capital Tee Eich, Ee THE one
and only Five. Then there is the name Hadevarim
The Words referring to the speech of
God at Sinai. The Torah teaches us Vaydaber Elohim
et kol hadvarim haele lemor And God spoke all these words,
saying, Anokhi adonay elohekha asher hotzetikha meeretz
mitzrayim mibeyt avadim I am the Lord your God, who have
brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
[Ex. 20:1,2] Our sages commented that in the Ten Statements
spoken at Sinai, the entire Torah was transmitted to Israel. Thus,
the text these words does not mean the Ten
Statements it means Torah!
Still another name for the Torah is Hashirah
the Song. The root of this name comes from a verse near
the end of the text of the last book of the Khumash: Veata
kitvu lakhem et hashirah hazot velimda et beney yisrael sima
befihem lemaan tihye li hashirah hazot led bivney yisrael
Now therefore write this Song for you, and teach it to the
people of Israel; put it in their mouths, that this Song may be a
witness for me among the people of Israel. [Deu.31:19]
So the Torah is meant to be chanted, it is a song, a poem that has
rhyme and rhythm. Like poetry, it uses metaphors to say in depth that
which is not obvious on the surface of its text. Like music, it becomes
more powerful and meaningful with repetition and with familiarity.
It has harmony which comes from all parts of the text and its reverberation
on those that participate in its performance. Speech,
like a strict black and white law is monotonous, while
a song is a rainbow of colors, sounds, and reflections. God placed
the rainbow in the sky as a sign of His covenant with the sons of
Noakh and he gave Israel the rainbow of his Song, Hashirah,
the multi-layered Torah of life, which is also called Etz Khayim
a Tree of Life for those who hold steadfast to it. All those
who support it are filled with joy.
Shmini Atzeret - Simkhat
This Shabbat and on the day that will come
after it we shall celebrate the conclusive and final end of the "holiday
season" of the month of Tishrei with the Shmini Atzeret - the
Eighth Day of Assembly and Simkhat Torah - the Festive Joy of Torah
holiday. The first is a time of taking stock of where we are, and
the second is a celebration of where we can be, and where we fervently
want to go. Shmini Atzeret is a very strange holiday, which is not
really properly explained in the Torah or the post Torah literature.
I have always felt that it was planned as a "Jewish pride"
day - long before the concept became popular. In connection with this
Jewish pride, I want to read to you the words spoken by Lawrence H.
Summers, Harvard University's president.
I speak with you today not
as President of the University but as a concerned member of our community
about something that I never thought I would become seriously worried
about--the issue of anti-Semitism. I am Jewish, identified but hardly
devout. In my lifetime, anti-Semitism has been remote from my experience.
My family all left Europe at the beginning of the 20th century. The
Holocaust is for me a matter of history, not personal memory. To be
sure, there were country clubs where I grew up that had few if any
Jewish members, but not ones that included people I knew. My experience
in college and graduate school, as a faculty member, as a government
official--all involved little notice of my religion.
Indeed, I was struck during my years in the Clinton administration
that the existence of an economic leadership team with people like
Robert Rubin, Alan Greenspan, Charlene Barshefsky and many others
that was very heavily Jewish passed without comment or notice--it
was something that would have been inconceivable a generation or two
ago, as indeed it would have been inconceivable a generation or two
ago that Harvard could have a Jewish President.
Without thinking about it much, I attributed all of this to progress--to
an ascendancy of enlightenment and tolerance. A view that prejudice
is increasingly put aside. A view that while the politics of the Middle
East was enormously complex, and contentious, the question of the
right of a Jewish state to exist had been settled in the affirmative
by the world community. But today, I am less complacent. Less complacent
and comfortable because there is disturbing evidence of an upturn
in anti-Semitism globally, and also because of some developments closer
to home. Consider some of the global events of the last year:
There have been synagogue burnings, physical assaults on Jews, or
the painting of swastikas on Jewish memorials in every country in
Europe. Observers in many countries have pointed to the worst outbreak
of attacks against the Jews since the Second World War. Candidates
who denied the significance of the Holocaust reached the runoff stage
of elections for the nation's highest office in France and Denmark.
State-sponsored television stations in many nations of the world spew
anti-Zionist propaganda. The United Nations-sponsored World Conference
on Racism--while failing to mention human rights abuses in China,
Rwanda, or anyplace in the Arab world--spoke of Israel's policies
prior to recent struggles under the Barak government as constituting
ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. The NGO declaration
at the same conference was even more virulent. I could go on. But
I want to bring this closer to home. Of course academic communities
should be and always will be places that allow any viewpoint to beexpressed.
And certainly there is much to be debated about the Middle East and
much in Israel's foreign and defense policy that can be and should
be vigorously challenged. But where anti-Semitism and views that are
profoundly anti-Israeli have traditionally been the primary preserve
of poorly educated right-wing populists, profoundly anti-Israel views
are increasingly finding support in progressive intellectual communities.
Serious and thoughtful people are advocating and taking actions that
are anti-Semitic in their effect if not their intent. For example:
Hundreds of European academics have called for an end to support for
Israeli researchers, though not for an end to support for researchers
from any other nation. Israeli scholars this past spring were forced
off the board of an international literature journal.
At the same rallies where protesters, many of them university students,
condemn the IMF and global capitalism and raise questions about globalization,
it is becoming increasingly common to also lash out at Israel. Indeed,
at the anti-IMF rallies last spring, chants were heard equating Hitler
and Sharon. Events to raise funds for organizations of questionable
political provenance that in some cases were later found to support
terrorism have been held by student organizations on this and other
campuses with at least modest success and very little criticism. And
some here at Harvard and some at universities across the country have
called for the University to single out Israel among all nations as
the lone country where it is inappropriate for any part of the university's
endowment to be invested. I hasten to say the University has categorically
rejected this suggestion. We should always respect the academic freedom
of everyone to take any position. We should also recall that academic
freedom does not include freedom from criticism. The only antidote
to dangerous ideas is strong alternatives vigorously advocated.
I have always throughout my life been put off by those who heard the
sound of breaking glass, in every insult or slight, and conjured up
images of Hitler's Kristallnacht at any disagreement with Israel.
Such views have always seemed to me alarmist if not slightly hysterical.
But I have to say that while they still seem to me unwarranted, they
seem rather less alarmist in the world of today than they did a year
ago. I would like nothing more than to be wrong. It is my greatest
hope and prayer that the idea of a rise of anti-Semitism proves to
be a self-denying prophecy--a prediction that carries the seeds of
its own falsification. But this depends on all of us.
I think that Mr. Summers hits the nail on the head both in what he
says and in what he exemplifies by his personal asides. There is no
question that "the road to hell is paved with good intentions."
Just because the halls of academe are full of people born into the
Jewish faith - it does not mean that they cannot behave in a manner
that is inimical to the majority of Jews. That makes them anti-Semites.
Mr. Summers comment "I am Jewish, identified but hardly devout"
rubs me the wrong way. I can't help but think, "if only he was
more devout, he might serve as a good role model to others."
As for his claim that only the Jewish state is held up to an impossible
high standard of humane behavior, I fully agree. The final word is
not mentioned by Mr. Summers: Israelis, in and out of power, in and
out of government - all want peace. Israel's neighbors do not. You
can see it in their press, you can see it in their web-pages, you
can see it in their eyes. Europe, which sixty years ago hung its head
in shame over the fruits of anti-Semitism, is once again celebrating
their old habit in the garment of "anti-Israelism" - but
we know what is behind those words. "same old, same old."
Well, one thing has changed since the "good old days" -
we are no longer passive, we are no longer helpless, and we will not
go quietly into any good-night. We will rage, and we will fight, and
we will persevere. On that you may be sure. This is not a dream, and
it is not a folk tale, it is the sound of the hosts of the Lord, triumphant
in battle. The God of Israel has brought the exiles back, and He shall
protect them in his Sukkah of Peace. And as He promised Abraham -
those who bless us He shall bless - and he that curses us... Well,
just read the history books.
"Ken Yovdu kol o'yvekha - So "shall all your enemies perish,
O Lord; and those who love Him shall be as the sun when he goes forth
with praise of His might." [Judges 5:31]
the end of our "holiday season" of the month of Tishrei
with the Eighth day of Assembly and the Festive Joy of Torah holiday.
In Israel the two are celebrated on the same day - but outside the
Land of Promise, we have an extra day, and so one day is "just"
Shmini Atzeret, while the other is strictly Simkhat Torah. The first
day is a time of taking stock of where we are, where we have been,
and possibly where we are headed. The second is a celebration of where
we can be, and where we want to want to go.
Some people think that we are in one of the darkest moments in our
four thousand years' history. Judaism has been through so much pain
and suffering for two thousand years that we had reached a point of
no return around the middle of the last century. Many of our brothers
and sisters perished in the holocaust. Quite a number surrendered
to the pressure and left Judaism, assimilating into the religions
and cultures of their land of domicile and some chose to recreate
their national home and haven in the "promised land" on
the eastern shore of the Mediterranean.
The national renaissance movement began a little more than half a
century earlier, in the waning years of the nineteenth century. Young
inexperienced idealistic pioneers returned to a land that was desolate
and uninhabitable, partly covered by the sands of the African desert
carried over in the stream of the sea current coming from the Nile
delta and spread by the wind from the sea-shore inland, partly covered
by swamps infested with malaria, and partly laid waste by the uprooting
of trees and shrubs in the hill country, causing the good soil to
we carried off by centuries of rain causing erosion of unprotected
and untended terrain.
What prompted them was the new spirit of citizenship and self-respect
that emanated from the New World from the shores of a new "Promised
land" the United States of America. This land, our land,
had opened a new chapter in the human experience and enterprise, best
exemplified by the words from our "founding document"
the Declaration of Independence:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created
equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable
Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
These concepts are not new to America. In fact, they are based on
the teaching of the Hebrew Scriptures, which made them so much more
cogent for our brethren who initiated the movement to return and reclaim
their birthright in their historical homeland, a land that had been
neglected and forgotten by man and beast.
The return was not quick, nor was it easy. Jews are not accorded easy
passage among the nations of earth, nor will civilizations show them
kindness and consideration. Their movement out of lands where they
were not welcome was not facilitated and their settlement in
the old homeland was made ever more difficult by hostile governments
and populations. Even while their "right" to establish a
"national home" was spelled out in the Balfour declaration
of 1917, and accepted and approved by the world body of its day, the
League of Nations in practice their path was still not cleared,
and redemption was far from coming about. Precisely at the moment
that succor was most needed, when Naziism was spreading its ugly anti-Semitic
bile all over Europe, the doors of the homeland-in-making, as well
as all other safe havens, were shut tight, condemning millions of
our brothers and sisters to privation, unimaginable suffering, and
an untimely death.
Again, our reaction to the situation was inspired by America's founding
document. We read its words: "When in the Course of human events,
it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands
which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers
of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of
Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions
of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel
them to the separation." We sent our best and most talented representatives
to the new "world forum" the United Nations
to plead our case for independence, and our plea won. The verdict
came in, 33 to 13, allowing us to establish our nation in our land.
It has been fifty five years since we established Israel. Fifty five
years of constant battle to survive, to overcome the obstacles of
an enemy from without and a nation in constant flux from within. Six
hundred and fifty thousand citizens at the founding, Israel opened
wide its gates, taking in two displaced new immigrants for every citizen
in the land in the first three years of its existence. War gave way
to an uneasy and oft-broken armistice, immigration doubled the population
again, and eight years later arms conflict resumed in the south, with
Israel capturing the entire Sinai in one hundred hours. Eleven years
later, Israel had to endure a war on three fronts against a coalition
of Arab nations that included all the neighboring lands (save Lebanon)
and volunteers from Iraq, Saudi Arabia and North Africa for good measure.
The results of that conflict are now history. These conflicts were
followed by "the war of Attrition," "the Yom Kippur
War," the "Litany Campaign," and the "Peace for
Galilee" Lebanon war.
All the while we were fighti8ng for our very survival among the family
of nations. The Arab League ran an economic boycott of Israel that
included threats against any company that had business dealings with
Israel. Still, Israel reclaimed the wilderness, drain swaps and invented
ways to make the desert bloom. The land became a model of modern living,
exporting produce and fish to Earope, tulips to Holland, roses to
Rome and dazzling cut diamonds to the best Jewelry stores in Paris,
London and New York. Women from Rio de Janeiro to the French Riviera
show off their lovely shape in Gotteks bathing suites, and Israeli
veterans are employed as security experts by international businesses
from air lines to world renowned personalities.
It has always been the hope and dream of Israel and world Jewry that
we would find a way to make peace with our neighbors and become a
partner with them in developing the potential that exists in the area
to make it the wonderful place it can be for all its inhabitants.
We have agreed to "family re-unifications at the end of the war
of Independence, in 1949; We returned the Sinai to Egypt for what
turned out to be empty promises of international guarantees of Israeli
security in 1957; We were willing to return all captured lands immediately
after the six days war at a peace conference with our enemies - only
to be rebuffed by the Khartoum conference famous three "nos"
no recognition of Israel; no negotiations; no peace.
In 1991 Israel undertook the greatest risk to its future by entering
negotiations with its avowed enemies, the P.L.O. in yet another
effort to bring peace to its citizens twenty percent of whom
are Christian and Moslem. The result was the Oslo accord, which turned
out to be a mere scheme for the Palestinians to achieve some of their
goals without resorting to armed conflict. Having reached the end
of Israel's ability to "buy" peace with land and turning
a blind eye to Palestinian aggression and perfidy, the armed struggle
resumed, with greater loss of life, and with much suffering by innocent
victims of Arab and Moslem stark and cruel terror. Men, women and
children are killed and maimed by marauding terrorists, male and female,
armed with pistols, carbines, assault rifles, knives and stones
and those inhuman weapons of destruction, the exploding body bombs
mixed with bolts and nuts, nails, ball bearings and other objects
that become flying missiles causing death and injury.
It is now evident that our neighbors absolutely will not, for reasons
political, religious, and social, make peace with us. I think we need
to go back to our declaration of independence and learn what recourse
we have. Here is what our founding fathers said: "But when a
long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same
Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it
is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and
to provide new Guards for their future security... In every stage
of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble
terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated
Our founding fathers concluded, "as Free and Independent States,
they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances,
establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent
States may of right do. " Surely the same is true for the Jewish
people living in their own land, which they have inhabited sinvce
time immemorial, which they have purchased time and time again for
inflated prices from absentee landowners or by edict from the legal
governing body from Joshua to Hezekia, from King Darius to the British
mandate authorities and their only legal successor, the State of Israel.
The times are difficult - but the chances are great, and the time
of deliverance is close at hand. We need only trust is God and the
just cause which we espouse. We wish to live in peace and harmony
with all those who will do the same with us. But we also serve notice
to those who scheme and plot to do us harm: we shall not go gently
into the furnace, we shall not stretch our neck to the slaughter.
We shall resist, we shall revolt, and we shall realize our destiny
without any consent or permission from those who wish us harm. We
have every right to do so read the Declaration of Independence.