1. Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah are essentially the same, for in Eretz Yisroel they are on the same day. Even in the Diaspora, where they are two separate days, Simchas Torah is called Shemini Atzeres in the prayers and Kiddush. Likewise, when in our prayers we recite the sacrifices that were brought on the festival, we mention the same sacrifices on Simchas Torah as on Shemini Atzeres.

The difference between Shemini Atzeres and the preceding seven days of Sukkos, is that on Sukkos seventy bullocks, “corresponding to the seventy nations” were offered. On Shemini Atzeres only one bullock was offered, “corresponding to the one unique people.” Although bullocks corresponding to the seventy nations were offered on Sukkos, the distinctiveness of the Jewish people is still emphasized. For the bullocks were offered by the Jews; in the Bais Hamikdosh — “the place which G‑d will choose;” in Eretz Yisroel — “the land chosen by G‑d,” whose choice is connected with G‑d’s choice of the people of Israel. As our Sages have said: “When He created the world...He chose Eretz Yisroel... He chose Israel for His portion... ‘Israel, who have entered My portion, should come and inherit the land that has entered My portion.’“

Since the offering of these seventy bullocks protects the seventy nations, and thus effects the continuing existence of the world, it follows that Jews, who are the ones who effect this (through their sacrifices), are masters over the world. Thus we see that the very offering of these sacrifices to protect the gentile nations emphasizes the greatness of the Jewish people.

Nevertheless, the uniqueness of the Jews (“You have chosen us from all the nations”) is emphasized on Shemini Atzeres more strongly than on Sukkos. For on Sukkos there is a connection between Jews and gentiles (when the Jews offer sacrifices on their behalf); whereas on Shemini Atzeres, Jews are on a level that transcends any association with the gentile nations. It is “a day of restraint (from work) for you,” when Jews offered “one bullock corresponding to the one, unique people.”

However, we find that one bullock was brought on other festivals. Why then is special significance attached to it on Shemini Atzeres? Likewise, what is the significance in that Shemini Atzeres is “a day of restraint for you” — was not the entire Torah and its mitzvos given specifically to the Jews?

The explanation lies in the choice of Jews by G‑d. G‑d chose the Jewish people at the time of Mattan Torah (Giving of the Torah). Yet we find that G‑d also offered the Torah to other nations. On the words (Devorim 33:2): “And (the L‑rd) rose from Seir to them, He shone forth from Mt. Paran,” our Sages say that before G‑d gave the Torah to the Jewish people, He offered it to the children of Esav (Seir) and Yishmael (Paran), but they did not want it.1 Then He gave it to the Jews.

If G‑d gave the Torah to the Jews because “You have chosen us from all the nations,” how could G‑d offer the Torah to other nations? Is not the Torah only for Jews since G‑d chose them as His people? But we must say that G‑d’s offer to Esav and Yishmael was not to actually give them the Torah, but for another reason. Indeed, C-d knows the future, and knew that they would refuse it. Especially since it is against their very nature: the nature of Esav is “You shall live by the sword” — the opposite of “You shall not murder;” and the nature of Yishmael is the opposite of the command “You shall not commit adultery.” Why then did G‑d offer them the Torah, knowing that they would not accept something contrary to their natures?

One reason for this is that they should never be able to have a claim against G‑d as to why He did not give them the Torah. For now, if they would advance such a claim, G‑d answers them that it was offered to them, but they refused.

However, this answer infers that G‑d’s offer to these peoples was for no positive purpose, for only a negative achievement has been accomplished (the counter to their claim). There must have been something more, some positive achievement.

As indeed there was. In the future redemption, “Strangers will stand and pasture your sheep,” and “I will turn all the peoples to a pure language... to serve Him together.” Even now, in exile, Jews are commanded to influence the gentiles to keep the Seven Noachide Laws. The Rambam states that “Moshe Rabbeinu commanded by the word of G‑d to force all peoples to accept the mitzvos that were commanded to the sons of Noach... for G‑d has commanded them so in the Torah, and let it be known through Moshe Rabbeinu.”

What, connection, arises the question, is there between gentiles and Torah, that because of it is possible to influence them to keep the Seven Noachide Laws (“for G‑d has commanded them so in the Torah”)? Torah is the precious possession of G‑d, given to the Jews because G‑d chose them — “Who has chosen us from all the people and given us His Torah.” What is the connection between gentiles and Torah?

Furthermore, we find that the Jews, to receive the Torah, needed 49 (or 50) days of preparation. If Jews needed such preparation, chosen as they are by G‑d, surely gentiles need preparation to have some connection to Torah! How then is it possible for them, of their own will, to keep the Seven Noachide Laws (as commanded in the Torah) without preparation?

This was the purpose of G‑d offering the Torah to the gentile nations. It served to prepare gentiles to accept the efforts of Jews to influence them to keep the Noachide Laws. For since the speech of G‑d is considered as deed, the mere offering of the Torah was enough to prepare them to have some connection to Torah (i.e. the Noachide Laws).

The offering by Jews of the seventy bullocks on Sukkos, corresponding to the seventy nations, is similar to the work of Jews to influence gentiles to keep the Noachide Laws. The service of Jews on Shemini Atzeres however, is loftier than any connection to the non-Jewish peoples; and therefore its offering was but “one bullock” — “corresponding to the one unique people.” For on Shemini Atzeres Jews are alone with G‑d, on a plane far removed from any dealings with the gentile nations.

This is expressed in the offering of “one bullock,” (although there are other festivals on which only one bullock was offered). Shemini Atzeres is a continuation of the seven days of Sukkos (Shemini literally meaning the eighth). On the preceding seven days of Sukkos, bullocks were sacrificed in an ever decreasing number — 13 the first day, 12 on the second, until seven on the seventh day. Consequently, on the eighth day (Shemini Atzeres), six bullocks should have been brought. However, on Shemini Atzeres, only one bullock was offered, thus emphasizing the difference between it and the seven days of Sukkos. On Sukkos, the service of Jews has some association with non-Jews, whereas on Shemini Atzeres, it is above any such association.

Other Yomim Tovim, when only one bullock was also brought, do not follow any such set order of sacrifices in the preceding days. Hence there is no contrast to the one bullock brought, and nothing to signify that this one bullock corresponds to “the one unique people.”2 Instead, other inferences are drawn.

Although the service of Jews is loftier than the observance of the Seven Noachide Laws, there is some connection between the two. Jews have been commanded to keep 613 commandments, and gentiles have been commanded 7 of these. And although Jews’ performance of these seven (among the 613) is loftier than the gentiles’ observance of these same seven, there is still a connection.3 Nevertheless, the real uniqueness of Jews compared to gentiles (“You have chosen us from among the nations”) is expressed not in the superior level of observance of these same laws, but in a service that has absolutely no connection to gentiles at all. This is similar to the superiority of Shemini Atzeres (“one bullock corresponding to the one unique people” when Jews are united with the very Essence of G‑d) over the days of Sukkos (when Jews offer up sacrifices on behalf of the gentile peoples).

The explanation of this is as follows: The world was created because G‑d desired to have a dwelling place for Himself in the lower worlds (i.e. this physical, corporeal world). There are many levels in making this world fit for G‑d’s presence. First and foremost, a person must prepare the ‘lowest’ part of himself, the foot, by, for example, always running to do a mitzvah. Then there is the ‘lower world’ in a Jew’s environs, outside of himself. Through his service in his part of the world, he makes his environs fit for G‑d’s presence. Finally, there is the work that a Jew does in regards to the gentile nations — to influence them to keep the seven Noachide Laws. This effects the making of a dwelling place for G‑d in the part of the world that is not a Jew’s environs, but is connected with the gentile world.

The service of a Jew himself, as a Jew, is not necessarily to work with gentiles. For we see that when the Jews were in the desert, without any contact with the gentile nations, their service was still perfect. The only reason for Jews working to influence gentiles is to carry out the purpose of creation — to make this world, including all parts, even the gentile nations, a fit place for G‑d’s presence. This is the general purpose of Exile — so that Jews would have contact and connection with gentiles, thus being able to influence them to make the world fit for G‑d.

Through the service of Jews in the exile, they merit the true and complete redemption, when the work with gentiles will be complete — “then I will convert all the nations to a pure language... to serve Him with one consent.” But this will only be a side-issue in the revelations of the future redemption. The main revelation will be bound up with the service of Jews. The Rambam states that the redemption will be complete when “He (Moshiach) will wage the wars of G‑d... build the Mikdosh in its place, and gather the dispersed of Israel.” An additional issue will be that “he will rectify the entire world to serve G‑d together...” — the elevation of the gentiles, whose mission will be to help Jews in their service to G‑d.

Now we can understand fully the greatness of Shemini Atzeres compared to Sukkos. The service on Sukkos is connected with gentiles — offering seventy bullocks, influencing them to keep the Seven Noachide Laws. On Shemini Atzeres however, the service of Jews is completely removed from any association with the gentile peoples, and therefore only one bullock is offered, corresponding to the one unique people, who are then in complete unity with G‑d.4

This difference expresses itself in the type of joy of these festivals. On Sukkos, on Simchas Bais Hashoeva, we celebrate and dance outside, in the streets, open to the view of gentiles. On Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah, we dance in the synagogue, removed from gentile eyes, for then Jews and G‑d are alone together.

The lesson from all the above: Although Simchas Bais Hashoeva was celebrated with great joy and dancing, the joy of Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah must be infinitely greater still. For then Jews and G‑d are alone together, and the joy that results from this is extremely great. From this dancing and joy we merit to dance together with Moshiach in the true and complete redemption, speedily in our time.

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2. The concept of sacrificing seventy bullocks on Sukkos and only one bullock on Shemini Atzeres is present in man’s spiritual service. When a person brings a sacrifice he must meditate and think that everything done to the sacrifice should have been done to him (but because of G‑d’s kindness, the sacrifice substitutes as his atonement). Such meditation is the spiritual service in a sacrifice. Hence, although the seventy bullocks literally correspond to the seventy gentile nations, Torah is present in all levels and all worlds; and in the highest spiritual worlds, the idea of the seventy nations are spiritually present, and thus are present also in the spiritual service of Jews.

Even further: the bringing of the seventy bullocks because they correspond to the seventy gentile nations is a reason for the mitzvah. However, mitzvos are performed not only because there is a reason for them, but simply because so G‑d has commanded — “Who has sanctified us with His commandments.” When the mitzvah of sacrificing the seventy bullocks is performed in such a way, above reason, it becomes associated with the service of Jews for themselves.

The sacrificing of the seventy bullocks on Sukkos corresponds to the seven ‘midos’ of Atzilus. Each of these seven encompasses all ten of the Sefiros, and hence there are seventy. Thus the service of Jews on Sukkos is associated with the seven midos of Atzilus, and extends to each of them as they are composed of ten. In other words, the service is not just a general one, but extends to the minutest detail.

The service of Shemini Atzeres on the other hand, is “one bullock,” the service associated with Ratzon (will) and Tannug (pleasure)which are above any division into details (the different midos).

Thus on each day of Sukkos one’s service deals with one particular midah of the seven midos. While this midah encompasses all of them, the main service is with the particular midah of the day. This is seen in the “Guests”5 who visit on Sukkos. Everyday, all seven “Guests” visit. However, each day has one main “Guest,” which the others accompany. On Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah, one’s service is on the level of Ratzon and Tannug, which is above division into the seven midos, but instead encompasses all of them.

Although the service of Shemini Atzeres is loftier in certain respects that that of Sukkos, the greatness of Sukkos is itself not affected because of this. For example, the mitzvah of tefillin is to actually put the tefillin on the head and arm. Even if one should have the loftiest concentrations on the meaning of tefillin, without actually putting them on the mitzvah has not been fulfilled — for it is G‑d’s will that the mitzvah be fulfilled specifically in this way. (Even though this is in a physical manner, whereas the concentrations are on the loftiest spiritual level.) So too in our case: Although Shemini Atzeres may be loftier than Sukkos in certain respects, on Sukkos, one’s service must be that consonant with Sukkos — for so G‑d desires.

In other words. The service of Shemini Atzeres is lofty indeed, when all the seven midos are encompassed and united in the level of Ratzon and Tannug — the highest level of the soul, Yechidah. It is the essence of everything. Nevertheless, G‑d desires that a person’s service should also extend to every detail of himself, in all his powers and abilities. And this is the greatness of Sukkos, when one’s service is with all the midos.

Just as the service of every Jew on Shemini Atzeres is from the level of Yechidah, so too among the Jewish people, the idea of unity is stressed on Shemini Atzeres — “one bullock for the one unique people.” This is associated with the idea of uniting all Jews through the writing of a Sefer Torah in which every Jew will have a letter. Not only does a Jew thus unite with other Jews who have bought letters in the Sefer Torah, but he unites with all Jews. For a Sefer Torah contains 600,000 letters, corresponding to the 600,000 all encompassing souls from which all Jewish souls derive.

Our Sages have said that Torah is a wall. Through writing a Sefer Torah, a “wall” is erected to protect Jews from any harm. And since every Jew corresponds to a letter in the Sefer Torah, the buying of “his” letter gives him extra vitality and life. Through the writing of a Sefer Torah we merit the fulfillment of the promise “I will be... a wall of fire around you.” A ‘wall’ protects those inside from harmful influences of the outside. A ‘wall of fire’ warms and illuminates those things on the outside, converting them to good. Harmful influences (the ‘animal soul’ etc) not only will not be able to penetrate to the inside, but will fear to even come close to the ‘wall,’ knowing that the ‘wall of fire’ will consume them and convert them to good.

May we merit the fulfillment of the promise “I will be... a wall of fire around” in the true and complete redemption, when “immediately they will be redeemed.”

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3. It is customary before Hakofos to recite verses starting with ‘Ato Horaysa.’ Just as on Rosh Hashanah we recite verses of Torah as evidence of the concept of blowing Shofar, so too ‘Ato Horaysa’ is recited as proof of the great joy on Simchas Torah. Such verses are recited only on Simchas Torah and not on other Yomim Tovim. For although Yomim Tovim are called ‘festivals for rejoicing,’ the joy on Simchas Torah is much loftier than other festivals — and therefore needs proof from the Torah as to how great it is.

Seventeen verses are recited. In Hebrew numerology, 17 is the word ‘tov,’ meaning ‘good.’ This is the connection to Simchas Torah, for “there is no good except Torah.” The general idea of good is emphasized this year, when Shemini Atzeres falls out on Tuesday, the third day of the week, the day when “it was good” was said twice. Hence this year all ‘good’ things must be doubled.