The Grievance of Universal Israel

Dear Friends,
As we discussed in the previous letter, we offered seventy bulls in the Temple during the Festival of Succos on behalf of the seventy primary nations of the world. Following the seven days of Succos is an eighth day, which is a separate festival known as “Shmini Atzeres”; moreover, only one bull is offered on this day (Numbers 29:36). Why were we given this extra festival? And what is the significance of the single bull? One of the answers given by our sages can be found in the following midrashic teaching which describes a dialogue that takes place between our people and the Holy One regarding the seventy offerings that we bring during the Festival of Succos on behalf of the seventy nations:
Israel says before the Holy One, Blessed is He: “Master of the Universe! We offer seventy bulls for the seventy nations. They therefore should love us; however, not only don’t they love us; they even hate us, as it is written, ‘In return for my love, they hate me’ (Psalm 109:4). The Holy One, Blessed is He, responds: “All the seven days of the Festival, when you were offering before Me offerings on behalf of the nations of the world, you were offering seventy bulls. But now bring an offering for yourselves! (Midrash Tanchuma, Pinchas 16)
The Holy One knew that during our journey through history, we would often feel lonely and betrayed. Although we would seek the welfare of the other nations, we would also experience rejection and hatred from these nations. The Holy One therefore gave our universal people the Festival of Shmini Atzeres for renewing our inner strength and resolve. After the exhausting and unappreciated task of bringing seventy offerings during Succos for the welfare of all the nations, we are now to bring to the Holy One a single offering for ourselves on Shmini Atzeres. This offering for ourselves represents our own inner renewal.


After turning outward to the nations during Succos, we begin to turn inward on Shmini Atzeres. In this way, we can renew our strength for the universal mission that the Holy One assigned to us in the Land of Zion: to serve as an example of the light-giving Divine teachings of the Torah. We can then merit the fulfillment of the following Divine promise to the People of Zion: “And nations shall walk by your light” (Isaiah 60:3).
After the Temple was destroyed, we were no longer able to bring the “renewal” offering for ourselves on the Festival of Shmini Atzeres. The sages, however, instituted on Shmini Atzeres a special celebration known as “Simchas Torah” – the Joy of the Torah. On this day, we complete the annual cycle of reading the Torah, and on this day we begin the cycle again by reading the opening portion of the Book of Genesis. Before we read the Torah, we take out all the Torahs from the Ark, and as we carry the Torahs in our arms, we march around the central platform of the synagogue seven times. Each of the seven circuits is accompanied by much singing and dancing; thus, on Simchas Torah, we renew our strength through the joy of the Torah! Through this joyful renewal of our strength, we can rededicate ourselves to our universal mission. In this spirit, we chant the following words from the Book of Isaiah just before we remove all the Torahs from the Ark at the start of the dancing:


“For from Zion will come forth Torah, and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3).
I would like to offer another perspective on the above Midrash which can give us a deeper understanding of our universal role in the Land of Zion. In the above Midrash, we complain to the Holy One about the hatred directed against us despite the offerings that we bring on behalf of the seventy nations. The Holy One responds by giving us the Festival of Shmini Atzeres when we are to bring an offering for ourselves. I would like to suggest that the addition of this festival with this special offering for ourselves is to show us the way to eventually eliminate the hatred which is directed against us. Our experiences in history have demonstrated that bringing “offerings” on behalf of the nations does not necessarily gain us the respect of the nations. We therefore need an offering for ourselves – for our own spiritual renewal, as when we are true to ourselves and our mission, we will gain the respect of the nations. As Moshe Rebbeinu – Moses, our Teacher – told us when we stood at the border of the Land:


“See! I have taught you statutes and social laws, as Hashem, my God, has commanded me, to do so in the midst of the Land to which you come, to possess it. You shall safeguard and fulfill them, for it is your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the peoples, who shall hear all these statutes and who shall say, ‘Surely a wise and understanding people is this great nation!’ ” (Deuteronomy 4:5,6)


Have a Chag Samayach,

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen


P.S. Shimini Atzeres begins Monday night, October 20th.

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