Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah | Joy: A Paradigm Shift
A story is told of a Talmudic Sage who has an out-of-body experience. Upon recovering he is asked by his father to depict his impressions. He responds as follows: “I saw an inverted world. Those above, i.e. those who are considered important in this world, were below, insignificant. Whilst those below, i.e. those who are insignificant in this world, were above.” Life rarely goes according to plan. Things are not what they seem to be. Many truths are counterintuitive. This is why we need to draw guidance and inspiration in our lives, especially in our times, from a deeper source. The climax of the festival series, Sukkot / Shemini Atzeret / Simchat Torah, is described as the “Times Of Our Rejoicing”. Maimonides explains that true joy is only experienced when we focus our minds and hearts on bringing joy to others. If it is only ourselves and our family with whom we are concerned, the good feeling created as a result is both superficial and fleeting. How counterintuitive! How Simple! The mystics teach us that the next 24/48 hours are packed with huge blessings equal to Rosh Hashanah. They are two sides of the same coin. The difference lies in how one gains access. On Rosh Hashanah we do so through seriousness and submission. On Shemini Atzeret however, we can download and absorb the richness of all these blessings through experiencing true joy. We can seize the moment by being counterintuitive. By letting go of our selfish impulses. By focusing our minds and hearts on bringing joy to others. By concentrating on how we can add value to the lives of others. It is this state of true joy which creates unity between mankind and brings man closer to G-d. This should not be too challenging, for as Jews we are inherently counterintuitive. In fact, it is our greatest gift to the world.