This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Yitzchak ha-Levi. May it be an aliyah for her neshama.
By Jackie Ross
Simchat Torah is not a holiday you'll find enumerated in the Torah. It was instituted after Matan Torah to celebrate the completion of reading the Torah which happens once a year (although it used to be in some communities finished only once every three years). Our Sages decreed that we should celebrate this day on Shimini Atzeret, the holiday that falls the day after Sukkot ends (although outside of the land of Israel where all holidays are celebrated for two days it is its own day, on the second day of the chag). Why was it decided to place this particular celebration at this point in time?
After the period of yeshivah during the Ten Days of Repentance we ideally realize the folly of our erroneous ways and recommit ourselves to Torah-lifestyles. Rav Eliyahu Ki-Tov writes in the Book of Our Heritage, that during Sukkot our neshama ideally reaches freedom from the evil inclination, after being immersed in a mitzvah (dwelling in the sukkah) for a week. It is with this pure heart we are able to recommit ourselves to Torah and mitzvot, therefore it is appropriate to right away celebrate the Torah and the joy its learning brings to our lives.
If this sounds familiar, it is because Sukkot and Simchat Torah/Shimini Atzeret are compared to Pesach and Shavuot. During Pesach we are spiritually brought out of bondage to our evil inclination, and with work 50 days later are prepared to receive the Torah on Sukkot, just as the Jews in the midbar did over 3,000 years ago.
Even if you get off-course in life, the Jewish calendar is set up to help pick yourself back up, dust off, and re-engage with life the way you truly want to - with Torah!