A Most Valuable Man

It is one of the happiest days of the year…Simchas Torah. Who isn’t moved by this lively celebration with the Torah and with Hakadosh Boruch Hu? People of all ages, different generations, and various walks of life leave their troubles and sorrows behind and gather together to rejoice in the fact that Hashem chose us as His special people and gave us the Torah. At that moment, we exult in the conclusion of another cycle of completion of the Torah amidst the tzibbur. This is our lifeline, our guarantee to eternity, what sets us apart from all the other nations. It’s what helped us survive throughout millennia of exile and evil decrees and outlast all our tormentors.

Everyone eagerly awaits this special day. I remember as a child proudly holding onto my flag with an apple stuck onto the tip of the stick and a candle fastened to it. Most of the members of our shul were Holocaust survivors, some of them still suffering in the aftermath of that horror both physically and emotionally. And yet come Simchas Torah, they all danced with such fervor and simcha, testimony that their connection to Hashem had not been dampened.

One of the highlights of Simchas Torah for me is to see the little children in shul. Their parents bring them to shul with a tefillah in their hearts that the holiness of this day will leave its mark on them. That the boys grow up to be talmidei chachomim, loyal servants of Hashem, and that the girls blossom into true outstanding bnos Yisroel, each one of them becoming an akeres habayis in their own families, another link in the chain of our hallowed mesorah.

There they are in their beautiful Yom Tov outfits, their cherubic faces exuding happiness and excitement. They are still so pure and innocent, oblivious to the ills of the outside world. They are not jaded by its many problems, not yet having been exposed to its pressures and disappointments, and not yet tainted with cynicism. Their faces are shining as they await the proceedings. They move up close to kiss the Sifrei Torah and soon they are swept up by the dancing.

Of course, it takes an entire tzibbur to make this such a happy event. But who would you say is the most important man of the hour? One might say it’s the gabbai who gives out the kibbudim, the Hakafos and the aliyos and runs the show. Others might argue that it is the person who starts all the niggunim or the one who supplies the schnapps to keep the olam in a jolly mood. Perhaps it is the baal korei, for, after all is said and done, it is the reading of the Torah that this is all about. Here is my vote for the most valuable man in these Hakafos.

Why is this of such importance? What is to be gained by giving out this accolade? And isn’t everyone most valuable in their own right? After all, it takes many individuals to form a tzibbur. And isn’t Most Valuable Player a non-Jewish idea from the sports world? Why not just celebrate without handing out an award?

Okay, let’s rephrase that… We are all most valuable. But for the moment, let’s just shine the spotlight of on one of the most paramount participants, because he represents a most important concept and he might not be appreciated enough.

I speak of the candy man. The candy man? Yes, the kind man who dishes out the treats to all the kinderlach. Oh, I know that the dentists out there might have a bone to pick with me for promoting tooth decay. Or maybe to the contrary. They might appreciate the added income from filling cavities after Yom Tov. And of course, you have the health-conscious people who will pontificate about the dangers of sugarizing our children with nosh. But just for this day, let’s focus on the key role the candy man plays during this simcha.

Just look at the children’s faces as he finds them and hands out a lollipop, a pack of peanut chews, a Laffy Taffy or a brownie bar. See how their faces glow. They are beaming. And observe their excitement as they accumulate their collection of goodies to bring home. Of course, they dance with their fathers and are excited to kiss the Torah, but also mingled into this kedusha is a taste of sweetness. They will always associate the Torah with sweetness.

We cannot emphasize enough the importance of this connection. Isn’t this what we do when the child first begins to learn the Alef-Bais? It is a minhag Kadmonim to pour honey on the osiyos and have the child lick each letter. It ingrains in him the idea that Torah is “mesukah midvash venofes tzufim” (Tehillim 19:11), sweeter than honey and the drippings from the combs.

Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler in Sefer Michtav M’Eliyahu reminisces about his childhood and the importance of treats. He relates that when he was a child, his father and uncle would be up at chatzos on Shabbos night and learn together until it came time to daven in the morning. He himself, as a nine-year-old, would stay up for part of the night and learn with a rebbi. His mother, as well, would get up to learn the weekly parsha with Medrash, Ramban and Malbim, and this, to him, was a special simcha, for she would serve hot coffee and her home-made donuts, which were incredibly delicious. Of course, he got up for the learning, but the added impetus of the delicacies played a great role in enhancing this weekly experience.

 Simchas Torah is the pinnacle of this special month of Tishrei and also the commencement of our involvement with Torah for the coming year. The more we rejoice with the Torah, the more we are energized to engage in limud haTorah throughout the year. The Gemara tells us about the great Amora, Rabbah, that before he would begin delivering his shiur to his talmidim, he would tell them a milsa debedichusa, something humorous, and they would laugh. But then they would sit in fear as they braced themselves for the shiur and Rabbah would begin (Shabbos 30b).

That very same Gemara tells us that the Shechinah does not rest upon a person unless he is in a state of simcha. Neviim did not receive prophecy unless they were in a happy frame of mind. They would prepare for nevuah by listening to music. The Maharal explains that the Shechinah, which is totally spiritual, cannot connect with a person unless he is shaleim, complete. This can only happen if he is besimcha. Similarly, the Torah, which is G-dly and other worldly, cannot be absorbed by a physical being unless he attains shleimus through simcha.

On a simpler level, one cannot fully understand Torah without an open mind and heart. If he feels strained and sad, it is difficult to connect with the Torah. Simcha causes one to relax, to have menuchas hanefesh and to learn in a frame of mind conducive for Torah.

The holy Chasam Sofer followed this minhag and would say, “Semeichim betzeisam vesasim bevo’am.” The rebbi should relate something to the talmidim to gladden them when they leave the shiur and at the beginning when they first come. But during the actual shiur, they must be “osim be’eimah retzon konam,” doing with awe their Creator’s will.

This is what Simchas Torah accomplishes for the rest of the year. It is said in the name of the Kotzker Rebbe that this day is the milsa debedichusa, the happy experience that starts off our new year of limud haTorah. It opens our hearts wide to absorb Torah. It is the same with the little children enjoying the celebration of the Torah and its sweet confections in their formative years. It opens their hearts to be able to imbibe much Torah throughout their lives.

If so, the candy man is not merely an extra perk or just someone who adds to the amusement. He is a messenger who helps our children develop a love for Torah and associate it with sweetness. This is something we must truly appreciate.

Having said that, we must also realize that everything has its time and place. Dispensing sweets every now and then on special occasions is fine. But unfortunately, today’s availability of every type of nosh imaginable has caused the over-sugarizing of our children. Besides not being good for their health, it makes them hyperactive and greatly compromises their ability to concentrate in class. It also gets them used to instant gratification and weakens their resolve to work hard when they don’t taste immediate success.

As children get older, we must imbue in them the fact that in Birkas HaTorah, there is a tefillah to Hashem: “Veha’arev na, please Hashem, sweeten the words of Your Torah in our mouth and in the mouth of Your people, the family of Yisroel… No other brocha for a mitzvah contains such a request – not tefillin, or tzitzis, or any other mitzvah. The seforim say that Torah is unique in the fact that it is totally spiritual and the only way it can be imbibed by a physical being is through the areivus, the sweetness, the geshmak of Torah.

A talmid was once trying to present a chiddush of his to Rav Shmuel Rozovsky, but the rosh yeshiva wasn’t buying it. After a lengthy give-and-take, the talmid finally asked, “What’s wrong with what I am saying?” Rav Shmuel answered, “Because it’s not geshmak…and Torah has to be geshmak.”

When children get older, the sweetness of Torah may be conveyed on a higher level. It could be through Torah riddles that challenge them and get them to think. It could be in the form of stories of tzaddikim or the history of our people that imbue them with values and instill in them a pride in carrying on our mesorah. And most of all, emulating the ways of the Torah with kindness and our love of the Torah so that they see it is real.

If we can do this, they will always associate the Torah with pleasantness and goodness. And then their lives will hopefully become one long Simchas Torah.