Adapted from the Talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe By Rabbi Israel Rubin

Why Celebrate Now?

The question is often asked, why do we wait to celebrate Simchat Torah at the end of the High Holidays in the fall, rather than express this joy earlier during the holiday of Shavuoth in the spring? After all, Shavuoth marks the day when we originally received the Torah!

Let us take a closer look at the epicenter and hub of all the Hakafot activity, to get a better insight into the unique force and inner energy that drives and inspires the celebration of Simchat Torah.

Indeed, all the Simchat Torah dancing, singing, joy and movement revolves around our completing the annual cycle of the Torah reading.

The Last Words

To better appreciate the deeper meaning of this great Simcha, let us carefully examine the key words that bring the Torah to its climax. Indeed, it is the reading of these final words that triggers the exclamation and response of Chazak, Chazak V'nischazek, as well as the resulting celebration.

The entire Torah concludes with these words:

"With all the mighty hand and great awe, which Moses performed before the eyes of all Israel."

The Sin of the Golden Calf

In his commentary, Rashi explains that the words "which Moses performed before the eyes of all Israel" refer specifically to that unfortunate time when "Moses broke the Ten Commandments before their eyes."

This allusion, of course, is to the tragic event that greeted Moses upon his descent from Mount Sinai carrying the Two Tablets. Shocked by the sight of many Israelites worshipping the Golden Calf erected in his absence, Moses was gravely upset. He threw down the two heavenly Tablets, which broke into many pieces at the foot of the mountain.

This tragic event caused our people everlasting shame and punishment. Moses hurried to plead with G–d for forty days to save Israel from annihilation. It was only after ascending Mt. Sinai for another 40 days that Moses finally returned on Yom Kippur, carrying with him a new edition of the stone Tablets, along with G–d's message of forgivness. This is how Yom Kippur became a "Day of Atonement."

It seems quite strange that this desperate act in a moment of great anguish and frustration, is listed here as being Moses' great achievement. Was not Moses, too, literally "breaking the Law" by destroying the historic and precious Divinely inscribed Tablets?

What was Moses' Justification?

Rashi explains that, after the fact, G–d agreed with Moses and thanked him for taking this drastic action.

The Talmud explains Moses' rationale, as well. He reasoned that it was wrong to give the holy Torah to the people of Israel when they were in such a sinful state. Moses used the Passover law as precedent, where an idolator is forbidden to partake in the Paschal offering. If an idolator cannot partake in the single Mitzva of Pesach, how could Moses offer the whole Torah to a nation of idolators?

By doing so, Moses meant to defend the Torah's honor, and protect it from being abused by idolators.

Ending on a Good Note?

The question, however, still remains. Why did Moses break the commandments? If Israel was unworthy, shouldn't Moses have returned the Tablets back to G–d, or just placed them in hiding?

Furthermore, even if Moses was justified in what he did, this story reflects so poorly on the people of Israel. Thenwhy mention it at the very climax, in the Torah's final words? Instead of causing us to jump for joy, reading these words should dampen our spirits and cause us to mourn.

Furthermore, is it not ironic that a Sidra named Vezot Haberacha- Moses' farewell blessing to Israel, culminates with a derogatory reference to Israel's grave sin, downfall and disgrace?

Doesn't the Sidra's ending, alluding to Israel's rejection of Sinai, contradict the happy spirit of the sidra's opening, "and He arrived from Sinai," that praises Israel for its loving acceptance of the Torah?

Another question: An effort is usually made to conclude each book in the Scriptures on a good note. Isn't this negativism an inappropriate ending to serve as the climax of all the Five Books of Moses?

The Power of Repentance

The Talmud tells us that "the episode of the Golden Calf established the precedent for repentance."

In other words, Moses broke the tablets not only to protect the Torah's honor and integrity. He did it primarily for the sake of Israel, to shock and direct the people into repentance.

(This also explains why the words "asher shibarta" implying Divine acceptance of Moses' deed, were said only after Israel repented, but not immediately, when Moses had broken the tablets.)

The Advantage of the Second Tablets

The Second Tablets were not merely a substitute or replacement for the broken Tablets. The First and Second Tablets represent two distinct qualities and types of personalities: the Righteous Tzaddik as compared to the Repentant Baal Teshuva.

The righteous Tzaddik may have a quantitative edge with his longer track record of mitzvos. But the mitzvos of the Baal Teshuva, invested with greater sincerity, effort and challenge, are of a greater qualitative value in the eyes of G–d.

Example: A small stream of water that trickles along slowly. But when the passive stream finds itself blocked by a dam of stones, it begins to back up. The pent up energy develops into a mighty torrent that overwhelms the dam standing in its way, and sweeps away even the heavy boulders.

So, too, with the Baal Teshuva. His flow of G–dliness was once blocked, so now he can transform all his previously misplaced energy, to serve G–d with even more strength and enthusiasm, by channeling the previously negative energy into positive.

Israel Before and After

The people of Israel received the first Tablets when they were in a pure, innocent and righteous state. The first Tablets thus represent the righteous Jew who never strayed from the path.

The second Tablets, however, came after Israel experienced the difficult process of falling deep into the pits of sin, picking up the pieces, and then rising through repentance, which depicts the Baal Teshuva's struggle.

This aspect of repentance adds a whole new dimension to the advantage of the second Tablets. As the Talmud teaches us, "even the greatest Tzaddik cannot aspire to stand on the level of a Baal Teshuva."

Israel's repentance after the sin of the Golden Calf raised them to an even higher level of spirituality than they could have possibly achieved before the fall. This was a classic case of Yerida Lzorech Aliya, the reaction to their lowly descent helped to turn them around, re-energized and propelled them to reach an even higher level of ascent.

Indeed, the Talmud states that while the first Commandments were associated only with the Five Books of Moses and some Scripture, the second set of Commandments introduced us to the infinite Torah resources of the Oral Law.

"You Are Fortunate"

The power of repentance is so strong that it supersedes even that of Torah. It reaches the inherent bond between G–d and man which survives and remains intact even when man digresses.

This is why G–d told Moses "Ashrei Sheshibarta," "you are fortunate that you have broken them."

The first Tablets were given to us as a gift by G–d at His initiative. He descended upon us and gave us His tablets of the Law.

The second Tablets, however, depended on Israel's preparation and repentance, and it is for this reason that the tablets endured. This enabled them to reach the intrinsic essence of the unconditional bond that unites Israel with G–d.

Actually, the second Tablets were even greater than the first Tablets. For such is the power of repentance. Repentance does not merely erase the negative sins of the past. As our sages say: "The sins are considered like merits." Repentance is a dynamic force that can convert the negative into positive.

Simchat Torah On Shavuoth?

Our rejoicing on Simchat Torah surpasses that of Shavuoth. On Shavouth we were on the level of Tzadikim, while Yom Kippur gave us the opportunity to rise higher and become baalei Teshuva, when the second Tablets were given. Simchat Torah is the climax of the festival that follows Yom Kippur.

It now follows very nicely. The verse "Hashem came from Sinai" in the opening of Vezot Haberacha refers to the first Tablets we received on Shavuoth, while the culmination and more advanced phase is found in the last verse "the strong hand and great awe before all of Israel."

And the Rest of the Year

Jewish holidays are not meant to be isolated and self-contained days. Their light is intended to spread into every corner of the calendar, every day of the year.

But we may feel intimidated by the enormity of this task. How can we attempt to illuminate a darkened world, where G–dliness is so concealed, and all seems so shattered and broken?

The Torah's final words give us strength and encouragement. Even the breakage of the Holy Tablets began the process of return, enabling us a new approach, to develop an even higher bond with G–d.

As soon as we conclude with the Torah's last phrase that the tablets were shattered, "in view of all Israel," we are able to face the world and begin anew with the Torah's first opening words, "In the beginning, G–d created..."

The Divine power within us allows us to generate light even in the darkest situations, to build a better world in which "all of creation will be able to recognize G–d's sovereignty." (Source: Likutei Sichos Vol IX Pp. 237-243)