by Moshe Rubin
This Sukkot holiday I was reading some of Yanki Tauber’s “Inside Time” trilogy set on Jewish holidays and came across this story of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chassidus, that I never heard before.
Once on Shemini Atzeret, the biblical holiday of/and leading into Simchat Torah, the Alter Rebbe was teaching a profound mystical teaching about the depth and reach of this holiday that climaxes the long holiday season beginning with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. He spoke in rich Chassidic terminology, full of Kabbalistical references, and many of the more knowledgeable Chassidim were enthralled and immersed in this esoteric teaching.
But there was one Chassid there, a simple sincere and unlearned fellow, who was listening his best but could not understand what was going on. He asked the Alter Rebbe to please explain some of this wisdom about the holiday in language he could understand.
The Alter Rebbe thought a moment and then he explained that Shemini-Atzeret and Simchas Torah is like making “tea-essence.” Back in the day, and there are some who may still do this, they brew a very strong tea (or coffee) liquid concentrate, that’s too intense to drink on its own, but can be added to hot water later on to make many cups of tea (or coffee) out of it.
The simple Chassid was delighted with the “tea-essence” analogy and explanation. Later the elder Chassidim asked him what he made of it? He said, look – on Simchat Torah we totally immerse ourselves, we give it our all, we’re making concentrate. Then we have to take that intensely rich concentrate and spread it out and utilize it all the rest of the days of the year.
This Simchas Torah – let’s make a super-rich concentrate! And then we’ll be able to help it flow and flavor the rest of the year ahead!