On Rosh Hashanah we blow shofar. The sounds of the shofar call out to a person and urge him to remove himself from the current of his external life and become what he truly is, inside. Do not speak, the shofar admonishes, but rather listen, allow the sounds of the shofar to penetrate to your inner self. Prepare yourself to receive them and respond accordingly.
On Yom Kippur, after the passivity of Rosh Hashanah, we observe a period of even greater self-negation: we negate our physical lives entirely. We deny ourselves all food, drink and other bodily needs. The Rambam calls Yom Kippur “Shevitat He’Asor,” the “cessation of the tenth [of Tishrei],” meaning, Torah law requires that on this day we suspend our physical lives in order to resemble angels.
However, the negation of bodily needs, though it helps us achieve spiritual elevation, has a distinct disadvantage: it diminishes a person’s joy of life. As an example, consider a case of a physician who prescribes antibiotics for his patient to help him battle a bacterial illness. Even after the illness disappears, the patient remains weak and fatigued. To avoid the parallel phenomenon in our situation after the Yamim Noraim, we are given immediately thereafter the period of action, Sukkot and Simchat Torah. We begin building the sukka immediately with the conclusion of Yom Kippur. Taking the arba minim symbolizes our efforts to bring kedusha down from the lofty, spiritual realm into the mundane realities of this world. From a condition of angelic closeness to the Master of the world, culminating with the proclamation, “Hashem hu ha’Elokim” with the close of ne’ila at the end of Yom Kippur, we descend once again to life in this world. We turn into carpenters and construct a sukka, and we take four species from the agricultural produce.
A large part of this descent to this world finds expression in the intensive joy of Sukkot and Simchat Torah. The Rambam writes that although simcha plays an important role on all the festivals, “on the festival of Sukkot extra joy was observed in the Mikdash, as it says, ‘You shall rejoice before Hashem your God’.” Joy is the highest expression of the fact that we observe not out of coercion, but rather out of love. The Rambam writes: “The joy that a person experiences in the performance of a mitzva and in the love of God who commanded them constitutes a great service [of God]. And whoever abstains from this joy is deserving of punishment, as it says, ‘[all these punishments will befall you] because you did not serve Hashem your God with joy and a good heart’.”
The simcha that we experience on Simchat Torah is of utmost importance and value, it is what the Rambam describes an “avoda gedola” – a great form of service of God. With the conclusion of the festival period, we return once again to the new year from amidst the joy of mitzvot, carrying with us the critical message of “ivdu et Hashem be’simcha” – serve God with joy. Only through simcha can there emerge people with a firm connection to Torah and Am Yisrael.