Simchat Torah/ Joy in the Torah

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Simchat Torah

Dear Friends:

We’re heading into the conclusion of the fall holidays tonight,
with the final days known as Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.
Technically, these are not the conclusion of Sukkot, but have
their own status as separate holy days – the subject of another
discussion, or a quick review on <www.myjewishlearning.com>.
The second day of Shemini Atzeret has become associated with
ending, and immediately “rebooting,” the yearly cycle of Torah
readings, hence the name “Simchat Torah, or “joy in the Torah.”
It’s typically celebrated with dancing, singing, and parading
around the synagogue with the Torah scrolls in a festive
procession. The final verses of Deuteronomy are read, and
immediately we begin again with the first words of Genesis,
starting over again for another year.

How wonderfully Jewish, to have a holiday to celebrate our
relationship with a book! In many ways, the very idea of Simchat
Torah- “joy in the Torah”- is a profound statement of Jewish
values and ideals. Yet there’s a valid question: why should we
take great simcha, or joy (to the point of dancing with it!), in a
book which contains stories of flawed ancestors, laws requiring
difficult self-restraint, great ritual detail pertaining to obsolete
institutions, narratives of national tragedy, and even clear
statements of ancient values which many may find offensive?

The Jewish answer is: because Torah study isn’t about
accepting a set of beliefs, it’s about struggling with the meaning
and possibilities of life, which can lead us to the truest joys.
Torah – represented by the scrolls of the Bible but ultimately
incorporating the entire range of Jewish sacred texts- gives us
joy because in dialogue with Torah and its many interpreters, we
are challenged to live according to our highest values; we are
challenged to make our lives vessels of God’s Presence, and we
are challenged to find the image of God in each person.

Norman Lamm, a great teacher of Hasidic thought, says that the
most basic kind of joy is rooted in love- we all feel joyous in the
presence of the those we love best, and it’s that kind of joy which
becomes a spiritual experience when we feel God’s Presence
as a friend and intimate One. Torah – in its broadest meaning- is
what helps make that happen: we rejoice over Torah not only
because it teaches us how to live, but because in relationship
with Torah, we come to regard life as a gift from a loving God, to
be made holy and good. Torah brings us into community, as
learners and seekers, and only in community do we fully realize
our potential to love and to give, which are themselves the
greatest joys of the human spirit.

That’s something even I would dance over!

with blessings for a truly joyous Simchat Torah,

Rabbi Neal

PS- Just a reminder for the locals: Simchat Torah is at TBE this
year, 6pm, Thursday night. Wear your dancing shoes !

PPS- feel free to forward this message to whomever you’d like,
we’re over 160 subscribers, and anybody can join.

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