- Shabbat and Holidays
- Simchat Torah and Shmini Atzeret
Simchat Torah! The very name conjures up delightful images of exuberant dancing, kids marching with flags, entire congregations embracing the Torah in celebration of a new lease on life. The 10 Days of Repentance & Yom Kippur are past us, & now it’s time to lighten the atmosphere & "let it all out" in a burst of spiritual ecstasy.
The Rabbis really show their creative genius on this day, & we demonstrate our unity & commonality as we dance in circles around the Sefer Torah – everyone equidistant from the center - as aliyot are universally dispensed.
My Rabbi once asked me, "What, exactly, does the name ‘Simchat Torah’ actually mean?" When I shot back a puzzled look, he said, "The literal meaning of Simchat Torah is, ‘The happiness of the Torah!’ " And he then explained: "Our Torah is not a dead document or a sterile story, it is a Torat Chayim, a living Torah! Not only does it contains all knowledge – past, present & future - the Torah actually has feelings, it has emotions, no less than a human being. It can cry, it can be sad, it can even be upset; but on this day – the Torah is boundlessly happy."
An amazing concept, is it not? And it led me to thinking about what the Torah might feel at certain times:
I think the Torah is discouraged when it is ignored & neglected, when its vast wisdom is not accessed & its many secrets not fully plumbed. It feels hurt when some members of the faith selfishly claim it as theirs alone, as if it is reserved for only the privileged few. Yet the Torah also must be resentful, even indignant, when – as Pirkei Avot cautions against – it is used as someone’s personal "spade" with which to dig; i.e. for their own self-aggrandizement or to advance their own personal agenda.
But the Torah must be very proud when people rise in respect when it is lifted, or even when it just "shows its face" as the Aron is opened. It certainly must "shep nachas" when the children gather ‘round it, approaching it with awe & reaching out their hand to lovingly kiss it. It
must smile with satisfaction when it is read from properly, when care is taken to gently cover & "dress" it so that it always maintains a most dignified appearance.
But what I think most pleases the Torah is when it feels confident that it is never going to lose its special place in our society. That generation after generation, it is going to be revered as the depository of G-d’s wondrous word, that its timeless message will reverberate all the way from Moshe to Moshiach.
It is precisely that feeling which allows the Torah to dance with US – even as we dance with IT!