This Wednesday night we mark the holiday of Simchat Torah, the last of the four major religious holidays celebrated during the month of Tishrei.
Although Simchat Torah is a joyous holiday, it is also a time of contemplation. This is the day when we bring our yearly cycle of Torah readings to an end, and then immediately begin the cycle anew.
Simchat Tora’s symbolism is poignant. At first glance, it would seem that its message is that although all things and people have beginnings and ends, only the principles found in the Torah are timeless. Yet if we think about it, even the loftiest of principles requires commitment. Deeds said but not done are in the end, not deeds. Simchat Torah is the interfacing between theory and practice. It is that point in time when beginnings and ends meet. This is the holiday that reminds us that repentance only works if we are sincere in our actions and passionate about our commitments.
If the lesson of Rosh Ha’Shanah is the need to take an accounting of our souls, of Yom Kippur to correct what is wrong in our relationship with G-d, and of Sukkot to celebrate what is right in our lives, then the message of Simchat Torah is that joy is found not in talking about good deeds but in the doing of these deeds.
This coming weekend we shall begin anew our yearly reading of the Torah or “First Five Books of the Bible.” The year’s first parashah, (weekly portion), is perhaps one of the text’s most intriguing. It is a text that is almost impossible to translate into English. The first parashah takes us through the basic concepts of science and physics. There is enough material in the first few lines of Genesis to fill entire libraries. Starting next week we shall begin another journey through Genesis and in becoming better acquainted with the book we shall also become better acquainted with ourselves.
As we enter into Genesis we note that this is the story not just of the Jewish people, but also of humanity. Genesis, however, is a very Jewish book. On some level, it is our people’s genealogy, our trials, our tribulations, our moments of despair, and also our moments of joy. It also speaks of our insights and our triumphs. It is first and foremost the family history of the Jewish people. Genesis is so powerful because it speaks about human beings with real problems, who live real crises and whose lives are often dysfunctional.
Genesis rarely provides answers, instead, it provides questions: deep questions such as: What is the nature of humanity? How are we made in the image (the text may really say in the “shadow of”) the heavenly hosts? What existed prior to existence? How is humanity expected to care for a world that we were given but did not create? Did we deserve to be created and if so why?
These are the questions that serve to make us human, that serve to define us a different from other beings. In that sense, Genesis is our gift to humanity. May we all ask deep questions and seek to deliver profound answers as we begin once again from the beginning.
Here is my monthly philosophy article published in the Bryan Eagle (Oct. 7, 2017). This month it deals with the Book of Amos and the arrogance of power.
Hold the date!
Our next conference for the Center for Latino – Jewish relations will be on Oct. 23 in McAllen, Texas. The host hotel is the Centro de The Hotel Cambria Hotel in the McAllen Convention Center on Ware Road.
Speakers include Celina Vásquez, Peter Tarlow, Jacob Monty, and Idan Schwartz.
Youtubes for Simchat Torah
A modern Simchat Torah song:
Sisu v’Simchu: Moscow Male Choir:
Simchat Torah: Dancing in the streets of Israel: