Come to Simchat Torah!
If you do one new Jewish thing this Tishrei, make it coming to Simchat Torah on Friday, October 13th. Simchat Torah, especially at Kol Emeth, is wonderful, fun, spiritual, crazy and just a great time. Let me give you three good reasons to make time in your schedule to spend a week day celebrating Torah:
1. Simchat Torah reacts to the seriousness of the High Holidays with a counterpoint of joy. Yom Kippur has a needed seriousness as we contemplate the length of our days and the legacy we want to leave in the world. Simchat Torah provides a needed contrast as we set aside worries and questions and simply celebrate the blessing of each day. Torah is a gift that provides meaning and texture to our lives. Simchat Torah is a chance to simply accept that blessing, to thank God we are alive and able to experience happiness. We need the seriousness and the joy.
2. The service itself is great fun. We take all the Sfrei Torah out of the Ark as we begin to sing and dance. Everyone who wants gets a chance to dance holding a Torah as our wonderful song leaders lead us in folk, liturgical, and Israeli songs. We dance into the Social Hall and out into the Courtyard. It’s the best Jewish workout this side of Jerusalem. A variety of adult beverages are also offered to facilitate the joy.
After the dancing concludes, we set up a few stations of Torah readers, including out in the Sukkah. That station is known for people picking TV themes or popular melodies to use as we recite the Torah blessings. While people are reading Torah, others are enjoying lunch. Then we join together to finish the book of Deuteronomy and immediately start Genesis. In this way, we are never without Torah; it is always an ongoing open book in our lives.
Finally, Rick Dinitz gets his Buffoon Choir together to lead us in a Musaf service guaranteed to make you appreciate the prayer for rain in a new and more immediate way. (People are advised to bring raincoats and umbrellas should they wish to engage in the buffoonery). The kids participate too, with various props and puns.
3. Joy is transformative. Yom Kippur is challenging, demanding that we examine our lives and make right that which is wrong. We use rituals of prayer and contemplation. Yet if we end at Yom Kippur, we have left behind one of our best tools, joy. It is at Simchat Torah that joy and celebration are fully expressed. Yes, there is need for serious contemplation. But there is also a need to dance and sing and drink.
The Rabbis have the concept of simchah shel mitzvah – the joy of observance. It means that when we observe mitzvot, they provide our lives with a deep and sustaining meaning. When Torah becomes a part of how we express ourselves as human beings, our lives become imbued with joyous purpose. The joy of Simchat Torah frames the demands of Yom Kippur into a whole that can be realized. One without the other leaves us somewhat spiritually unbalanced. Together, they imbue the spiritual person with a desire out of solemnity and joy to become more.
Simchat Torah falls on a Friday this year. I realize how hard it can be to have a day away from school or work. I want to urge you make this meaningful choice and celebrate the marvelous, joyous gift of Torah together with the community of Kol Emeth.
Gemar Hatimah Tovah – May we all be sealed in the book of life for goodness, peace, and joy!
Rabbi David Booth