Here is a small reflection for Simchat Torah next week.
Simchat Torah marks the yearly celebration of completing the reading of the Torah, the Pentateuch. It is a joyous day in the Jewish calendar, the culmination of the fall holiday season. It is a day of song and dance, celebrating the basic spiritual building block of the Jewish community.
As is customary, there is no break between concluding and restarting the Torah reading cycle. The tradition is to conclude the reading of the Torah, reading the last two chapters of Deuteronomy, referred to by the first words of chapter 33, V’zot HaBeracha, “and these are the blessings.” Following this, the community then begins the reading of Genesis again, reading the creation story, chapter 1 to chapter 2:4.
Ends and beginnings are intertwined. For the Jewish community, this day marks the conclusion of the holidays, either seen as the conclusion of the season of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot, or more broadly, this is the culmination of the three pilgrimage festivals, Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot, when in the times of the Temple, the people would go to Jerusalem as biblically mandated. Simchat Torah leaves us with a sense of completion, of finality. Simchat Torah is the day Jews integrate into their minds the verse from the final portion: “The Torah that Moses commanded to us is an inheritance for the congregation of Jacob” (33:4).
Completions tend to be happy, joyous affairs. Yet, sadness hangs over the synagogue. It is sad to consider that the holidays, which are so highly anticipated, have come to an end. The hope is to carry the spiritual high of the holidays through the doldrums of winter. While this is difficult, perhaps there is a way, for there really is no ending. Just like with the annual Torah reading cycle, which always loops back to the beginning, to the grand expectation for humanity, so too our lives can loop back around and be refreshed.
This idea is best exemplified in a teaching from “Ethics of Our Fathers,” where it says, “Turn it over and over, for all is in it. Look into it deeply. Grow old and grey with it” (5:21). Judaism considers the Torah the blueprint of life. As such, the looping around on Simchat Torah is symbolic of this need for deeper communal study of the work. Further, as the blueprint, the yearly cycle should be an impetus for further reflection on life, allowing for continued growth and renewal.
Renewing our lives is about working on consistent growth. When we celebrate the completion of something, we really are celebrating the beginning of the next step. As such, the Simchat Torah celebration is more than the culmination of the holidays and the completion of the reading. It is the ultimate symbol for starting afresh, which we all strive for at new beginnings.