There once was a rabbi who remarked, “I’m glad to see you at services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but I’d rather you celebrate Passover, Purim, and Simchat Torah.” Passover and Purim make sense: tales of triumph over evil, exciting stories, and delicious foods. But Simchat Torah? What even is it and why would it enjoy the same status as those other two holidays?
Simchat Torah is our celebration of reading the Torah. We come to the end of the scroll and then begin our story again on the very same evening. We march, dance, and sing with all of our Torahs, reveling in the joy of this time of new beginnings. In some communities, the Torah is unrolled completely, surrounding the room like a tallis, and the beautifully handwritten words are open for all to see. In our community, we do not have enough space for an entire Torah scroll to be unrolled, so we lay it out on a table as we roll it from the end to the beginning and still see large runs of text, deciphering our people’s history as it lay before us, from the instantly recognizable pagination of the 10 Commandments to the undulating text bearing the Song of the Sea.
Simchat Torah is the perfect evening for anyone who is curious about the Torah – we get up close and personal with it! What does it look like inside? What are all those little crowns on top of the letters? How do we find our place? How is a Torah made? Simchat Torah is the perfect evening for anyone who wants to hold the Torah, or carry it, or dance with it. Simchat Torah is also the perfect evening to celebrate something totally unique to us.
Simchat Torah is an evening dedicated to the joy we feel in studying text. Our text. By opening it up and inviting all to read, we are reminded that it belongs to all of us, not just to the elites or the scholarly few. It is our greatest possession and gift. For centuries it has been our light, our heritage, and our life. We hold fast to it because even after all this time, it still has something to teach, something to love. And when we carry it around, proudly, and joyously, we clutch it a bit tighter because when we hug our loved ones, we always do it a bit more strongly.
Rabbi Benjamin Zober