Food For the Soul
Concluding – and Beginning Anew
On Simchat Torah (“Rejoicing of the Torah”) we conclude, and begin anew, the annual Torah-reading cycle. First we read the Torah section of V’zot HaBerachah, which recounts the blessings that Moses gave to each of the twelve tribes of Israel before his death. Echoing Jacob’s blessings to his twelve sons five generations earlier, Moses assigns and empowers each tribe with its individual role within the community of Israel.
V’zot HaBerachah then relates how Moses ascended Mount Nebo from whose summit he saw the Promised Land. “And Moses the servant of G-d died there in the Land of Moab by the mouth of G-d… and no man knows his burial place to this day.” The Torah concludes by attesting that “There arose not a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom G-d knew face to face…and in all the mighty hand and the great awesome things which Moses did before the eyes of all Israel.”
Immediately after concluding the Torah, we begin it anew by reading the first chapter of Genesis (the beginning of next Shabbat’s Torah reading) describing G-d’s creation of the world in six days and His ceasing work on the seventh—which He sanctified and blessed as a day of rest.
Simchat Torah: October 16-18, 2022
Following the seven joyous days of Sukkot, we come to the happy holiday of Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah.
In the diaspora, the first day is known by its biblical name, Shemini Atzeret. We still dwell in the sukkah, but without a blessing. Yizkor, the memorial for the departed, is also said on this day.
The second day is known as Simchat Torah, during which we complete and immediately begin the annual Torah reading cycle. This joyous milestone is marked with dancing, traditionally following seven circuits known as hakafot, as the Torah scrolls are held aloft.
Both days are celebrated by nightly candle lighting, festive meals at both night and day, and desisting from work. In Israel, the entire holiday is compacted into one heady 24-hour period.
Mind Over Matter
From the time they first settled the land, for over 800 years, every Jew was attached to a parcel of real estate passed down from generation to generation. So attached, it was impossible to sell it or even give it away. By law, it would return to you, or to your offspring, on the fiftieth year of the jubilee cycle. And so, the land and the people were intrinsically bonded as one.
That’s how our relationship with Torah works as well. You don’t just inherit it. You are bonded with it from birth.
Perhaps your parents or your grandparents forgot it, gave it away, or abandoned it. Doesn’t matter. You own it just the same.
Even if you never learned a word of it, every shiny jewel and beautiful pearl of Torah wisdom belongs to you, and is meant for you. Because Torah and the Jewish People are bonded as one. Every jewel of Torah belongs to you from birth.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“He shall be King over Yeshurun when the people’s leaders are assembled together, the tribes of Israel are in unity.” (Berachah 33:5)
When the tribes of Israel are in unity, they bring together the people’s leaders, and they effect that “He shall be King over Yeshurun.” The Midrash interprets this verse to refer to Moshiach, who will be King of Israel and “assemble the castaways of Israel, and gather in the dispersed ones of Judah from the four corners of the earth” (Isaiah 11:12).
The unity of Israel effects the coming of Moshiach, as we are taught: “Israel shall be redeemed when they shall be a singular band… When they are bound together they shall receive the Face of the Shechinah” (Tanchuma, Nitzavim).
Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
Our Cycling Path
A while ago, my family went biking in a secluded area along a picturesque nature path. The path was a few miles long, and if you completed it you made a full circle and ended up back at its beginning. The route had small hills throughout. We loved cycling down those hills; it was effortless and enjoyable, the pull of gravity doing all the work for us.
Uphill, though, was a different story altogether. That’s when the going got tough. We needed to use all our muscle strength to cycle forward. But we soon learned that if we used the momentum from the easy ride down to propel us at least part of the way up, it made the ride easier. It also helped to keep in mind that after our strenuous effort, we would soon be rewarded with something easier—maybe even a fun ride downhill.
Life is full of these hills, big and small. Sometimes we’re cycling on easy street, enjoying the free ride. More often, it feels like we’re exerting too much energy and moving forward far too slowly. But no matter how short or long the rides up or down, the pattern is pretty much cyclical; hills melt into valleys, and then swell into hills again.
The Torah is divided into portions; every Shabbat we read one, sometimes two, portions, to complete the entire Torah. To celebrate our completion of the cycle, we joyously dance with the Torah on Simchat Torah in circles that go round and round, reflecting the circles and cycle of life itself. Interestingly, the last Torah reading, Vezot Haberachah, doesn’t have its own Shabbat on which it is read. Instead, we read it on the holiday of Simchat Torah, while on the Shabbat following Simchat Torah we have already begun with the first Torah portion of Bereishit. Perhaps the point is that there should never be a closing Shabbat in which the Torah is concluded. Rather, the readings are continuous, always ongoing, beginning immediately afresh, never taking a break and never ending.
Simchat Torah marks the climax of a three-week period of holidays ranging from awe-inspiring to joyous. As a bridge between the holiday season and the rest of the mundane year, it is the most joyous of holidays, even more than Sukkot, the season of rejoicing. Perhaps its message to us is that life can be full of cyclical ups and downs, but at all times we need to remember to keep moving forward. And only through our continuous movement forward, riding the hills and the valleys, will we find the greatest joys, in the continuous cyclical path of life.
Wishing you a most joyous holiday!