Posted by: Subway Conductor | October 9, 2020

A Derasha for Simchat Torah

Simchat Torah is the culmination of the whole period of the High Holidays. This period began back in August with the beginning of the month of Elul. With the month of Elul, the shofar is sounded everyday and we start the process of preparing for Rosh Hashanah. We look inward and examine our lives so that we can begin to do teshuvah. The period continues to Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and finally Shemini Atzeret. The second day of Shemini Atzeret is Simchat Torah – the happiness or rejoicing of the Torah. So, it is the culmination both because it is the final event of this period, but also because it is the peak, the climax of the spiritual experience of the holidays. 

As its name implies, Simchat Torah is a holiday of pure happiness. What is remarkable is that this holiday is the creation of the Jewish People. It is not mentioned in the Torah or anywhere else in the Bible. It is not based on a historical event as is Purim and Hannukah. It is not even mentioned in the Talmud. It is a holiday of the Diaspora. We can see this because Simchat Torah is the second day of Shemini Atzeret. There is only a second day in the Diaspora. Most of the customs of this holiday developed in Europe in the Middle Ages. It is remarkable, therefore, that Jews, living in dispersion under conditions that were less than ideal, created a holiday of pure happiness. This is the holiday on which we take the Torah scrolls from the Ark and parade around the synagogue, singing and dancing.

The holidays are a process, they represent a spiritual ascent. Each one takes us to a higher level of spiritual experience. We can think of this process in the following way. On Rosh Hashanah, we open the Ark many times. We stand in front of the open Ark for many of the prayers, but we do not take our the Torah scrolls. We only take out the Torah scrolls on Rosh Hashanah for the Torah reading. When we get to Erev Yom Kippur, at Kol Nidre, we open the Ark and take out the Torah scrolls which are held my members of the congregation during the recitation of the Kol Nidre. And then we put the scrolls back in the Ark. On Sukkot, the practice is to open the Ark and take out the Torah Scroll and we march around the Torah with our lulavs and etrogs.  On Simchat Torah, we take the Torah scrolls out of the Ark and march around the synagogue with them in our arms. This symbolizes how each holiday brings us closer to the Torah and to G-d.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the former chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, made the following comment, “Can you picture in England or America, gong into a court and seeing the judges dancing around with their law books?! It is unimaginable.” And yet that is what we are doing on Simchat Torah. We are dancing with a book. A book that is primarily a source of laws and commandments.

           On Simchat Torah, after we have heard the sound of the Shofar, prayed and fasted, gone through the whole process of confession and repentance; after we have sat in the Sukkah, opening ourselves up to the vagaries of nature and relying on G-d’s protection; we now give expression to our pure joy in being Jews. Simchat Torah is the time when we embrace Judaism with our whole heart. It is the antithesis of the old Yiddish saying, “Schwer zu sein a Yid – it is hard to be a Jew.” On Simchat Torah, we announce with our whole being – It is wonderful to be a Jew! I love the Torah and the Mitzvot! It is what give meaning to my life.

Good Shabbos and Good Yom tov!

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