Simchat Torah: A Celebration of Continuity

Simchat Torah: A Celebration of Continuity September 27, 2018

Yup, another holiday. But this is the last one for a while, I promise.

On Monday, Jews will celebrate Simchat Torah, literally translated as a holiday of “rejoicing with the Torah (Bible).” On the Sabbath each week, Jews gather in synagogues and read a portion of the Five Books of Moses. After an entire year of these weekly public readings, we finally complete all five of those books, from Genesis to Deuteronomy, on Simchat Torah.

Almost immediately after completing the last words of Deuteronomy, we then flip back to the beginning and start reading the Book of Genesis all over again.

This is a powerful symbolic gesture. While we dance and rejoice upon the monumental achievement of completing the whole Torah, we then quickly turn around and go back to the beginning. Why? Because we can never really finish reading and understanding this book of books. The classic Jewish text Ethics of Our Fathers (5:26) states: “Turn and turn in it for everything is in it.” In a similar vein, Job 11:9 says about the Bible that “its measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea.”

So what are we celebrating, if it’s impossible to truly “finish” reading the Torah? Well, maybe we’re celebrating both: the completion, and the beginning anew, of reading this holy text. Yes, getting through all five books is an achievement worth rejoicing over. But if we simply went home and took the day off after completing the Torah, it would be disingenuous—after all, how can we be satisfied with finishing the book that never ends?

Thus, we try to capture two feelings on his holiday. One is the sense of fulfillment and joy at completing a massive undertaking, and the other is a sense of humility and eagerness to start over and review it all again, since there’s always so much more left to learn.

 

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