Yesterday capped the end of the High Holy Days celebrations. As one of my professors said, “The Holidays were great, but it’s great that they were!” (it sounds better in Hebrew).
After the 8-day festival of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles), comes Simchat Torah–“The Joy of the Torah.”
The Torah (first five books of the Old Testament) is read in synagogues over the course of a full year. The weekly readings are called parashah. Simchat Torah marks the reading of the final parashah (Deut. 33:1-34:12) and completion of the annual cycle. A portion of the first parashah (Gen. 1) is also read to signify the renewal of the cycle.
The culmination of Simchat Torah is the hakafot. This invovles singing, dancing and marching around the reading table while carrying the Torah scrolls. Why dancing, you ask? Well, there is a chassidic saying that says, “On Simchat Torah, we rejoice in the Torah, and the Torah rejoices in us; the Torah, too, wants to dance, so we become the Torah’s dancing feet.” As they march around with the Torah scrolls everyone kisses the scroll as it passes by. It’s a time of celebrating the gift of Torah that God has given to His people as well as looking forward to reading and studying it again over the coming year.
Yesterday at the Kotel (Western Wall of the former Temple Mount) there was a late-night hakafot celebration. It was a real change in atmosphere from what you normally see at the wall. There was loud music playing along with lots of singing and dancing with the Torah scrolls. I’ve never seen so many Torah scrolls! (BTW, they are REALLY expensive.)
To my Protestant/Restorationist upbringing, this sort of celebration is WAY outside my comfort zone. I have a hard enough time just raising my hands in praise to God, let alone dancing around the church building! I wonder what would happen in most American churches if we had an annual dance party–not a “pot-luck”, but a full-blown party with music, dancing, food (and alcohol)–to celebrate the reading through of God’s word. I can see people running for the exits already! Of course, that would mean that we had to read through God’s word in the year–that’s another problem (for myself included).
You can’t come away from a Simchat Torah celebration without seeing the deep love and devotion to the very Words of God.
I pulled together some photos and shot some video in an attempt to convey the celebratory mood. They don’t really do it justice.